Taste Test: Trying Out Los Angeles' First Magic Burrito Machine
What is it that is so irresistible about getting food from an automated machine? Does the sushi taste any better when you can pull it off a conveyor belt? Is the red velvet cupcake any richer when you can stick your head inside the ATM after making a withdrawal?
Whatever the draw, we couldn't resist heading over to Los Angeles' first burrito machine (actually in West Hollywood) to check it out for ourselves. There was excitement in the air. One person had read about the machine and came to this gas station to check it out, exclaiming, "It's the best invention ever!" Another guy stumbled upon the machine when he came in to buy a coke and was pleasantly surprised with his purchase. There wasn't much of a line (yet). A camera crew from Telemundo filmed everyone who tried the machine, and I'm sure there are many more TV crews on their way.
If you don't mind the magic of Burritobox being spoiled, read on. I didn't expect any sort of gas station burrito to be transcendent (and Los Angeles is taco territory anyway!). But I admit to being a little disappointed in the presentation: I had visions of watching meat, beans, rice, guac and salsa being mixed together and folded on the spot in a magic machine. Not so much. (It turns out even getting a machine to fold a towel takes science's best and brightest.)
Choose your adventure (Photo by Emma Gallegos/LAist)
There's a touch screen, and you can pick from one of five options. My dining companion and LAist writer Carman Tse and I tried all five in the name of journalism (which is to say under not-so-ideal sober conditions). A second screen asks whether you want any condiments: guacamole, sour cream or a really adorable bottle of Tabasco sauce. Sorry to say, if you're hoping to get some flavor in most of the burritos, you're probably going to want to spring for the Tabasco sauce for $0.65. (The sour cream is $0.50 and the
guacamole passable avocado paste is $0.75.)
Once you swipe your card and pay $3 (plus tax and condiments), the magic happens. That is, the burritos that are inside the machine are warmed up for approximately a minute and 30 seconds while a Shazamable music video plays. And then voilà: Your burrito is ready! The 5-inch (or so) burrito drops down in an orange package along with the condiments.
Make no mistake: this is a microwave burrito. The tortillas were a little bit mushy—some more so than others—and sheets of tortilla stuck to the paper as we unwrapped them. The fillings were pretty hit and miss but mostly miss.
Free Range Chicken (Photo by Emma Gallegos/LAist)
FREE RANGE CHICKEN BEAN & RICE
This was the best-looking burrito of the bunch. It had fiery red Spanish rice and bright yellow corn but the flavor wasn't quite there. The cracked black pepper was a nice touch, but generally the filling was bland and it had a sort of canned tomato paste flavor. The beans in were slightly undercooked and hard. I'm guessing that the company errs on the side of undercooking the beans to avoid too much moisture. A burrito hanging out in a gas station all day—unlike one made on the spot—can't afford to be too gooey, greasy and sloppy. That might also explain why most of the burritos seemed to skimp on the cheese, even though they claimed to have Monterey Jack.
Roasted potatoes egg & cheese (Photo by Emma Gallegos/LAist)
ROASTED POTATO EGG & CHEESE
Sometimes what you see is what you get. This burrito was colorless and unappetizing, and it turned out to be the most flavorless burrito of the bunch. (Sorry vegetarians!) I didn't really expect fresh-out-of-the-broiler golden potatoes from of a machine, but these were on the mealy, mushy side. And it just didn't smell like a burrito or anything savory should. The company says it doesn't use any "artificial flavors" but there was definitely some sort of off-flavor that made it smell almost like...crackers? My dining companion said, "I'll finish it, but fuck."
Uncured bacon egg & cheese (Photo by Emma Gallegos/LAist)
UNCURED BACON EGG & CHEESE
All of the egg and cheese burritos had a similar base, and as with the burrito above, I wasn't a fan. This one wasn't quite as bland, because there was bacon. Oh, was there bacon. It's not that there was much meat in this (or any of the burritos), but the bacon flavor came on strong like cheap perfume. And when I say "bacon flavor," I actually mean "bacon bits" flavor.
Chorizo egg & cheese (Photo by Emma Gallegos/LAist)
CHORIZO SAUSAGE EGG & CHEESE
This was probably the least offensive of all the egg and cheese combinations. Again, there were mealy potatoes and not nearly enough cheese. The sausage didn't taste like sausage, and it certainly didn't taste like chorizo. There was a strong kind of herbal flavor, almost like sage, that wasn't great but at least it was some sort of savory flavor.
Shredded beef (Photo by Emma Gallegos/LAist)
I saved the best for last. If you're going to spend $3 and some change on a gas station burrito that comes out of a magic burrito machine, this is the one. This one looked good and the flavors actually seemed to mesh. I dare to say there was a hint of smokiness. The other burritos claimed to have jalapeños in them, but this was the only one that had any sort of kick whatsoever (we're still recommending you spring for the Tabasco sauce). This seemed to have the best proportions of meat. It wasn't transcendent, but it at least tasted how it was supposed to taste.
I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to go back. WeHo is a pricey hood. Maybe if the stars aligned: if I get drunk and hungry after hours in WeHo and I don't want to spring for something over $5. Sure! But I don't see it happening any time soon.