Alfresco Scene

The best little improvised dining room in town belongs to Hector Santiago of Pura Vida, who gets his staff to drag a heavy wooden table and some chairs across the street and sets up a tent in the parking lot at the corner of Blue Ridge and North Avenue, one block south of Ponce de Leon.

What’s on the menu? chicken burritos wrapped in newspapers, agua frescas, and Mexican pop.

Look at the burritos being made and admire the contraption (typical Hector-the-Handyman)  for displaying them upright.

The stand is open Saturdays and Sundays from noon until “the chicken runs out.”

By the way, Pura Vida is starting a lunch program next Tuesday, July 27, selling Latin gourmet sandwiches out of the side door of the building. Super Pan sandwiches will include Pork Belly Coconut Buns, a Chipotle BBQ Beef Sandwich, Jamon Serrano on house made Spanish Coca Bread with manchego cheese & date-marcona almond butter, and more.

Vendor Gallery: Matt Hinton of West End Burritos

Matt Hinton

In the last ten years, Matt Hinton has been a theology professor, a dealer in architectural antiques, a pressman for his wife’s letterpress print shop, a carpenter, a photographer, a guitar player,  a video editor, a guy who drove the carts that go “beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep” at the airport, and, most recently, a filmmaker and a record producer/label owner.

Hinton went to Tortillas for the first time when he was a student at Georgia State University, sometime in the early 1990s. “It and Frijoleros were the first burritos of their kind that I ever had,” Hinton writes, “though I had always loved Mexican food (one of my earliest gustatorial memories, apart from huge meals at my grandmothers’ houses, was the El Toro in the very seedy Georgian Motel on Buford highway, which was established in the same year that I was: 1974).The blend of tastiness and seediness of Tortillas was deeply fulfilling to me from the outset. It was a DIY operation–like the Little Rascals had opened a restaurant, and if you went in the back room, you were liable to see Pete the dog powering the whole ramshackle affair by chasing a rabbit while on a treadmill. Or maybe the Bad News Bears. Anyway, theirs were clearly the best burritos that have ever been sold in Atlanta.”

West End Burritos sign

Last year, when Morehouse College reduced the hours of adjunct professors, his included, Hinton set himself a goal: he would recreate the menu of Tortillas, the famous restaurant on Ponce de Leon whose burritos still loomed big in his mind, and start a delivery business. “First, it was just friends, ” he says, “then friends of friends.” Now,  he has no idea who his customers are.

By trial and error, he was able to reproduce the exact same product we all loved. The big flour tortillas contain the right amount of cheese, beans, and seasonings. The two salsas are completely convincing. The burrito is insanely juicy yet  doesn’t leak. Perfect digestion ensues. Eaten the next day, the burrito is still magnificent, in a denser way.

Steaming burritos

Screening his documentary about Sacred Harp singing (recently aired around the country on PBS) in such cities as New York, Chicago, Portland, Louisville, and Los Angeles, Hinton discovered food-truck culture. His participation in the latest Sweet Auburn Curb Market Urban Picnic, where he steamed his tortillas on racks balanced on big pots of boiling water, showed what a man can do in a brilliantly improvised set-up.

You will find Matt Hinton and his delivery schedule on Facebook. If you live within a couple of miles of his weekly trajectory between West End and Decatur, you can order enough burritos on Monday to last you through the week and live another day to hope for his next appearance on the street.

West End Burritos

[photos by Vené Franco]

Vendor Gallery: Hector Santiago

During last Sunday’s James Brown Bash in the Old Fourth Ward, one of Atlanta’s greatest chefs dished out freshly cooked burritos wrapped in newspapers.

burritos en papel

Hector Santiago of Pura Vida on Highland Avenue is that rare chef who can go high and low with the same passion, talent, and energy. His joining the street food movement is wonderful news!

Hector getting down

“El Burropollo is inspired by the burritos I used to eat in my uncle’s restaurant, Burritos Robles in El Paso,” Santiago told us. “Yes…my uncle is a Puerto Rican cooking burritos (he’s been married to my Mexican aunt for as long as I can remember)….He first started Burritos Robles about 40 years ago in Ciudad Juarez., then moved his business to El Paso.”

“They were the hottest burritos I had ever eaten,” Santiago remembers, “and what I love about them is that it was 95% meat and a little garnish. I serve mine with sauces to tame it down but in El Paso they do the contrary…they are truly Chile Heads! ”

Vowing to keep the menu simple, with the addition of a fried item so he can recycle his oil into diesel to help keep his cost down, Santiago is deadset on going mobile.

Gracias to Hector and pura vida, y’all!


[photos by Karl Injex]

The Old Fourth Ward Celebrates James Brown

James Brown
The Atlanta Street Food Coalition and its friends from The Soundtable and Top Flr will hold a party complete with favorite street-food vendors and maybe a politician or two.

Hector Santiago of Pura Vida will be there with his soon to be famous burritos (more about these soon)!!

Sunday, May 2, corner of Edgewood and Boulevard
James Brown Street Festival, 12:00-4:00 PM

[Image via Desheboard]

The Sheik

Jahan Ostad

Jahan Ostad started cooking for himself after he put on the classic freshman twenty-plus pounds “from a strict diet of pizza, beer and more pizza” at Arizona State. “Immediately, he writes, “I began taking notes on how my father cooked his fantastic native version of Persian food.” Shortly thereafter, he began hosting dinner parties and wow his guests with emulations of his father’s cooking and of those from the southwestern restaurant, where he worked. As word of his cooking abilities and the size of his dinner parties grew, Ostad had to “find a way to make the same amount of food serve more people. And thus the fusion of Persian and Southwestern cuisine was forever forged inside the burrito.”

Sheik Burritos n Kabobs, a brick-and-mortar restaurant with the soul of a food truck, is upbeat, healthy, and tasty. The chic Sheik is still interested in rolling out a mobile unit as part of his three-tiered concept. “The concession trailer is the place where the dream becomes a reality. It is where the food and the fun engage and mingle with the common man on the street. It is what is missing in Atlanta and in many other untapped hungry markets. Within its 8×14-foot frame lies the prototype for success. We are not recreating the wheel here. Instead we are giving it new treads and tweaking what already has proven successful elsewhere.”

The Sheik’s groovy mission statement (“No longer will the kind people of the south struggle to find a decent meal at an indecent hour! No longer will fast-food be synonymous with unhealthy dog-food! No longer will gourmet food take hours of your time, max out your credit card, or require you to wear a shirt and tie!”) and fun graphics (check out his mural)  are part of the fun of following the fusion burrito trail.

A tip from us: the burritos made on Persian bread with Persian sauces and Mexican peppers are almost better the next day, when the bread has deflated and all the ingredients have melded into one juicy unit…