The funniest restaurant attempt at a burrito may be in County Surrey, England, where the lone taqueria serves up a crepe filled with canned kidney beans drizzled with ketchup. That’s the meal Los Angeles food blogger Jess Winfield suffered through when he had a burrito craving he had to fix.
Winfield has eaten at dozens of taquerias across the United States, too, and carefully dissects the quality of each aluminum foil-wrapped specialty he comes across. One day he decided his palate was refined enough to find the “perfect” burrito and write a book about it.
But he wasn’t aiming for a typical nonfiction food review. Long before Winfield consumed countless servings of beans and pico de gallo, he had recited Hamlet at a Marin County Renaissance fair, worked for Disney and spent five years on the road performing Shakespeare. So naturally his book, “The Perfect Burrito,” is written in character.
Winfield’s creation is the flourishing and poetic Don Miguel de Los Angeles no McDonalds, a white “wannabe Hispanic food blogger” who is joined by his sidekick, Maria Sanchez, a suburban young lady from the Los Angeles area who is half Mexican. She doesn’t speak Spanish, and Winfield says he created her to represent those who grow up separated from a cultural identity. Together the two attempt to walk from Los Angeles to San Francisco on a quest for the perfect burrito.
And today, Winfield will appear in character as Don Miguel at an equally immersive event at Taqueria La Cumbre as part of LitQuake’s free weekend event, Lit Crawl. There will be food, giveaways and readings.
“The Perfect Burrito” is a cross between canon novel, guidebook and goofy Renaissance fair script, and Winfield’s literary background gives it a theatrical flair.
“I forced myself to read all 600 pages of [Miguel de Cervantes' novel] ‘Don Quixote,’” Winfield said. “As a result, [the book] is sort of this combination of what’s real and what’s not; the burritos are real, the locations are real, but the characters and the story are fictional.”
Cervantes’ novel is the inspiration behind “The Perfect Burrito”; both books involve a long journey in the name of glory and an obsession. But in “The Perfect Burrito,” Maria Sanchez says:
I don’t know much about Cervantes beyond what I could Google, but our story is not “one of the foundations of Western literature,” or about “chivalry and the death of chivalry,” or a “postmodern ironical commentary on the first modern novel” with “ample figural use of contradiction, inversion, and irony.” It’s a totally trivial story, about a totally trivial thing — the most trivial of things: food. It’s even about the most trivial of foods: the burrito. With Mr. MacDonald, that is, Don Miguel, it was always about the burrito.
Told from Maria Sanchez’ point of view and Don Miguel’s food blog posts, Winfield’s story comes to be about much more than a simple burrito. But this handheld food is the only kind that would really work in a tale about California.
“Given Don Miguel and Maria’s particular character construction, it has to be a burrito,” Winfield said. “Maria is like the burrito — has Hispanic roots but is utterly a California creation. It says a lot about the melting pot that is California: pico de gallo that is actually from Tex-Mex cuisine, and the avocado from Mexico, in the tortilla bound together with some melted cheese and wrapped in foil.”
Pressing Winfield for the secret to the perfect burrito would require that he give away the book’s end. But here’s a hint: there’s a purpose behind Don Miguel and Sanchez’ journey from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
“And the tale ends in the Mission for a reason,” Winfield said. “When I lived there, La Cumbre was on my way home, and I had their carne asada burrito almost every day, and it’s just incomparable, to this day. That’s where Don Miguel and Jess Winfield cross over.”
The Perfect Burrito: Live at La Cumbre, Saturday, Oct. 13, 6-7 p.m. at Taqueria La Cumbre, 515 Valencia St.