Rick McGinnis/Metro Toronto
Burrito Boyz co-owner Joe Vassallo stands in front of the menu board at his Adelaide Street location.
Address: 218 Adelaide St. W. (Toronto)
Address: 120 Peter St. (Toronto)
Address: 9 Stavebank Rd. (Mississauga)
Capacity: 5 (Peter St.); 12 (Adelaide St. W.)
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip: $20.00
**** (out of 5)
“Ian and I were sitting around his bar one night drinking, and I got hungry and thought of a burrito and he made one, and it just kind of grew from there. ”
Burrito Boyz co-owner Joe Vassallo is gleefully candid about the initial clientele he and his partner, chef Ian Angus, were relying on when they opened their first Burrito Boyz location in a tiny basement on Peter Street, in the middle of the downtown club district, over three years ago.
“It’s good drunk food,” he says, recalling how they came to become the hottest purveyors of late-night grub to tired, wired, hungry nightclubbers.
“Ian and I were sitting around his bar one night drinking, and I got hungry and thought of a burrito and he made one, and it just kind of grew from there. We started having these Burrito Friday nights for friends and family, and we’d just keep on playing with the burrito. It took about a year.”
The Peter Street basement was joined about a year later by a larger basement on Adelaide, just a few blocks away, to deal with the onslaught of customers that began hitting their tiny kitchen not once, but twice a day.
“We thought it would be a nighttime kind of vibe,” Vassallo recalls, “but it turned out to be the opposite — the lunchtime crowd liked it more than the clubbers. Lunch is crazier than nighttime, so we concentrated on lunches. Ian does lunch here, and I kind of took the clubber scene, ’cause I’m a bit younger than Ian. Hard work, man, but we did it.”
The menu at Burrito Boyz is refreshingly simple enough to deal with when you’re either hungry or drunk — or both; six varieties of burrito, with two vegetarian options, and four quesadillas if you’re not quite ravenous, with a small but essential selection of toppings including rice, beans, guacamole, various veggies and a quartet of sauces. It’s not quite as complex as the menu at New York Subway on Queen — the venerable ancestor of all Toronto burrito joints — and it’s the model for spinoffs like Kensington’s excellent Big Burrito.
“Ian wanted a simple menu,” Joe says. “He didn’t want anything complicated since he had to teach all of us five or six things, we try and do them all right all of the time.”
None of these places, however, offer the same entertainment value as either downtown location when the clubs start belching out customers. “It’s crazy if you ever come to Burrito Boyz at two in the morning. It’s rowdy, there’s a line out the door, people are yelling. There’s one guy that comes in pretty much every second Friday and he stands in the middle of the restaurant making a siren noise.”
After expanding further with a store in Mississauga, Ian and Joe are carefully planning their next move, with an eye on potential locations at U of T or Yonge and Eglinton, on College Street or in The Beach. “Weekly people come in and ask about franchises, want to invest. We don’t want to do it took quickly, don’t want to ruin it, blow it out and lose control of it, have a couple of stores who do it badly.
“Wherever there’s people, we’ll be there.”