[Photographs: Lily Chin]

When we last visited Mission Cantina, Danny Bowien's breathlessly hyped Mexican restaurant, we found it decent but short of the heights we know Bowien can deliver.

Carnitas.

Since that write up, some critics have concurred, others have disagreed, and one SE reader suggested I was a paid shill for Bowien's restaurants. (I'm still figuring that last one out.) On the restaurant's side, chef Bowien seems rejuvenated by a new burst of energy, which has partially gone into new menu items. Among them: burritos, offered in the restaurant at lunch and for take out.

New York's burrito culture is by and large dismal—sad, waxy flour tortillas, fistfuls of rice for filler, dry, flavorless meat—so set against this landscape, even a halfway decent burrito would be welcome. But Mission Cantina's are better than that—not among the uppermost echelons of what San Francisco or Los Angeles offer, perhaps, but good enough to make me seriously wonder if they're the best I've had in the city.

Lamb.

At $10 to $12 each, they seem more expensive than their competition, but each burrito is rice-free, huge enough to make a Californian swoon, filled with guacamole by default, and served with chips and salsa on the side.

My favorite part—what virtually every New York burrito-maker misses—is the flour tortilla, which is soft and pliant enough to cradle its massive payload. A gently crisp crust on the surface is a fine bonus.

Vegetarian.

Instead of rice, the filling relies heavily on brothy, well-cooked beans. That makes for messy eating, so bib yourself and keep the burrito contained in its foil wrapping. Actually, you might want to let the burrito cool down before digging in so the filling has a chance to set.

The meat, sunk beneath layers of bean broth, crema, cheese, and guacamole, winds up mattering less than the burrito's overall good construction, but we were most pleased with the gamey lamb and porky carnitas. Rotisserie chicken is undistinctive, but the vegetarian version, with a dose of chewy homemade Oaxacan cheese, is a solid meat-free option. Other flavors include fried skate and pork al pastor; the excellent mushrooms would also be a hit.

We dug the salsas, too: a very tart salsa verde reigned in a bit by cubes of avocado, and a moody-rich salsa roja with a smoldering heat. Salty, oily tortilla chips make quick work of them, but I enjoyed them best when dolloped gingerly on the burrito itself. The restaurant just started doing burritos in the dining room at lunch; let's hope a salsa-smothered wet-style burrito is in the cards some day.

If you've been looking for an actually credible burrito in New York, we can safely say you've now found one. Think there's a better one we haven't tried? Let us know in the comments.

About the author: Max Falkowitz is the New York editor and ice cream maker in residence at Serious Eats. You can follow him on Twitter at @maxfalkowitz.

Mission Cantina

Mission Cantina

  • Lower East Side

172 Orchard St at Stanton St New York NY 10002 (212) 254-2233

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