Authentic is a word frequently thrown around when people want to describe their favorite Central American restaurant that serves burritos, but the humble burrito is actually a Mexican/American invention, not authentic Mexican food. Supposedly, during the Mexican Revolution, a man named Juan Mendez in El Paso, Texas, used to sell tacos from the back of his donkey. One day he decided to instead wrap the taco's ingredients in a homemade flour tortilla, so that the fillings would stay warm longer. He found great success in El Paso with this new form of taco and people started calling it the "food of the burrito"—eventually shortened to "burrito," which translated literally means "little donkey." In the United States, what has come to mean burrito to most is the gargantuan, California-style, over-stuffed burrito, full of beans, rice, meat, cheese, avocados, hot sauce, and sour cream.
One of the good things that came out of Katrina was New Orleans' introduction to taco trucks and real Latin food because of the workers who migrated en masse after the storm. Now there are places to eat burritos in New Orleans, and there are some that stand out more for using authentic Central American ingredients, while other places have taken the foundation of Mexican food and adapted it for a broader, American audience.
Starting at the truly Mexican end of the spectrum, with dishes from $3 to $6, Taqueria Sanchez has satisfying food for cheap. The Sanchez family came to New Orleans after Katrina and opened up a series of mobile taco stands to cater to the growing Latino workforce. But after the Jefferson Parish council voted to ban mobile food vendors in their parish, Taqueria Sanchez found a more permanent home in a former snowball stand in Gretna on the Westbank Expressway, and business has grown to include a location in Metairie that has tables for sit-down business.
A Mid-city lunch spot, Taqueria Guerrero, is a family owned Mexican restaurant that gives a feeling of authenticity with its largely untranslated menu and Latino customers. The food is cheap, delicious, and off the beaten path, with monster-sized chimichangas—essentially a deep-fried burrito.
At Felipe's Taqueria and Izzo's Illegal Burrito, both with multiple locations, you can choose your own ingredients for your burrito. The emphasis is on fast food made to order, but Felipe's they go the extra distance to provide fresh food, fast , by making all of their own many varieties of salsa by hand in small batches, and hand-squeezing all the limes for the house margaritas, using no mix or concentrates.
In terms of sit-down Mexican restaurants in New Orleans and Metairie, Taqueria Corona boasts of "the best tacos in town," but they also have a great variety of burritos stuffed to the gills, with the standard beans, rice, cheese, lettuce, tomato, plus with unique optional additions like chorizo, fish, or beef tongue. Owner Roberto Mendez, who is actually from El Salvador, introduced New Orleans to inexpensive Central American food in the 90s—minus the grease present in many versions—served in a small, casual neighborhood eatery and bar.
Carreta's on Veteran's in Metairie has long been the standard for what diners in the New Orleans area consider authentic Mexican food. In reality, Carreta's has managed to make food that seems authentic, but is really toned down to appeal to a broader American audience afraid of spice. That being said, they still serve a very satisfying burrito (it's hard to go wrong with beans, cheese, and meat wrapped in a warmed flour tortilla) and the service is fast and efficient, even on busy evenings when you bring in a crowd of six or more.
Another sit-down eatery, but with more of a sports-bar feel, is Superior Grill, famous for the daily two-for-one happy hour that features their infamous frozen margaritas. The restaurant also serves Mexican-style food, and while their burritos are pretty standard, noteworthy among the options is the greasy yet satisfying chimichanga.
Juan's Flying Burrito, a local favorite is known for their colorful combination of carefully selected ingredients. The namesake flying burrito includes steak, chicken, and shrimp, and the al pastor features slow-cooked pork with pineapple salsa, but they also offer a began friendly "super green" burrito that includes among other grilled vegetables, spinach, broccoli, and mushrooms.
El Gato Negro near the French Quarter offers specials at every time of day, which makes it difficult to decide which time to go. If it's morning on the weekends, El Burrito Loco is sure to pacify the worst of hangovers. Full of chorizo, potato, onion, tomato, cheese, means, and 3 eggs scrambled all wrapped in a large flour tortilla and topped with ranchero salsa, El Burrito Loco is Tex-Mex at its most fulfilling. If its afternoon or evening, the Juanitos' Burrito is sure to satisfy. The large flour tortilla studded with onions, Poblano peppers, beans, Mexican rice and various Mexican cheeses, smothered with a chorizo salsa, sour cream and guacamole, just begs to be accompanied by an El Gato fresh-squeezed margarita, traditional or made with carrot juice.
Tacos & Beer on St. Charles Avenue and Rum House on Magazine Street fill up very quickly and stay packed for their Taco Tuesday specials.