When I learned that Tortilla opened a few days ago–just a few doors down from Mucho Mas–the first people I told were Stacey and Canadia Boy. Being the international jet setters that they are, they went straight there on their way back from the aiport. They crack me up. So I suggested Canadia Boy "guest blog" and give us all the low down. Here' he is, in his own words…
13 Islington High Street
0207 833 3103
It's amazing what can happen when you have faith. After nearly three years of hoping against hope for decent Mexican in my part of town*, Mucho Mas opened for business right down the street and has been going strong ever since. Someone must have thought this was a good idea because, lo and behold, no more than 1,056 feet south** lies a new entrant into what shall henceforth be known as the "Upper Street Burrito Battles***," the ingrediently-named "Tortilla."
So, without further ado, here's how the skirmish went down (in true Londonelicious style — it is Krista's blog, after all):
Name: I've got to award creativity points to Mucho Mas — plus, it's simply more descriptive of the goods and services provided. "Tortilla" could be anything from a chip (crisp, whatever) to a wrap or a Spanish (or South American) omelet. My guess, given the proximity of Spain to London over Mexico, the general population will assume the Spanish meaning as opposed to the Mexican. Plus, what do you think is going to happen when you Google "Tortilla" vs. "Mucho Mas?" Yep, you guessed it — the former comes up with entries that no brand of black-hat Search Engine Optimization will be able to replace (specifically, the erstwhile Wikipedia page on the subject), while the second link**** (and first paid link) for the latter takes you where you need to go. You need a good Google name in this day and age.
Mucho Mas 1, Tortilla 0.
Location: Mucho Mas, hands down. While from a birds-eye or online map view Tortilla is well placed (being just south of and opposite Angel Station), it is a huge pain in the ass to get to from the tube exit because the barricades prevent you from crossing until you are at the corner of Pentonville, which means you have to backtrack a half block to get there. Although it's true that you could cross just to the right of Angel station, then turn left, Tortilla will miss out on a lot of traffic walking down the south side of the street because as we all know people are generally lazy and won't be bothered to cross the street, regardless of deliciousness.
Mucho Mas, by contrast, is located on a heavy-traffic section of Upper Street, and has enough space out front for several al fresco dining opportunities. While this might not be too useful in coming months, if Al Gore doesn't get his way this could be a prime piece of year-round real estate in no
time at all.
Mucho Mas 1, Tortilla 0.
Atmosphere: Well, I have got to hand it to the Tortilla guys, who clearly know a good thing when they see it. Not only is the seating and serving concept similar, it's EXACTLY the same as Mucho Mas. Maybe there's an official burrito-joint playbook which dictates wooden bench-style seating to maximize the chance of success, but c'mon guys, couldn't you have at least gone for a different type of wood? Anyway, seating style aside, I'm going to award the atmosphere points to Mucho Mas. The high ceilings and windowed front doors create a much more open and friendly environment compared to the somewhat cramped and dark nature of Tortilla's establishment. While both have relatively hip, if somewhat generic, music typically on offer, and the staff (at least on this first visit) seemed relatively enthusiastic, Mucho Mas is just a nicer place to eat. Plus, Tortilla is confined by their current location, with only approximately 15 or so***** possible simultaneous seating opportunities. Mucho Mas has yet to open the upstairs, but it will come eventually.
Again, Mucho Mas 1, Tortilla 0.
Food: Well, this is what we've all been waiting for, right? Given the fact that a good burrito is made up of several vital, yet individually delicious components, I've broken each out below so we can really get down to some serious business. Read on, dear reader.
Tortilla: Quality-wise, I'll have to give both tortillas an A (although I would expect the namesake of the newer entrant to stand up for itself here). HOWEVER (and please note that this might be a matter of personal preference), Tortilla goes the right way with their tortilla and steams it. Now, those of you less experienced in the burrito arts might not know that there is more than one way to soften your wrap; there are, in fact, a number of different options available to the aspiring burritopreneur. My favorite, as just mentioned, is when the tortilla is put into a machine which, when a lever is pulled
(not too many times, mind you), gently caresses the floured sheath with waves of steam, thereby preparing it with perfect suppleness for the duties ahead******. Tortilla has chosen this route wisely. This is not to say that Mucho Mas' way is bad; I have known many a burrito eater to prefer the gentle direct heat treatment over the steam bath. Alas, this is my blog post, and therefore my points to give, and I awardeth them to Tortilla.
Mucho Mas 0, Tortilla 1.
Rice: People, let's get this clear: rice in a burrito is nothing more than a filler. I'm not even going to score this category. Just for reference, Mucho Mas offers one kind of rice ("coriander-lime") and Tortilla offers two ("lime-cilantro" and "spanish"). I do find it interesting that Tortilla chose the correct (sorry, couldn't resist) way of phrasing the flavorful herb, but that's neither here nor there– and rice shouldn't be either.
Mucho Mas 0, Tortilla 0.
Meat: This is a bit of an unfair comparison for two reasons: 1)Tortilla is in it's 11th day of operations, while Mucho Mas has had plenty of time to perfect their craft, and 2) on this first visit, I was only able to sample two of three kinds of meat — the pollo (chicken) and carnitas (pork). But, since LIFE IS UNFAIR, let's have at it. The chicken was tender, juicy, and had a nice charred flavor(the latter not quite as strong in the Mucho Mas variety), but the carnitas left a bit to be desired. It was simply too bland and didn't stand up to the other strong flavors in the burrito as it should–there was none of the smoky-sweetness that a really good carnitas should have. So, given that I didn't try the carne asada (steak), I'm only going to award one point for each meat, where deserved:
Mucho Mas 2, Tortilla 1
(I am calling the chicken a draw). Note that Mucho Mas offers not just carne asada but shredded beef as well (which, if you're curious, is delicious).
Beans: My favorite taqueria in San Francisco, appropriately known as La Taqueria, charges 50 cents******* extra if you request no beans in your burrito. As they should, given the importance of this oft-maligned legume in the overall burrito composition. I will hand Tortilla the crown here for two reasons — first, they offer not just black beans but pinto beans as well, and second, the black beans trounce the Mucho Mas black beans in head-to-head competition due to their tenderness and robust flavor. Mucho guys, you've got mas ground to make up here.
Mucho Mas 0, Tortilla 1.
Salsas: No question here, the crown goes to Mucho Mas. First, four types of salsa are on offer, not just three (the extra is a tasty if somewhat non-traditional roasted corn salsa). Second, Tortilla's hot sauce (salsa roja) is just simply not hot (and way too tomato-y and thick, if you ask me). Third, Tortilla's green salsa (salsa verde) doesn't hold a tomatillo to Mucho Mas' entrant — a good salsa verde should be piquant, a bit spicy, and give a bit of a limey kick at the end. I didn't get what I was looking for from the Tortilla variety. Fourth, Tortilla's guacamole, while respectable, doesn't stand up or and add enough buttery avocado goodness to the overall concoction. I'm giving Mucho Mas two points here because of the utter destruction of the Tortilla entrants and the recognition that a good salsa (especially in this country) is hard to find.
Mucho Mas 2, Tortilla 0.
Aftertaste: This might be a bit much for the squeamish reader, but it has to be said: a good burrito leaves a good aftertaste. After eating a Mucho Mas burrito I can honestly say that I usually want another. After the Tortilla burrito, I was done. I think it had to do with the salsas, although more scientific investigation is needed.
Mucho Mas 1, Tortilla 0.
Other: Mucho Mas gets a half-point for bottles of hot sauce on the tables (although, a la La Taqueria, I have been wishing for squeeze bottles of the salsa verde instead…this would be worth a whole point), while Tortilla's tables were naked. Tortilla gets a point for offering two different sizes of tortilla, but loses a half point for only having one in stock. Tortilla gets fantasy points for telling me at some point in the future they will be selling soups and churros, but fantasy points, like stories of soups and churros, don't get you anything in the real world (and by the way, if you're going to offer soup, how about a damn good pozole? This is the best hangover cure known to man, and, if my time in San Francisco is any indication, is easily done in the taqueria environment).
Mucho Mas 0.5, Tortilla 0.5.
Conclusion: So, what does it all mean? Well, to be honest, if you've never had a good burrito before, you're going to like both. And without some serious time at the taqueria table, you might have a hard time telling the burritos apart. But if you trust me (and why wouldn't you?), for pure enjoyment of experience, as well as better marks for food, the final score tells the story:
Mucho Mas 8.5, Tortilla 3.5.
* Desperados on Upper Street could conceivably count as Mexican, but can any of you reasonably tell me that it's good? Doritos are not made to be nachos, people. And salsa doesn't use ketchup as a base.
** Give or take.
*** N.B. While it is true that Tortilla is on Islington High Street, not Upper Street, a) the street looks, feels, and continues pretty much the same, and b) any other name would have simply been too long. I thought about "Wrap Wars," assuming a long-lasting campaign with hard fought victories and defeats on both sides, but then we would have needed to include fine establishments like the Olive Grill, and
that would have gotten way too complicated. Maybe I'll tackle the "Burrito vs. Wrapped Kebab" comparison on another guest blog entry.
**** Who would believe it, but the number one Google hit for "mucho mas" is a Norwegian Mucho Mas! I'll be damned. Interestingly, much of the menu translates well from the mexiwegian (norwican?), and the taste buds are tingling. Never having been to Norway, I can't vouch for any authenticity here, but I'm beginning to see the outlines of yet another guest blogging experience in my future. "Mucho Mas
Melees," here I come.
***** This is a rough guess based on my memory, which has been failing me lately. I would estimate this number +- 6.
****** I seem to have a bit of a newly-discovered steamed tortilla fantasy. Who knew?
******* 0.240066p and dropping fast. But that is an entirely different rant for a different time.