Taco Tuesday rolled around and rather than going to my usual spots for tacos, I decided to try a new restaurant in my neighborhood. Living in Forest Hills, there are not a lot of different Hispanic restaurants to choose from, let alone Mexican restaurants. After scrolling on Google Maps for while I decided on 5 Burros, located in the middle of Austin street, a mecca of different cuisines, bars and high end retail stores. Walking to the restaurant I passed a few sushi spots, Bare Burger, and a Japanese Ramen Restaurant. All the restaurants look inviting to the passerby, with sleek and modern entrances. I reached 5 Burros and it was one of the smaller locations in the area, once inside you can see that it stretches out past what the eye can see from the outside.
Inside, I am greeted by a friendly hostess in Spanish and taken to a table for two. She sets a tray of chips and salsa on the table and hands my boyfriend and I a menu. I tried one of the tortilla chips, and it instantly reminded me of the corn tortilla we ate in class. The salsa was very good, but a bit too spicy for me, and I didn’t mind eating the chips alone as they had so much flavor. Salsa is something I associate with an appetizer at most restaurants. Once researching its history, I found out it originated out of Mexico. Salsa in the United States has the connotation of being a dipping sauce, consisting of tomatoes, onion, cilantro and chili paste. The word alone, salsa, in Spanish means sauce, it could be any kind of sauce, hot sauce, alfredo sauce, cheese sauce etc. The word salsa originates from the latin root salsus, which means salted. Salsa originated from the Inca people in Mexico and can also be traced to the Aztecs and Mayans. However this is not the salsa we traditionally think of, the original salsa was used as a condiment for food rather than a stand alone sauce for dipping.
1234 common peppers used in usa salsa
The Aztecs would “consume [salsa] mainly as a condiment served on turkey and fish”, it consisted of “tomatoes with chili peppers and ground squash seeds”. The dish was given its name ‘salsa’ by Alonso De Molina a “linguistically inclined priest” in 1571. It took awhile for salsa to transform into what we know it as today. Starting out as bottles of hot sauces in the 1800s such as Tabasco, and slowly becoming what it is known as today in the 1900’s, “when they found their place into cookbooks”. By the 1940’s Salsa was a staple dipping sauce and dish throughout Tex-Mex cuisine.
The tasty salsa was only the start to an amazing meal. Looking over the menu we decided on ordering a steak burrito, and Tacos al Pastor and sharing both. What was interesting about the menu was that it was both in Spanish and in English. Mixing together both cultures, not alienating its Spanish roots even though the area is not a predominately Hispanic area. By mixing both English and Spanish, Spanish speaking people can feel at home and English speaking people are not intimidated by the menu choices. Most of the menu choices were in Spanish, however the description was in English. I think making this decision was smart that way the person reading it gets the authentic name of the dish without the changed language that translations brings about. However if they are not a Spanish speaker they are not intimated by the dish since they know what it is made of. The majority of the menu I would say was in English since the descriptions take up more space, yet the words such as entree or entrada and the names of the dishes were in Spanish. I personally prefer this as I believe that the names of typical native dishes should not change to comfort to another language, there is so much history behind a name.
As we waited for our food, I began to take in my surroundings. The restaurant acting almost like a theater with moving parts. The decorations and props setting up a scene for the diners as they too became part of the act. The walls were all lined with different artifacts, each conveying a different story. To the right, posters of chillies, Sarapes, and oversized margarita piñatas all coexisted with each other. Sarapes according to Merriam Webster dictionary are “ a colorful woolen shawl worn over the shoulders especially by Mexican men”. A stark contrast to the oversized margarita piñata advertising Cinco de Mayo, which is a day that is celebrated more in the United States than it is in Mexico. Cinco de Mayo or in translation, fifth of May is the celebration of the “defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla.. It helped stave off the French while the U.S Union forces made advance”. In Mexico it is celebrated in a low key manner, however in the States it works as a marketing ploy to capitalize off of another culture, with restaurants and bars offering dollar margaritas and tacos. The idea of these two polarizing objects gives an interesting perspective and look to the restaurant. It feels like an authentic restaurant while at the same time drawing in crowds that may not typically eat Mexcian food with familiar objects.
Our server finally came by with our plates of food, and I could smell the food from a mile away. She placed the plates on the table and asked if we needed anything else. I said we were more than fine and thanked her. The burritos were very skinny, two of them were placed next to a serving of guacamole, Mexican rice, pico de gallo and refried beans. I opened the burritos up and they were filled to the brim with just steak. The steak looked juicy and well done but not dry and the the perfect amount of crispness on their surface. I decided to open them up and fill them with all of my side servings. Adding the rice and beans and sauces to the top and re rolling them to the best of my ability.
It got me into thinking about the different ways that people can eat these burritos. They can choose to have them the way they came from the kitchen, just with steak, and eat everything else as side dishes. Or they can choose and pick what they want to add on to them or how they want to customize this dish. The first entry for the burrito was found as early as 1895, and it was called a “cocito” in “Yucatan and taco in the city of Cuernavaca and in Mexico City.” however there is very little known about burritos in the early days. It is believed that the name burrito came from the means by which they were sold, on the back of donkeys. Donkeys is Spanish are called burros, leading to the word burritos or little donkeys. Burritos first made their way to the states in the 1940’s due to migrant workers called braceros. The name braceros came from the name of the program the Bracero Program, which “grew out of a series of bi-lateral agreements between Mexico and the United States that allowed millions of Mexcian men to come to the United States to work on short term , primarily agricultural labor contracts”.
These men would be fed burritos because they were cheap and easy to make and carry. The burritos started out as a meal of embarrassment, the burritos the braceros were given were so meager they would oftentimes fill them with dog food. Eating a burrito everyday for lunch became a sight of scorn and embarrassment. However, American grew to love this dish and a meal that was enjoyed by the lower class working men, has grown to be a staple of Tex-Mex cuisine. It is so interesting how the roots of this dish juxtapose to the way we think about burritos now. I have seen lines outside of Chipotle and Qdoba trying to get a free burrito during promotions. Non-Mexicans have capitalized on this dish that has so much unknown history attached to it that many don’t stop to think about.
The best way I can describe eating a burrito is by quoting Gustavo Arellano, “eating a burrito is like eating a living, breathing organism- you can feel the burrito’s ingredients sigh inside with each bite, each squeeze” (Arellano 141). When taking a bite out of this burrito, it was good, it is in fact a burrito. But i felt like it was missing some flavors, it tasted a little bland, I wanted some crunchy lettuce and some more guacamole and I wished the beans had a bit more flavor to them.
Overall my time at 5 Burros was very pleasant. It would be unfair of me to rate them on everything hospitality, atmosphere, and food under one rating. For hospitality I would give them a strong 5 out of 5, the waitress was very attentive and kind. The people were very inviting and made me feel comfortable while ordering even though I asked a few questions about the different menu options. For decor I would rate them a 4 out of 5. I think they understood their audience in this location, it maintained true to having authentic decoration while also adding pieces that the general public could relate to. In terms of authenticity the rating would be lower, but due to the fact I am reviewing the restaurant as a whole and taking into account the other diners around me I think they were able to merge popular culture and Mexican identity nicely. And lastly for food I would give them a 3 out of 5. Would I go back, with friends or a group of people, for some shared plates and maybe a margarita ? Yes. However I have had better burritos at other places. They tasted good but they were missing some flavor, and I was not really a fan of the limited ingredients in the burrito. But I will also never say no to getting a burrito!!
Arellano, Gustavo. Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. Scribner, 2013.
Heisey, Monica. “A Factual and Emotional History of the Burrito.” Vice, 13 Aug. 2015, http://www.vice.com/en_us/article/paeevb/a-factual-and-emotional-history-of-the-burrito.