Home » Blog » North Texas will soon sample Ciudad Juárez’s best burritos
News Texas United States

North Texas will soon sample Ciudad Juárez’s best burritos

CIUDAD JUÁREZ – They are among the oldest burrito joints in the city, persevering through so much of the area’s tempestuous history.

In this historic neighborhood along Avenida 16 de Septiembre, customers have witnessed the good times, including the emergence of legendary singer Juan Gabriel. And the bad times, marked by post-revolution violence, a cartel war and the arrival of displaced migrants. A global pandemic, too.

Still, amid so much change, the two longtime rivals, Burritos Centenario and Burritos El Compa, are emblematic of a long simmering burrito war. The secret to their resilience? Tortillas.

“The tortillas, the fresh food, the nostalgia,” said Gerardo Rodriguez, 57, a truck driver, counting his burrito blessings. He hauls cargo from the border to some 48 U.S. cities and routinely crosses the border by foot to reach Centenario, a tradition that began when he was a young man.

His reason then and now? To gorge on his favorite burrito — one with shredded beef slathered in salsa and pico de gallo, a dish known in Spanish as “carne deshebrada.”

Soon, North Texans will get to decide on their own favorites, as burritos from Ciudad Juárez make their way to Dallas-Fort Worth with the expected arrival of Burritos Crisostomo, one of Juárez’s most successful franchises that’s already in El Paso.

The North Texas market would represent the company’s first venture away from the borderland, a symbol of the growth not just of Mexican American migration, but the popularity of burritos.

Luis A. Anzures, manager of Burritos Crisostomo Inc., said the company is “planning an expansion throughout Texas this year.” Plans call for Crisostomo to open five new locations in El Paso this year, followed by “North Texas, San Antonio and Houston. Texas represents everything for us. If you live on the border, you understand that Texas is part of us. We’re one. Texas is home.”

Azures wouldn’t specify when the company would open a location beyond El Paso, other than to say, “It’s in our plans. We will keep you and our customers posted.” He recalled how in 2009, at the height of the violence in Ciudad Juárez, many businesses, including Crisostomo, opened stores in the U.S.

“Texas is very special for us,” he said.

Burrito origins

Legend has it that the burrito was invented in Ciudad Juárez in the 1940s by a street vendor, said Yohav Badillo Meraz, 25, whose grandfather owned Burritos Centenario, which opened in the early 1950s. Badillo took over when his grandfather died in 2022.

The vendor would take a flour tortilla and add ingredients — from beans to beef in green chili — and sell them to poor school children, Badillo said. He’d derogatively refer to the kids as dimwitted, or burritos (“little donkey” in Spanish).

Another story suggests the term “burrito” originated from a donkey that a man named Juan Mendez rode during the Mexican Revolution, from 1910 to 1920, according to Badillo and David Romo, a borderland historian in El Paso, citing folk stories. The man would wrap food in large flour tortillas to keep the food warm as he rode his donkey.

Others are skeptical of either version and insist the burrito really originated in the neighboring state of Sonora, where wheat grows and supports a bounty of flour tortillas.

What’s the real story behind the legendary invention of the burrito? “When in doubt, everything is invented in Ciudad Juárez,” said Romo, author of Ringside Seat to a Revolution: An Underground Cultural History of El Paso and Juárez, 1893-1923.

‘Cradle of the burrito’

“There’s nothing official that I know [saying] the burrito was discovered here, but every Juarense knows that we are the cradle of the burrito, and that’s all that matters,” said Badillo.

“Sonora makes big tasty flour tortillas, but burritos began here,” he said.

Whatever version you believe, the fact is burritos have gone trendy, which also means expensive. Chipotle, along with other Mexican food chains, even adopted a National Burrito Day, making the burrito even more popular.

Across Ciudad Juárez, there’s almost no corner where you can’t find a burrito shop or stand. Burrito restaurants have names like Crisostomo, El Tony, Aquimichu, Robles, El Reprobado, Junior, Tio Chepe, Punto y Coma, and on and on.

Who makes the best burrito in Juárez? There’s no easy answer, said Pati Jinich, chef, cookbook author and host of the public television series Pati’s Mexican Table.

“In my experience with burritos,” she said, “I have found that although I really like burritos on both sides of the border, there’s just something about the taste of burritos south of the border.” Tortilla is key, she said, but not just any tortilla. It must be flour tortillas.

“Everything in a burrito has to be able to stand on its own,” Jinich said. “So the tortilla has to be beautiful, pliable. It has to be heated and almost toasted before the burrito is assembled.”

Flour tortillas date back hundreds of years to the Spanish cultivation of wheat in Mexico, Romo said. The word “burrito” wasn’t used, but Romo said that American travelers to the Texas borderland first reported in the 1850s that Mexican vaqueros used a small mortar to grind wheat flour for tortillas.

During World War II, migrant workers, known as braceros, took the burrito tradition with them to the U.S., Romo said. Over time, Americans too fell in love with the simple and tasty burrito. Soon, shops popped up all over Southern California, Chicago and beyond.

Fond memories

Burritos Centenario was part of a vibrant neighborhood popular with Americans. The tourists came to visit the mercado, get a haircut or visit a seamstress.

Musicians stood outside and serenaded tourists. One struggling musician, Alberto Aguilera, sang in some of the bars. He later became Mexico’s biggest sensation, Juan Gabriel. After concerts, Badillo said, the singer would send his gardener to buy dozens of burritos to be delivered to his house a few blocks down the street.

Recently, Badillo grew nostalgic and said, “All gone now, just fond memories.” The area where he grew up as a child is a victim of neglect, “abandoned” by the city and overrun by organized crime. Nowadays, migrants from around the world walk by, finding shelter or work.

Across the street is Burritos El Compa, whose owner, Alfonso “Poncho” Olivares Muruato, once worked alongside Badillo’s grandfather, Don Eugenio. He opened his burrito shop in 1973. Both insist they’re friendly.

“Is it a burrito war? Each has its own loyal clientele,” said Veronica Olivares, a daughter who along with some of her siblings runs Burritos El Compa. “Competition is good.”

“It’s only fitting,” said Badillo, “That two burrito places remain standing. We represent the past and future.”

As for exporting burritos to Dallas, or anywhere in the U.S., Badillo said he’s focused on spreading burrito tradition throughout Mexico, including Mexico City and Guadalajara.

Americans “don’t deserve the original,” he said. “Burritos are and will always be from Juárez. They taste better here. Besides, why go [to the U.S.] when so many of our paisanos, the first thing they do when they cross [back into Mexico], or are deported, is come here and chow down a burrito?”

Source: dallasnews