"This week we celebrate an important anniversary in the lives of many St. Louisans, one that no doubt will be eclipsed by St. Patrick's Day revelry, which is a dang shame. Five years ago this week, a little Mexican eatery on Bates Street called El Burrito Loco changed the eating habits of a Southside generation.
"For years we scoured the city for a good veggie burrito, the kind consumed by thousands each day in Chicago: the size of a rolled-up newspaper, dense with beans, rice, cheese and guacamole and weighing as much as a Chihuahua. And yet, nada. Surely someone somewhere understood our hunger and would fill it, and yet whenever we hit a Mexican place in town, we were met with confused no comprendos. You want a burrito with no meat? You want beans with no lard? Qué? Inevitably, we ended up with salad rolled in flour tortilla, which is very sad.
"El Burrito Loco arrived with little fanfare, an itsy, clean space with a half-dozen tables and some killer guac, and word spread quickly. Soon we were running into friends who were in on the secret, and, cheeks filled with burrito and eyes buggin' with joy, they'd acknowledge their pleasure. The restaurant's namesake burrito, El Burrito Loco ("The Crazy Burrito") may have been a not-so-subtle editorial on the reality of a meatless burrito, but it didn't detract from the end-product. A huge-ass burrito for $5. Eat half, get the other half to-go and you've just taken care of the biggest question you face the next morning: What will I eat for lunch?
"Five years later most customers are regulars. A man walks in and the server tells him what he'll be eating; she knows his tastes by heart 'El Burrito Loco con chorizo y el Magnifico Margarita. ' A couple walks in but doesn't need to look at a menu. In they come, two by two, four by four. That used to be a problem, but not anymore. A recent expansion has doubled the size of the dining room, and on weekends the joint is packed.
"For this, and for always greeting us with a huge, sincere smile and a basket of tortilla chips, we toast El Burrito Loco with El Magnifico Margarita."
With this, the entire eatery erupts with a Here Here! enthusiasm, and takes a big glug of the Magnifico. Like El Burrito Loco, the Magnifico isn't too fancy. It only contains four ingredients: Jose Cuervo Gold tequila, Grand Marnier, a lime slice and "tequila mix" from a plastic jug. Served in a fishbowl with ice and salt (or not), on paper the cocktail is no great shakes. We prefer more fresh-squeezed lime juice in our margarita, but as any bartender will tell you, a margarita needs some sweet & sour to provide the requisite bing. Most important, though, is ratio: You need to taste the tequila and the Grand Marnier. If you can taste both of those, and get a dose of limey juiciness, the drink will be thoroughly enjoyed. You can really taste the tequila in El Magnifico Margarita, and you can feel its glowing after-effects almost immediately.
We've since moved beyond the namesake burrito. Loco's menu is deep and dynamic, and we'll often indulge in their chicken in mole verde, which arrives on a Thanksgiving-sized platter with a jumbo mound of red rice and an exquisite cabbage salad with an avocado and tomatillo sauce. The Magnifico Margarita pairs perfectly with the subtly spicy dish. The savory tang of tomatillo mixes with the strong lime and tequila in the drink, creating this effervescent taste-bud-arousing explosion, as though a lime firecracker just exploded in your mouth.
Tears rolling down our face, belly hanging out of our shirt, we gulp the rest of El Magnifico and ask for a second. Thank you, El Burrito Loco, for these first five years. Here's to many, many more.