A submission from reader J. Wilgus Eberly.
The bean burrito is cheap. You can buy one for $0.99 at Taco Bell. At $1.39, it’s literally the cheapest thing on the menu at Rosa’s – the next closest is a cup of coffee which is a full $0.20 more. You can get one at Fuzzy’s for $3.99, which sounds expensive except that theirs is truly a burrito-sized item and is about half the price of the other, snootier burritos. (Note: The bean burrito has been removed from the Fuzzy’s menu. I believe this is what’s called “gentrification.”)
I’ve never been to Mexico and I lack the motivation to research the matter, so I will offer my suspicion as If it were fact. Bean burritos didn’t come from Mexico. Instead, they were invented independently and simultaneously by a couple of dozen Texans and one guy in New Mexico in the mid 90’s. In almost every case, a leftover tortilla was microwaved with bean dip and a slice of American cheese. “Invented” is probably too strong a word here, since none of the inventors cared enough to bother promoting their creation. They were content to enjoy a steady stream of food-induced endorphins while munching mindlessly in front of Simpsons reruns.
Some people are in the habit of ordering corn rather than flour tortillas. Those people should make an exception when it comes to bean burritos. There is an austerity in corn tortillas that has no place here. The soft refried beans and the oozing melted cheese depend on the warm, blanket-like embrace that only flour tortillas can provide.
Yes, bean burritos require refried beans. Whole black beans are an affront to the peaceful attitude of the dish. They rumble around like musket balls inside the tortilla, angrily awaiting vengeance. If you insist on creating an abominable taco loaded with whole black beans, I respectfully ask that you call it a “veggie taco.” In such cases, feel free to use a corn tortilla or a piece of lettuce or a wonton wrapper or whatever because no one wants your little morsel of self-hatred anyway.
Bean burritos should have cheese. Otherwise they could be regarded as healthy, which would cause confusion about their purpose. Orange cheddar cheese is nice because it is the least exotic cheese available. White cheddar is putting on airs. Mexican cheeses like cotija or queso fresco are tasty, but they don’t do that stringy thing that is so endearing. If you’re making a bean burrito at home you should use whatever cheese you have because this isn’t the Food Network, and you know those chunks of Velveeta are probably going to be pretty good.
Denton offers plenty of fine options for bean burritos, but the best is La Mexicana on Locust. La Mexicana is just a Mexican food restaurant now, but it used to be a Mexican food restaurant/movie rental place. They had to discontinue the video rentals once streaming caught on. Blockbuster could’ve taken a lesson from these guys. When the movie rental business went belly up, La Mexicana still had tacos to sell. It’s called diversification, Blockbuster. Maybe if you’d put a pizza oven in the back of your store we wouldn’t be getting our teeth cleaned in the building where we used to rent DVDs of Ocean’s 11.
The main virtue of La Mexicana’s bean burritos is an accident of adjacency. The restaurant just happens to be located next door to a purveyor of headstones. This is perfect. You can park at La Mexicana, go in, and enjoy some delicious, comforting, and down-to-earth bean burritos. Then, with your belly full and your heart satisfied, you are confronted with the inevitability of your own death.
Under the influence of a lesser meal, such a sight could cause fits of anxiety. But the soft textures of the bean burrito and the warm Texas sun are likely to lull you into an attitude of pleasant reverie. “I will die someday,” you will tell yourself. “But until then I get to eat bean burritos.”