Tuesday, April 24, 2007


When my first husband and I lived in South San Francisco, our
road trips began with overstuffed burritos from El Gran Taco,
eaten en route. I nicknamed the restaurant El Dubious Taco
because the ambience wasn't welcoming, at least not to me: the
all-male clientele eyed me suspiciously, and the help knew barely
enough English to take an order. I had to explain to one of them
about California sales tax. But they made a dynamite burrito.

El Gran Taco's burritos were made with refried pinto beans. They
didn't use ground meat: a pork or beef burrito contained shreds
and pieces chopped from a chunk of stewed or pot-roasted meat.
I'd have given a good deal to know what they cooked the meat in,
and what was in the salsa and if you could buy it; but El Gran
Taco's staff and I didn't have nearly enough language in common
for culinary discussions.

In the spring of 1979, in the first months of pregnancy, I would
wake up early, feeling wonderful, and ride my motorcycle to an
8:00 AM class at San Francisco State University, where I was
studying music. As the morning and my back-to-back classes
advanced, the queasiness came on. By early afternoon, nauseated
and ferociously hungry, I often lunched on one of those huge pork
burritos with hot sauce, washed down with a beer. I sure did
enjoy those burritos. They were almost the only thing I missed
about California when we left in 1980.

At that time, no one on the East Coast seemed to have heard of
pork burritos, or beef burritos made from anything but hamburger.
But in the mid-1990s, a restaurant appeared in Davis Square,
Somerville, that produced the kind of pork burrito I was used to.
The restaurant didn't last, and was replaced by a day care

Differently conceptualized burritos became available in the late
1990s. The Blue Shirt Cafe in Davis Square offered grilled
chicken and beef as well as vegetarian burritos, with black or
refried beans and many exciting variants (still no pork). I
patronized the Blue Shirt frequently when I worked in Davis
Square, trying not to spill too much burrito juice into my
keyboard. (Why are so many of my favorite restaurant sandwiches
-- Reubens and meatball subs come to mind -- the kind you take a
bath in?) The Purple Cactus on Massachusetts Avenue in North
Cambridge also used grilled beef and chicken and a choice of
beans. I indulged myself in at least as many as I could afford
until the day I walked in, suspecting nothing, and found the
former Cactus presided over by a young man preparing to sell
pasta; the Cactus had been sold. I was heartbroken, in a small
sort of way.

About the same time, a client of one of the other people in my
office building sent in Tex-Mex food from their restaurant,
Anna's Taqueria. I don't remember pork, but their burritos were
constructed on the same lines as those of El Gran Taco. Where, I
asked, is Anna's? Boston, or somewhere equally inaccessible.
Alas. I continued to patronize the Cactus and pin my hopes on a
promise of an eventual Anna's nearer to me.

Anna's Taqueria did appear in Davis Square, and then in Porter
Square. The beef and/or chicken burritos were just what I had in
mind, and eventually I found out that chili verde in this context
means pork. Anna's chili verde burrito with refried beans and extra
hot sauce matches my memory, imperfect by this time, I'm sure,
of the pork burritos from El Gran Taco.

When I ask a purveyor of burritos for extra hot sauce I'm not
always taken seriously. They probably think, What does this old
gringa know from hot sauce? and go easy. I won't soon forget the
young man at Anna's who grinned from ear to ear and made three
passes along my burrito with the hot sauce bottle. That was a
wonderful burrito, even though I had to mollify my stomach with
ice cream.

The trouble with Anna's is the logistics. The space is large and
echo-y, and there is usually music playing. The people behind
the counter speak English about the way their counterparts at El
Gran Taco did, through all that ambient noise. Between my
elderly hearing and always-poor ability to pick auditory
information out of background noise, Anna's and I have serious
communication problems. In addition, there's often a long-ish
wait, and once you get to the beginning of the line you have to
step lively, order quickly, not hold up the works. I don't think
well on my feet; I get confused and flustered and my auditory
discrimination worsens. Furthermore, I don't stand up easily for
more than a minute or so. Maybe Anna's isn't for old people.

I hunted up a recipe for chili verde on line and have success-
fully made burritos. I'll eventually figure out how to wrap them
so that they don't fall apart; so even if Anna's should fail me,
I have the final resource of making them myself.

But help with Anna's is at hand. Remember that 1979 pregnancy?
He also likes burritos, is good to his mother, and lives near
Porter Square. I wait in the car while he deals with Anna's.
Then we sit side by side, peeling back foil and working our way
through our burritos, me riding and him driving, much as his
father and I used to do.