Primo Beef and Bean Burrito. Black Beans. Lettuce. Cheese. Red Sauce. So simple. A staple of my life for so many years. And now like so many of the good things in this world, gone too soon. So long Burrito Brothers.
As a kid growing up in South Florida in a working-class family, we didn’t dine out very much. If we did, it was your typical fast food dash and grab. Like more kids than not, my exposure to burritos and tacos in my early years was via Taco Bell. Cringe-worthy now but at the time, everyone was doing it. It was the ’80s, man. So imagine my taste buds’ reaction the first time I visited Gainesville in 1991 as a high school senior and was taken to a hole in the wall place on 13th Street for a real burrito.
That initial visit to Burrito Bros. Taco Company was love at first taste. My order was a primo beef burrito, tortilla chips and a soda. We ate in front of my friend Joel Kelly’s dorm hall, Broward. The flavor of the red sauce, the ground chuck melted together with cheese, the green lettuce, the freshness of the tortilla… I mean seriously, this was an option? The mass produced mystery concoction that was tossed out the drive thru window for years into my car wasn’t a burrito. This was heaven on Earth. This was home.
For the next six years as I pursued a bachelor’s and then a master’s at UF, Burrito Brothers would faithfully serve me at least once a month. It was just a quick dash over from Matherly or Norman after class or before a study session at Library East. Diligently, I stuck to the basics. Primo Beef or Primo Beef and Bean (black beans) almost every time. Why mess with perfection? Plus back in the mid ’90s, there wasn’t much more to the menu. Most times I arrived, the line was six or seven people deep, sometimes with a few of us cued up outside. Once you made it inside, you checked the pin boards for notices about which bands were playing where, see if any house parties had posted a flier, check to see if anyone was selling anything you might need. It wasn’t just a place to pick up the best burritos in the world, it was a community.
An eclectic community at that. Gainesville has always been a diverse place and Burrito Brothers was certainly representative of that. Punks with tattoos and piercings, professors, locals from the outskirts of town, businessmen in suits, freshman with fear in their eyes who had been sent there on recommendations from older siblings or parents. All were welcome through that door just north of University Ave. And all came for the feast.
I moved to California in 2000 and was introduced to authentic Mexican food for the first time. There are so many wonderful spots for tacos and burritos but my love for Burrito Brothers never died. In fact, my Mom once sent me a few primo beef burritos packed in dry ice for my birthday. On every trip back to Gainesville, I’ve eaten at Burrito Brothers at least once and sometimes twice.
As the years have passed, Gainesville has morphed and those effects on the old mainstays were obvious. So many longtime hangouts of generations of Gators have long ago disappeared. Joe’s Deli, the Covered Dish, the Orange and Brew, the Purple Porpoise, Common Grounds and countless others… all gone. The corner of 13th and University is prime real estate and the city of Gainesville has exploited that. Burrito Brothers first relocated and spent years operating out of the back of a church. As shocking as that move was to many of us, it still felt like our own special place. It wasn’t the hole in the wall anymore, it was the hole in the back of the church. As long as there was red sauce, we were happy. Surely Burrito Brothers could find a way to survive even when those other Gainesville icons could not.
When I took my family back to Gainesville in November of 2015 for the Florida-Florida State game, as with every trip back, Burrito Brothers was on the itinerary. I had heard about the new digs but when I strolled over for lunch on Game Day, I had no clue what awaited me. An actual restaurant with tables and a patio. Craft beer on tap. A menu with so many items on it, my wife and kids had to take their time figuring out what they wanted. Not me. Primo beef and bean (black) burrito, extra red sauce, guacamole (which incidentally is one of my biggest regrets, not liking guac as a student, I never had it until I returned as an alum, what a loss). I also added a draft of a local Gainesville brew because how cool is that? We took our brown paper bag (I loved that they still stayed true to the brown paper to-go bag) and walked back across University to our tailgate spot in the Plaza of the Americas. And there I consumed what turned out to be my last burrito from the place that binds me to Gainesville as much as Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Weimer Hall or anywhere else.
I didn’t know it was my last meal at that time but looking back now, I’m salivating at the taste flashback. The fact that my wife and young sons got to partake with me makes it all the more special. I can’t believe they are closing, the blame lies heavily with the city and I know that my next trip back to Gainesville will be a little less joyous because of it.
Farewell Burrito Brothers. Gainesville is losing another piece of its soul on Saturday. We’ll always love you.