THOUGH one of the more recent additions to the street food trend sweeping the nation, the simple burrito, on the face of it a tortilla wrap filled with as many different ingredients as possible, doesn’t seem the kind of dish to inspire grandiose statements.
Not so, according to the owners of El Topo, who describe their burrito restaurant in Sovereign Place as “a vector for change”, aiming to “challenge persistent assumptions about the way we work, and the way we eat”.
As mission statements go, it’s a bit more ambitious than ‘I’m loving it’. Happily, this cosy but characterful joint under a railway arch has got the food to back up its lofty aims.
Already a regular on the festival scene, and in the city centre with its burrito trailer, El Topo last year took over a small cafe for its new venture.
Leeds is not short of places to grab this particular Mexican-American delicacy, but the atmosphere when I visit seems more intimate than the metronomic production lines of the bigger chain restaurants.
When we arrive, early evening on a Monday, we’re the only people in, and Sharon Scarmazzo, a former resident of San Francisco and Arizona, gives us a friendly welcome.
The restaurant serves the San Fran-style of burrito, distinctive for its use of flour rather than corn tortillas, the inclusion of extra rice and its ‘American’ (ie much bigger) portions. All its food is freshly prepared on site, which is simply and brightly decorated.
El Topo, as well as being the name of an ultra-violent, 1970s Western movie, also means ‘the mole’ in Spanish. But the menu is reassuringly free of furry rodents. Instead there are burritos in five different flavours, available in ten inch or 12 inches and tamales, steamed corn dumplings, in three flavours. Other options include nachos, quesadilllas with burrito filling and an all-day breakfast wrap of egg, bacon, cheese and optional pulled pork, though not everything is available when we arrive.
Cautiously opting for ten inches rather than 12, our chicken and chorizo and beef brisket burritos come quickly. Both are excellent, with chunky and flavoursome fillings that drip onto our hands as we try to eat them. I order the beef brisket, made with a smoky chipotle rub and slow-cooked for ten hours, with an extra serving of hot sauce that makes my face sweat as I gobble it down.
Our two beverages come from a fridge well-stocked with a range of Fentimans soft drinks and the whole thing comes in at under £13.50.
As well as offering free WiFi, El Topo takes an admirable pride in its commitment to transparency. All staff get the same rate of pay, while its detailed website reveals exactly what goes into its burritos. Recycling bins are on show, and Sharon recycles our glass bottle and can when we hand them back.
Time will tell whether El Topo can shake up the fast food world as it plans to do. But for a hungry punter looking for something different, it’s an ideal place to find a tasty, filling snack, served quickly and with the personal touch. Highly recommended.