As a typical millennial, I am mildly obsessive about food. Vegan or not, I eat that food-media up, from chef-driven podcasts to long-form Eater articles. To pass the time on the elliptical, I’ve taken to binge-watching the popular BuzzFeed YouTube series, Worth It. Millennial hosts Andrew and Steven drive around Los Angeles (and occasionally New York City) to try a specific food item at three drastically different price points to determine the “Worth It winner.” Sadly, the show has only featured one vegan episode which was generically titled “Vegan Food.” Inspired by the adventurous nature of the show and an unusually strong affinity for foil-wrapped Mexican handholds, I decided to stage my own Worth It challenge: Worth It: Vegan Burritos. 

The Contenders
As a Southern California resident, I do not lack for quality vegan burrito options. Narrowing it down to just three involved many sleepless nights and a far too complex spreadsheet, but I prevailed. For the low-dollar option, I decided upon Del Taco’s Beyond 8-Layer Burrito (no cheese or sour cream). The middle tier was trickier, but I finally settled on local Los Angeles pop-up Cena Vegan’s Big Vegan Burrito. Finally, Gratitude Kitchen & Bar’s SF Mission Burrito was selected to represent the high-dollar value. Bring on the salsa and let the tasting begin. 

 
 
 
 
 
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Del Taco’s Beyond 8-Layer Burrito—$4.49
While coming in at under half the price of the next contender, Del Taco packs a variety of components into a relatively small burrito. Even the modified vegan version—which is technically a six-layer burrito due to the omission of cheese and sour cream—still has a lot going on. The wrap is comprised of a generous portion of Beyond Meat crumbles, refried beans, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, guacamole, and red sauce. The Beyond Meat flavor dominantes each bite, while there are creamy hints of guac and spicy squirts of the red sauce. In accordance with the price, this is not a huge burrito, so if you’re really hungry—as I always am when I sit down to eat—order a Beyond Avocado Taco or another burrito to subsidize your meal. 

 
 
 
 
 
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Cena Vegan’s Big Vegan Burrito—$10
What started as a singular East-LA pop-up in 2016 has evolved into a cult-favorite and vegan Latin meat producer. Still family-run, Cena has established itself as a regular at various weekly street markets in the greater Los Angeles area. The company also stocks its vegan meats in several Southern California grocers and ships nationwide. While its mountainous nacho boats and hand-pressed corn tortilla tacos are tempting, I’m in it for the infant-sized burrito. I ordered my warm, foil-wrapped bundle of joy with plant-based barbacoa, extra refried beans, pico de gallo, salsa, pickled onions, and cashew chipotle crema. Each ingredient was evenly distributed offering both textural and flavor variety. This is the kind of burrito you hold with two hands for fear of it falling apart, and you sit there in a state of slight comatose as you indulge in each belly-warming bite. I finished my burrito baby and felt confined to the couch for the rest of the evening, but with a steady run of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives on television, I was perfectly content. 

 
 
 
 
 
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Gratitude Kitchen & Bar - $21.50
A more upscale version of the affirmation-focused Cafe Gratitude, this Rodeo Drive restaurant offers a sizeable burrito on its weekday lunch menu. Coined “The Original,” this handhold is stuffed with mushroom carnitas, adobe de mixiote, guacamole, cashew nacho cheese, black beans, and brown rice. As I’m personally averse to rice in a burrito (we can talk about it later), I substituted steamed kale for rice which resulted in a $5.00 upcharge. Noticing the relative class of the ambiance and my fellow diners, I decided to knife-and-fork this wrap instead of tearing into it bear-handed, salsa (which comes on the side) dribbling down my face. This burrito is smaller than Cena’s but can still be considered as an entreé. The mushroom carnitas are the star. The complex, slightly spicy flavor and perfect chew made me wish I had a bowl of it. Paired with the cool guacamole and creamy cashew nacho cheese—along with the added textural element and freshness of the steamed kale—this burrito was perfectly satisfying and crave-worthy. It should earn a spot on the dinner menu. 

And the winner is…
Cena Vegan! It’s the right price, right portion, and contains all the necessary burrito elements of flavor, texture, and variety. The barbacoa is truly outstanding (there’s a reason why they sell it on its own) and you’d be hard-pressed to find better beans in the state. Pair that with homemade accoutrements such as the quick-pickled onions, salsas, and cashew crema, and this enormous burrito becomes the clear champion. Spend your hard-earned Andrew Hamilton-ten at the Cena Vegan booth the next time your stomach starts rumbling with that all-too familiar burrito craving.

 

Tanya Flink is a Digital Editor at VegNews as well as a writer and fitness enthusiast living in Orange County, CA.

Photo credit (left to right): PETA, Chris Ryan, Cafe Gratitude

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