Supping on braised pork burritos at a Mexican restaurant in the midst of a swine flu crisis may not be on everyone’s list of top London dining experiences, but with portions this generous and fillings this fresh, it’s going to be hard to stay away from Islington eatery, Tortilla, this summer.
Tortilla’s formula is not a new one: choose-your-own-filling burrito restaurants have long been a popular fast-food option in the United States and are gradually gaining popularity in the UK, but the company, which operates a sister restaurant in Southwark, does it with finesse.
The burrito itself is a Tex-Mex hybrid rather than a Mexican dish strictly speaking, originating on the Mexico-California border at the beginning of the 20th century. A soft flour tortilla is filled with rice, beans, meat, salsa and sour cream, then is cunningly wrapped up in foil and eaten with the hands.
At Tortilla one chooses between grilled chicken, grilled steak and braised pork for the meat filling (the vegetarian option is guacamole), black beans or pinto beans, and lime cilantro or Spanish rice. A fajita follows the same pattern as a burrito, but with sautéed peppers and onions instead of beans. A lower fat option (a pointless exercise in my opinion given the size of the portions) is a naked burrito, which is the filling without the tortilla.
Burritos are invariably huge and Tortilla does not fail in this respect. The large burrito with braised pork (£5.60) almost defeated my gluttonous dining partner and the medium fajita with grilled steak (£4.60 plus 50p supplement) was ample. Both meats were juicy and tender, although the braised pork, slow-cooked so that it melted in the mouth, took the prize for flavour. We made sure to try both types of rice: the Spanish (read tomato) is a stronger taste, while the lime cilantro (known in this country as coriander) is a more subtle accompaniment.
We found the hot salsa and guacamole a little unsophisticated, one so spicy it had very little flavour, the other over-salted, but the tortilla chips they came with were exactly what you wanted: crunchy and salty but not too dry.
Smooth-drinking Mexican beers start at a reasonable £2.75 and a decent, slush-puppy style margarita will set you back £4.25. Unlimited soft drink refills are only £1.40, so if booze isn’t your thing there’s no need to feel conned by overpriced sodas.
The vibe at Tortilla is extremely informal – it’s not a place for an intimate evening – but everything was clean and the tables were clearled quickly and efficiently, an issue that can become a sticking-point for fast-food joints.
For a quick and filling meal it would it be hard to do better than Tortilla in terms of flavour and value. And given that we won’t be heading to Mexico for a while, it seems like the perfect time to indulge.
13 Islington High Street