The Food and Wine Hedonist

leave your inhibitions at the door

The Moby Dick of Burritos

It’s an age old debate…

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”  – Thomas Wolfe


“Who says you can’t go home?” – Jon Bon Jovi


Thoughts similar to those raced through my head as I exited the highway just outside Chicago.  The town’s name is actually Summit but it’s basically The Chi. I think at one point it was a heavily-populated with Polish immigrants who were eventually replaced by Hispanics.  I’m not sure what the population looks like today but, with all due respect to the residents there, it’s a dump.  The smell of the area is nauseating because of the nearby Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and some corn-processing plant that emits a strong odor of dog food.  It’s just plain nasty.

But yet, I drove on.  I was on a mission.  I had to go back to that magical spot on the corner of Archer and 61st Place.  That same spot where, in my high school days, I could be found a couple times a week at 2am.  That same spot that, on the way back to college, we’d stop by and load up.

That same spot that I had my first burrito – El Farol.

We’re talking the first non-Taco Bell burrito.  The big ones that are the size of a Buick that’ll fill you up for the day.  The kind that count as two full meals.  For you Weight Watchers participants, I think they use exponents when calculating the points.  And I wasn’t the only one.  This place popped many a Chicagoan’s burrito cherry.

I recently wrote about visiting the First Chipotle  and that did feel like I was making a pigrimage of some sort.  Chipotle is the 800-pound Gorilla in the burrito world and being able to visit that original one was surely unforgettable.  But this… this is something bigger. You remember your first kiss, right? Or your graduation day?  It’s that big.  We’re talking the FIRST of the approximately 28,734 burritos I’ve ever eaten.  And here I was with an opportunity to go back and try it.

Would it be the same?  Can I go home again? Will each bite be as magical as I remember it? Will I transported back to a younger, more-innocent-but-not-THAT-innocent time?  Or will I be like Uncle Rico?

food travel

I was actually quite shocked that I could find the place from pure memory.  Age and the fact that I wasn’t always sober when I went there apparently didn’t erase that route.  It’s permanently etched in my brain.  Starting to feel really good about this.

Hold that thought…

El Farol 1

 Chicago food

WTF?!?!?!  It’s actually called El Faro and not El Farol?  That couldn’t be right.  A lot of my friends remember it to be El Farol as well, so I’m thinking there may have been a change in ownership at some point.  Good feeling gone.

The inside looked relatively the same.

El Farol 2

dining review

There’s a TV there, which points to the economic progress of the neighborhood over the past few decades.  Back then, that sucker would’ve been stolen.  I also notice the jukebox is new but all you nostalgics can rest comfortably knowing that it still is filled with shitty music.

They’ve expanded their menu as well.

El Farol 3


Back then, it was just steak burritos and tortas, which are basically burritos on a bun.  Now they have tacos and tostadas as well as a variety of other meats – chicken, pork, lengua, etc.

And now they actually have a cash register!  Back then it was just a drawer full of loose bills and change.  And the amount of money that goes into those registers, as expected, increased.  We used to pay $2.50 for those behemoths.   Now they start off at $4.50.  Not bad.

I placed my order and within a minute or two was presented with this.

El Farol 4


Wow.  It’s as big as I remember it to be.  Here’s another pic to help you get the sense of how big it was-

El Farol 5

Using my usual Burrito Guide scoring, here’s how it rated (all scores out of possible 5)

Ambiance – 5.  As authentic as it gets.

Heft – 5. I really should give it a 7 out of 5.

Taste – 3.5.  The meat was delicious, but there wasn’t enough of it.  Too much lettuce, too.

Mess – 4.  It had a decent amount of grease juices (which is  good) and was well wrapped.  However, it was too clean – probably because there was too much lettuce.

Intangibles – 5.  This score might be a little biased.

If this were some new burrito joint I was trying, I’d say it was a good showing.  But this is no ordinary burrito joint.  My expectations were through the roof leading up to that first bite.  I knew that it was going to be tough to live up to them, but I also thought that – unlike the Cubs in any given year – this would be the one thing that could deliver on expectations.  I felt it in my soul that this would be just as good as I remember.

It wasn’t.

I’m glad I tried though. I’ve been like Captain Ahab in search of that elusive white whale burrito all those years.  Many a decent burrito failed to live up to my memories of El Farol.  So I’ve learned that I need to live in the now.  To not unfairly judge something based on the illusion of a memory of days gone by.  Because, frankly, El Farol couldn’t live up to El Farol.

Most of all, the experience has taught me another valuable lesson – Jon Bon Jovi’s a freakin’ idiot.



About thefoodandwinehedonist

I don't know everything about the world of food and wine, but I'm not going to let a small detail like that stop me from blogging about it.

22 comments on “The Moby Dick of Burritos

  1. Duff's Wines
    July 24, 2013

    Great Story.

  2. ksbeth
    July 24, 2013

    wow, looks like the royal baby all wrapped up in his swaddling clothes. sorry it didn’t live up to your memory of it –

  3. rachelocal
    July 24, 2013

    “For you Weight Watchers participants, I think they use exponents when calculating the points.” Nice line.

    Jon Bon Jovi is a master, especially when he’s wearing tight leather pants.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      July 24, 2013

      Wow, didn’t think JBJ appealed to younger people. I pictured his appeal to be for the soccer mom’s who aren’t quite at the Neil Diamond level yet…. 😉

      • rachelocal
        July 24, 2013

        Haha. I’m not as young as you think. “Bed of Roses” was my JAM in high school.

  4. PinotNinja
    July 24, 2013

    Haha! You managed to work Napoleon Dynamite, Jon Bon Jovi, and Burritos into the same post — I bow down to you, sir.

    If El Farol is not the holy grail of burritos, than what is? Do you have a new number 1?

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      July 24, 2013

      Ha! I’ve been trying to work in Uncle Rico for a long time…

      I had to consult my Burrito Guide (see menu on left side of page)… Los 3 Panchos seems to be the current winner. I remember it being as long as my laptop is wide and bursting with flavor, nice toasted tortilla. As you can tell, I take my burritos seriously. But it seems I haven’t taken my guide seriously (gotta update it). Haven’t had any in Miami, which is reason # 720 to go there. I did review a couple in Naples, one of which landed at #6.

  5. wildbluewonder
    July 24, 2013

    You have “Mess” on your ratings list twice. I’m guessing the first one should be
    “Toppings” or something like that… [Sorry, I can’t turn off my editor gene, ever.]

  6. UndercoverL
    July 24, 2013

    Two things: 1) yes, JBJ is a total dweeb; even was in the 80’s. 2) I am going to break my all-juice detox diet on Saturday with a Chipotle burrito, a six-pack of Raspberry Wheat Shock-Top, a pack of Marlboro Menthol Lights, and an ice cream sundae. You made me do this, Hedonist. You did.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      July 24, 2013

      Nice!! throw in a Starbucks and I think you’ll have all bases covered. Yeah, those detox diets are what’s served in the 6th Circle of Hell… I take pride in breaking anyone of it…

      • UndercoverL
        July 24, 2013

        Ohhh yeah! My Macha Green Tea Latte! I forgot. Breakfast!

  7. the drunken cyclist
    July 24, 2013

    Yet again, you get a host of hotties responding to your post (excluding Duff, of course–who knows, he might be worthy of a man crush, but I have yet to see a photo of him which makes me think maybe not). So how do you do it? The Uncle Rico reference? Or maybe the not so subtle “here’s me holding a ‘burrito’ in my hand” pose?

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      July 24, 2013

      I have absolutely no idea, but The subliminal photo is a brilliant idea. Will try to do from now on.

      Now, of course, I can’t exactly vouch for the accuracy of the gravatars…but then I have no evidence that they actually look like you or me.

  8. musingsoftheamusingmuse
    July 24, 2013

    HA! Burrito as big as your head!!

    BTW – going to be in Chicago this weekend? LEMME KNOW! I’m there for BlogHer!

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      July 24, 2013

      Nope, not making it in… WIll be there next WEdnesday for work, though.. Have fun and keep us updated!

      Tell me if you need any recommendations

  9. Pingback: Juice Diet: It is Sure Hot in Hell! | So I Went Undercover

  10. reganking2013
    July 26, 2013

    I love this, except now I’m hungry for even a mediocre burrito and I am a very long way from Chicago.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      July 26, 2013

      Thx!! Can’t imagine they have many burrito places on Sweden, do they? Feel free to email me a review even If they are bad. I’ve seen some posts on burritos from Germany and London but I never got any reviews sent from there. I do have Asia, Australia, and S America though.. Happy Friday!

  11. ChicagoExPat
    July 5, 2019

    I loved going there at 2 or 3 am with friends after partying in high school and being amazed every time that there was armed (?) security there to protect the patrons. Next time I’m back in the area with the wife and kids I’ll have to take them there. I’m sure the neighborhood has changed.

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This entry was posted on July 24, 2013 by in Burritos, Dining, The Chi.
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