Let’s Celebrate the Humble Burrito: History and Menu Ideas


The first Thursday of April every year, the humble burrito is celebrated Nationally in the United States.  And while hamburgers are without a doubt, the first and most popular hand-held protein meal, you would be hard-pressed to find any city or town with at least a few restaurants that didn’t specialize in Mexican food or offer their own house burrito as an appetizer or entrée.

So, what is the big deal about burritos?  We’ve done a little research to celebrate National Burrito Day on our blog, and we’d like to share some innovative ways that your restaurant or food service establishment can embrace one of the most unofficially popular holidays of the year.

Some Fun Historical Facts You Didn’t Know About the Burrito

Hundreds of years before the first burrito was invented, the tortilla became an international sensation.  It all started in 1519 when the tortilla was discovered as an Aztec food by the Spanish conquistadors who invaded the territory now known as Mexico.   Part of the terms of surrender agreement between Hernan Cortes and the Aztecs living in region ruled by Moctezuma II, was that his troops be provided with native food to sustain them.

As you know, the Aztecs were primarily an agricultural and scientific society, and one of the crops that they raised for a variety of their foods was corn.   The cornmeal was dried and then ground into a textured flour, that was then used to make tortillas, filled with meat.  And the leaves of the corn were used to prepare ancient tamales, which included lentils and fresh vegetables.

It didn’t take long for the Spanish invaders to fall in love with the tortilla and tamales, but they began to modify the regional food to include their preference for beef, chicken and cheese.  The Spanish also introduced the Aztecs to wheat as a food resource and provided seeds that started to change their corn-based diet to include wheat.   If you have ever wondered why both corn tortillas and flour or wheat tortillas exist in parallel, that’s when the cross-cultural exchange happened.

The burrito was created for portability.  As you can imagine, eating meals in the 1500’s was vastly different than how we eat now.  It was essentially ‘fast food’ for busy farmers, warriors and workers.  For soldiers from Spain, it was a delicious and nutritionally balanced meal they could enjoy anywhere, with minimal preparation time or ingredients.

But who gets the credit for introducing the burrito to America?  It’s a hotly disputed historical mystery to be honest.  Some people believe that it originated in a north west Mexican state called Sonora, which is a wheat growing territory that is credited with the invention of the flour tortilla.

Others believe that the burrito was introduced to the United States from migrants in Chihuahua Mexico, and the revolution of 1910. History claims that there was a man named Juan Mendez who sold pre-prepared burritos while transporting his food (the first food truck?) on a small donkey.  And that the name burrito comes from the ‘burrows’ these vendors used to ride.

It wasn’t until the 1950’s when the burrito really became popular as a menu item in the United States.  The food migrated with Braceros (migrant agricultural workers) into areas like Texas and California, which are still very much “burrito and taco territory” with a preference for Mexican food unlike other states in the North East.  The managers of the Braceros were required to feed their workers, and the burrito was a convenient and nutritious food they could pack for each worker.

Today, Mexican food is so ingrained in the American culture that the sales figures would surprise you.  According to a Simmons National Customer Survey (2017) there are reportedly more than 59,000 Mexican restaurants across the United States.  They were also able to measure that over 110 million Americans ate tortillas in 2017.  That’s a lot of burritos!

How to Build a Traditional Burrito

Everyone has their own spin on creating a delicious burrito, but traditionally the burrito has been made from a corn tortilla.  Fillings can include shredded lettuce, ground beef, rice, cooked or refried beans, cheese, salsa and / or guacamole.  In Mexico however, the traditional burrito remains purist, and unless it is a tourist location (catering to a more America preference) the humble burrito consists only of a corn tortilla and refried beans, and meat mixture.

One of the most important aspects of creating a delicious burger, is starting with a freshly made scratch tortilla. While pre-made tortillas can be toasted to enhance the flavor, the fresher the better when it comes to burritos.  Customers expect the rich flavors and softness of a fresh tortilla, and value the difference in flavors.  Don’t forget to garnish with fresh cilantro too or add it as an option for your menu; it is one of the hallmarks of really authentic and quality Mexican food.

Get Creative with These Tasty New Takes on the Classic Burrito!

Since most restaurants offer (at the very least) a burrito on the appetizer menu, how can food service businesses differentiate their assortment, to pull in more repeat customers?  The meat burrito can take so many delicious forms, that all you need to do is apply a little culinary creativity and some research, to add some really innovative contemporary burritos to your restaurant or food service menu.

Idea 1: Carnitas Burritos with Poblano-Corn Salsa

Carnitas is another easy to prepare protein option for delicious and juicy burritos. Pork roasts or chops are slow cooked using mild to spicy seasonings, and then shredded by hand to preserve long strands of tender meat.  Fresh or frozen kernels of corn are mixed with the heat of both jalapeno and poblano peppers and fresh lime juice in this version that your customers would love.

Get the recipe here.

Idea 2: Chorizo Potato and Queso

Nothing says authentic Mexican cuisine quite like getting a little spicy Chorizo in the mix!  At Miami Beef® we provide a variety of ground meats and quality Chorizo sausage, and our commercial wholesale customers can even customize a unique blend of beef, or pork and chorizo.   It’s easy to create your own signature secret recipe that is unique to your establishment or chain of restaurants.

What we love about this Chorizo Potato and Queso recipe is the heartiness of the diced potato, and of course the spiciness of the Mexican sausage. Don’t forget a dusting of paprika and garlic, to really pronounce all the layers of flavor in this combination.

Get the recipe here.

Don’t overlook the value of a mini-burrito on your restaurant menu.  If your establishment offers bar service, trust us that a hearty miniature burrito (or a few different varieties) would become an instant top-seller.  It’s the ultimate satisfying hand-held meal or snack.