The Early Word: Dos Toros
Dos Toros, a new Cal-Mex taqueria just off Union Square, is owned by Leo and Oliver Kremer, two brothers from Berkeley who wanted to bring Mission-style burritos to New York. Oddly enough, Leo is also the bassist for Third Eye Blind. Neither brother has any restaurant experience, but both were sufficiently moved by New York's lack of Cal-Mex to do something about it.
Not a burrito: Dos Toro's steak taco
When Californians move to New York, they tend to say things like, "There's no good Mexican in New York!" Which, of course, isn't true. Head to Corona or Sunset Park and you'll see. It is true that New York, and lower Manhattan in particular, doesn't offer the plethora of great, regional Mexican on nearly every corner, like you find in Los Angeles. In New York, you have to know where to look. But sometimes what Californians actually mean when they say there's no good Mexican in New York, is that there's no good Cal-Mex, and that might be true.
Cal-Mex is a weird thing, somehow both heavier and more rabbit-y than more traditional Mexican--maybe because huge quantities of pico de gallo are often deployed, as well as sour cream, and guacamole. A subset of Cal-Mex, the San Francisco Mission-style burrito is the kind of thing that people get terrifically homesick for, while non-Californians shake their heads in wonder that anyone could get so worked up over a burrito.
In a 2003 article in the New Yorker, Calvin Trillin defined the San Francisco burrito thusly:
In San Francisco the burrito has been refined and embellished in much the same way that the pizza has been refined and embellished in Chicago. The San Francisco burrito, which is customarily wrapped in aluminum foil even if you have no intention of leaving the premises, is distinguished partly by the amount of rice and other side dishes included in the package and partly by sheer size. ("Out to Eat," the Lonely Planet guide to San Francisco restaurants, describes the Mission burrito as "a perfect rolled-up meal," and I would differ only in describing it as "two or three perfect rolled-up meals.") It is also so good that at times I've been tempted to put it on my list of favorite dishes that rarely seem to be served outside their place of origin.
The burrito at Dos Toros is, indeed, at least three meals. After the flour tortilla is steamed (so as to stretch better) and larded with a thin slice of white cheese, you are given the option of packing in beans, rice, guacamole, meat, pico de gallo, hot sauce and sour cream. Take a look at that bulging, about-to-burst tortilla, because that's what your stomach is going to feel like after you eat it.
But is it tasty? Sure. The beans and guacamole are well seasoned--skip the rice. Make sure to ask for the extra-hot sauce, a completely delicious concoction of char-roasted green chiles. Of the meats, chose carnitas, slow-roasted pork shoulder that emerges from the burrito (or taco, or quesadilla) in moist, piggy swabs.
But if you're not excited about Mission-style burritos, this one isn't going to change your mind. If you are excited about Mission-style burritos, Dos Toros will probably make you very happy.
137 Fourth Avenue