What makes a burrito Californian? Instead of rice and beans, it’s stuffed with french fries, which add a nice crunch and balance out the spicy carne asada. No one is totally sure who came up with this Mexican-American frankenfood, but the Baja-style burrito gained popularity in San Diego back in the ’80s, becoming a part of regional cuisine alongside “rolled tacos” (taquitos) and fish tacos. Stuffed with carne asada, cheese, pico de gallo, and fries, the calorie-dense handheld meat and potato burritos are popular with SoCal surfers because they are cheap, filling, and transportable—not to mention delicious. Fortunately, you don’t have to journey to the West Coast to enjoy a California burrito. Here’s how to make a California burrito at home, as store-bought or homemade as you prefer.
Get extra-large flour tortillas (10-12in) so all the yummy stuffings will fit inside your burrito. Corn tortillas aren’t conducive to wrapping, but you can use whole wheat instead of flour you want. Making your own tortillas is easier than you may think and you probably already have all of the ingredients on hand. It just takes AP flour, salt, water, and vegetable oil. You can also buy fresh tortillas that haven’t been cooked in the refrigerated section of many grocery stores. Note: If you keep your tortillas in the fridge, bring them to room temp or warm them up a bit before you attempt to stuff it—they just roll up better that way. Here’s how to perfectly wrap a burrito.
Carne asada literally translates to “grilled meat,” but traditionally refers to marinated flank or skirt steak. Both cuts of meat can be tough, so you may want to pound them with a meat mallet to tenderize them. (This breaks down the muscle fibers to make them softer.) However, the acid also acts as a tenderizer, so marinating will also help. Since both cuts of meat are so thin, you have to be careful not to overcook them. Preheat your grill to 450 degrees, then grill for about four minutes on each side for the perfect medium-rare, five if you prefer medium. If you are cooking on the stovetop, set to medium-high heat and use a cast-iron skillet if possible. Grease your pan with an oil that has a high smoke point, like canola oil.
Another thing that can make these cuts tough is the way you slice them. If you slice a skirt or flank steak with the grain, it will be chewy and stringy. Let your steak rest for at least five minutes before cutting into them so it retains its juices. Then thinly slice it diagonally, against the grain.
This recipe takes some planning ahead as the carne asada must marinate for two to six hours (any longer and the citric acid could start cooking the meat). Usually, marinades are made with a combination of acid, oil, herbs, and spices. Typically, carne asada marinade uses citrus as the acid, olive oil or vegetable oil, herbaceous cilantro, and is flavored with Mexican spices. Cilantro haters can substitute fresh parsley.
Feel free to experiment different marinades until you find your favorite. Food.com’s version combines lime juice, olive oil, a few cloves of garlic, one jalapeno (de-seeded and slightly chopped), a cup of cilantro, and salt and pepper. Lisa’s Favorite Carne Asada Marinade adds lemon and orange juice to citrus mix with some soy sauce to boot. Carlsbad Cravings is similar but adds a splash of liquid smoke for a slightly smokey flavor. It also uses a rub of cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika, garlic, and onion on the carne asada. Feeling particularly lazy? Buy carne asada marinade in a bag.
Start with a pound of large Idaho russets, or grab a sack of Ore Ida from the freezer section (we won’t judge). If you have a deep fryer or air fryer, you could actually fry them. Otherwise, you can attempt a stovetop style or bake them. If you are going the homemade route, after you wash the potatoes, cut them in half and place the flat side down and cut into quarter-inch strips lengthwise. The key to making crispy fries at home is soaking them to remove excess starch. Another secret is frying them twice, so instead of twice-baked potatoes, we’re serving twice-fried fries.
We love the way Carlsbad Cravings seasoned their Mexican street fries with a quarter teaspoon each of garlic powder, ground cumin, and chipotle pepper and half a teaspoon of salt. (They note that you can sub a dash of cayenne for the chipotle pepper.)
To achieve melted cheesy potato perfection, put shredded cheese right on top of the fries. Use a Mexican cheese blend, a combo of pepper jack and sharp cheddar, or Monterey Jack and mild cheddar.
Pico de Gallo
Make your own pico de gallo with Roma or plum tomatoes, a white onion, jalapeno, lime, cilantro, and sea salt. Or as Ina would say, store-bought is fine. You could use salsa if you prefer, but since it’s more liquid it can make the burrito soggy.
Add other stuffings to your burrito, like cilantro, sour cream, onion, or guacamole. Find out how to make Chipotle guac here. Try it with different proteins—make it surf n’ turf by adding shrimp, or substitute carnitas (pork) or chicken for the steak.
Serve with Mexican street corn or authentic refried beans. Wash it down with a classic, skinny, frozen strawberry, or watermelon margarita. For dessert, try our apple empanadas.
Make a big batch of burritos and freeze for a quick, delish meal. First, let the components cool off before assembly, lest your tortillas become soggy. Wrap up individual burritos tightly in foil, then freeze flat on a baking sheet before transferring to a large freezer bag. To prevent freezer burn, remove excess air before sealing. California burritos will keep in the freezer for up to three months.
To reheat, there’s no need to defrost. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or microwave them for about four minutes per burrito then pan sear for a crispy finish.
PS, our breakfast burritos also freeze nicely for a quick yet satisfying start to your day.
Serves 4, Prep Time: 3hrs 20min
- 4 extra large, burrito-size flour tortillas
- 1.5lbs flank steak
- 2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese (1/4 C for ea. burrito)
- 1lb frozen french fries, cooked according to package directions (or homemade)
Pico de gallo:
- 2 plum tomatoes, diced
- 1 jalapeño, diced
- 1/2 small red onion, diced
- juice of 1/2 lime
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 cup cilantro, lightly chopped
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 jalapeno – remove seeds and chop lightly
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1?2 teaspoon pepper
Pico de gallo:
In a small bowl, combine the diced tomatoes, diced jalapeño, diced onion, lime juice, and cilantro. Season with kosher salt and ground black pepper.
Combine all ingredients into a food processor or blender. Submerge steak in marinade in a glass vessel or plastic bag for two to six hours.
Grill at 450 degrees for 4-5 minutes per side or cook for same time on Med-High on stovetop in lightly greased cast iron skillet. Let rest, then slice thinly against the grain.
Heat tortillas then fill with steak, fries, cheese, and pico de gallo, being careful not to overstuff. Fold in both ends, then tightly wrap up and enjoy.