Rick McGinnis/Metro Toronto Photo
Big Fat Burrito
Address: 285 Kensington Ave.
Hours: Mon. to Wed., 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.; Thurs. to Sat., 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Sun., noon - 9 p.m.
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip: $20
*** 1/2 (out of five)
For the purposes of the food media at least, there’s a Burrito War going on in Toronto right now — a battle for the tastebuds of diners all across the city, fought fast and furious with dense packages of stuffed and grilled flatbread. For some reason, downtown is suddenly awash with burrito joints, from originals like the misleadingly named New York Subway on Queen West, to clubland’s big kahuna, Burrito Boyz, to relative newcomers like Burrito House on the Danforth and Bar Burrito on College.
Since it opened over a year ago, Kensington’s Big Fat Burrito has developed a loyal customer base, thanks to a combination of neighbourhood loyalty and some very positive reviews on local dining websites like Chowhound.
The owners are a couple, Lisa and Mike Shepherd, who delayed their opening refining their recipes and even took a research trip to San Francisco’s Mission District to sample the burritos that gave the one-meal wrapped sandwich its name — the “mission burrito.”
Big Fat Burrito took over a prime corner location that once housed the sort of covered market that’s a Kensington signature. “They’ve called this the jinxed corner,” Lisa says. “It was a market, a record shop. It was called The Fish Shack when we took over, and nothing ever lasted longer than a year. Knock on wood, we’ve been open for a year and three months now. So far so good.”
Judging by the lunchtime lineups, so far it’s been very good, with loyal locals — “we’ll see the same person three, four times a week,” Lisa tells me — waiting patiently alongside students and workers from all over the area. The menu couldn’t be simpler — five varieties of burrito and a generous selection of toppings in two sizes. There’s steak, chicken and vegetarian, as well as a very popular yam burrito and pulled pork, the latest addition.
It’s actually a relief to be faced with such simple choices after dealing with multi-page menus every week; it’s part of the profound appeal places like Big Fat Burrito has for foodies. You can order the rice and guacamole as side dishes, and choose from a drinks fridge that features very retro, very tasty Boylan sodas, but ordering a mission-style burrito is a satisfyingly simple task.
“We’re not trying to be a Mexican restaurant,” Lisa says. “We’re a burrito joint.”
The burritos themselves are a simple joy — dense without being leaden, full of fresh ingredients and straightforward, schmeckworthy taste, wrapped in a grilled, slightly sweet flatbread. “I think it’s a market that hasn’t been tapped into for awhile,” Lisa says, trying to explain the city’s burrito explosion.
“It’s a healthy food, it’s transportable, and I think there’s enough business for everybody.”
Mexican Rice For 4
Bring 2-1/2 cups of water to a boil. Add rice, rinsed well. Stir in kidney beans, diced tomatoes, garlic, chopped onion, chili powder and seasoning salt (to taste). Cover and simmer on low heat till cooked (about 20 minutes). Cook, covered, over very low heat for approx. 25 minutes, or until all water is absorbed and rice is fluffy. For spicy rice, stir in a hot sauce of your choice.