I lost my shirt last night playing poker. $20 well spent not laboring over calculating odds or even paying much attention to the flop. Just a night with a bunch of guys, drinking beer, pushing the envelope and laughing hysterically into the night.
But a question came up a few hours into our game, “who has the best breakfast burrito in Colorado?” In my experience the name “Santiago’s” is as synonymous with breakfast burritos among Coloradoans as kleenex is with facial tissue. My opinion? Santiago’s is maybe the most humdrum burrito experience I ever had – though I’d only tried them once.
Now, I’m not a Colorado native, so I didn’t grow up on the infamous “green chili” (I hadn’t even heard of such a thing until over a year after I moved to CO). So I guess it would be fair to say that I don’t “get” green chili (am I even spelling it right? Chile, chili, chilly…?). I’d describe much of the green chili I’ve ever eaten as spicy tasteless thickened brown water with a hint of salt – but of course there is the flavor of chili peppers – which I have to admit, does almost nothing for me. Green chili is obviously a part of the culture and heritage of Colorado. Much in the same way that an outsider traveling to Holland may not “get” what all the fuss is about over the raw herring. Or, how a first time American missionary to Thailand just doesn’t understand the appeal of slurping down a bowl of fresh fried grasshoppers, I, a foreigner in Colorado, don’t “get” green chili.
I admit that I’ve not eaten even a small fraction of the breakfast burritos available in the entire state. Of the burritos I’ve tried I say with confidence that the best breakfast burrito comes from a small chain called Los Arcos Express. I boldly made my case to all at the poker table that they needed to try one, “It’s the best breakfast burrito there is. WAY better than Santiago’s!” I stated proudly. This statement was met with jeers, boos, resentment, projectile vomiting and before I knew it I had been knocked out cold and drug out into the back yard. When I came to, I stumbled back inside to the poker table and reaffirmed my position to the crowd. We all agreed that what needed to happen was a knock-down, drag-out, side-by-side comp-ar-is-on of the breakfast burritos. Santiagos vs Los Arcos Express.
Today for breakfast I stopped at both on my way into work. My goal was to order the same style burrito from each restaurant so I could accurately compare them. Much to my chagrin Santiago’s doesn’t let you choose what type of meat you want, you have to eat whatever the chef chose to prepare that day (ie, whatever had been sitting around longest in the walk-in). I ended up having a bacon breakfast burrito from Los Arcos Express and a sausage breakfast burrito from Santiago’s.
The Los Arcos Express bacon breakfast burrito (LAE BBB) costs $3.21 after tax and contains potatoes, scrambled eggs, big chunks of bacon, cheddar cheese and of course, green chili. The ratio of ingredients is potato>green chili>cheese=egg=bacon. The result is a gooey volcano of cheesy potatoes made molten by the presence of the green chili. Huge chunks of bacon abound, switching up the texture in almost every bite from creamy, to crunchy to chewy – and it is bliss. The flavor combination, impeccable. Even the construction of the burrito is flawless, like a little mummy. All the ingredients stay inside the tortilla, making for a very easy and clean morning commute snack. The rub? I am not a good judge of green chili. And I will say this: I taste the flavor of “green chilis” to be far more apparent in the offering from Santiago’s. I will add one caveat regarding the LAE BBB: the quality does vary from day to day. On occasion I get a LAE BBB that is severely lacking in the green chili department. When this happens you end up with a dry, starchy tube sock of nastiness. Do not be quick to judge LAE if you get one of these. Just let them know that you need it remade and you’ll be all set.
The Santiago’s breakfast burrito costs $2.10 after tax and contains eggs, cheese, mystery meat (chefs choice) and again, green chili. The ratio of ingredients is egg>green chili>cheese. Notice I left out where the meat lies in the hierarchy of ingredients? That’s because I could not detect even a hint of meat in the burrito. I could not taste, smell or even see any meat whatsoever. The eggs are abundant and somewhat bland if you get a bite that has not been properly smothered by the green chili. I will say that their burrito achieves the same molten effect with the combination of the cheese and green chili, which I did enjoy. There is no variety of textures to experience, it’s pretty much just the flavor of bland eggs, green chilis and cheese. The construction was flat out awful, with the tortilla open at both ends which made for a very messy and therefore dangerous drive as I completed this post, driving down I-76, texting from my cell phone with green chili all over my steering wheel (come on folks I’m kidding! The green chili was mostly on my lap).
I wish I’d had the foresight to snap a picture of each, because even the look of a Santiago’s Burrito cannot compare with the cornucopia of ingredients tucked away, waiting to be discovered by your taste buds in the LAE BBB. If you think Santiago’s is the best there is, I’m truly excited for you to try the LAE BBB.