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My Search for the "Burrito in the Sky"

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

You’ll sometimes hear a lazy and reductive knock against Mexican food that can essentially be

boiled down like this: Anyone can do it, there’s not a lot of variation between one taco and

another, and the difference between a cheap Mexican meal and a pricey one mostly depends on

how long you have to wait to eat it.

What’s both implied and ignored in this generalization is that even the worst Mexican food is

still pretty good, but again, this suggests simplicity more than quality. High floor, low ceiling.

For years, I was first to make arguments like these. A person whose favorite restaurant had “Los”

in the name or had a designated birthday sombrero was someone whose culinary tastes had little

in common with mine. But that was before my whole foundation was eviscerated under the

weight of a menu item that I’m still grappling with to this day. This burrito was my unicorn, the

great white whale of Mexican foodstuffs. It was my Burrito in the Sky, and I’ve been trying and

mostly failing to find its equal ever since

The scene of my awakening, much like the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, occurred where you’d least expect. It was a small restaurant in East Grand Forks, MN, where my puckish younger brother was employed, but mostly milked the clock and flirted with hostesses for a princely $3/hour. One night, some friends and I decided to visit him and take in a meal while heckling him mercilessly. After guiding our group to our booth, he handed everyone a menu

except for me.

“Ty, I’m going to order for you. Just trust me.”

Trust him I did, and there was no Styrofoam carton for my dropped jaw and exploded head. This

burrito was unlike anything I’d ever eaten, Mexican or otherwise, before or since. I was

conditioned to expect Chipotle-level mediocrity, and this conditioning only made the head-

splitting more obvious. This burrito hit me where I lived.

In the remaining year before I graduated, I ate that exact same order — skirt steak fajita queso

burrito, with red ranchero sauce and refried beans inside — no less than one hundred times.

When I finally left Grand Forks and my favorite burrito behind, I knew what was waiting for me

upon my return. My friends and former lovers knew where to find me.

But then, a terrible, no-good thing happened. It turned out that the owner of the restaurant was

involved in some Madoff-level financial tomfoolery. He'd defrauded his son, who he had the

dastardly foresight to name after himself, and then used his poor kid's pristine credit to borrow

more money than he ever planned on paying back. All the burritos in the world couldn't keep

him from driving my favorite restaurant face-first into the center of the earth. He left East Grand

Forks in the dead of night, taking every decadent bite of Burrito in the Sky with him in a cloud of

dust that I can only assume was cumin. It was over for me.

Or was it?

Make no mistake, I’ve been chasing this Burrito in the Sky for every stop of my professional life,

from Portland to Panama City to — fortuitously and by some sort of burrito godhead —

Appleton. And while I’m not quick to anoint any purveyor of burritos as transcendent, it’s

definitely El Jaripeo, with locations all over the Fox Cities — and who isn’t paying me to say

this — that gets closest to the clouds.

Ten years after first eating that elusive Burrito in the Sky, I had found its match. Same dropped

jaw, same wide eyes. I’d found it.

My wife dropped her tortilla chip, the music stopped. All was right with the world. I’d found my

Burrito in the Sky.

And then they put a sombrero on my head.

May 2017

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