Restaurant cooks have a special relationship with burritos. They’re the meal of choice for many after a long night on the line, and there’s no better all-encompassing food that combines carbs, veggies, and protein in such a portable format. One of my former coworkers, Travis Heitkamp, who’s a talented pizzamaker at Paulie Gee’s Logan Square (where I used to work), came home from a vacation in San Diego a few months ago, marveling at just how delicious the burritos were on the West coast. 

He was curious to see how Chicago’s stacked up, so he and I went on a North Side burrito tour of the city to find some new favorites. We came away from our whirlwind tour with five excellent finds, all of which have their own distinct personalities. What we determined was that our favorite burritos were filled with high-quality ingredients that were skillfully prepared to tease out the most flavor from their starring proteins. 

The best burrito nobody ever talks about: Gorditas Loli’s #2

Gorditas Loli’s is known for its gorditas (of course they are, it’s in the name), which are masa pockets stuffed with various fillings, so you know you have to order a few of those when you visit. But the burritos, which only occupy a small portion of the menu, are the restaurant’s best-kept secret. These are Durango-style burritos filled with deshebrada, which is irresistibly moist shredded beef. You get a choice of red or green deshebrada, and then the burrito is finished with potatoes and a squiggle of mayo. 

They’re comforting and rich, yet modest in appearance, and what’s telling is that they aren’t an exercise in quantity. They’ll leave you questioning whether or not an everything-but-the-kitchen sink approach is really best for every burrito. It’s cash only, but it’s well worth the trip to the ATM. 3650 W. Belmont Ave., Avondale Website

The best pork lover’s burrito: Carnitas la Esquinita

This often-overlooked carnitas restaurant puts out some of the best the North Side has to offer. The meat has a concentrated porky flavor that only patient cooking can produce, and it dominates every bite of your burrito in an extraordinarily soul-satisfying way. You can also order the carnitas by weight to construct your own tacos at your table, or you can bring home a few pounds to enjoy at home. We say you should consume it in every way possible, especially in a burrito. 3424 W. Irving Park Road, Irving Park Website

The best luxury in burrito format: Tacotlán

Tacotlán is primarily known for its deliciously slow-cooked beef birria, which goes into its social media-friendly quesabirria tacos. But you do not want to miss the Lalos on the Beach burrito, which features a generous amount of outer skirt steak and perfectly grilled shrimp. Normally I wouldn’t even think of ordering both beef and seafood in the same burrito, but the quality of these ingredients, accompanied by lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole, chipotle and avocado salsa, will leave you wondering why you don’t see this combination more often. It’s nothing short of stunning. 4312 W. Fullerton Ave., Hermosa Website

The best no-frills steak burrito: Taqueria el Asadero

Taqueria el Asadero consistently makes it onto best-of lists for one reason: Its carne asada is outstanding. I wanted to try and find as many hidden gems as I could for this roundup, but jeez, there’s a reason why Taqueria el Asadero still sits so high on every roundup. The steak packs in that beefy flavor you crave when you want carne asada — and in burrito format, your inner carnivore will happily be sated. This is a burrito with very few frills; it comes with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and cilantro, which means nearly all of your tastebuds can bask in the glory of el Asadero’s grilled red meat. 2213 W. Montrose Ave. North Center Website

The best grilled chicken burrito: Carbon Live Fire Mexican Grill

Travis and I weren’t initially looking for a chicken burrito when we first started our search, but we needed a slight change of pace to break up all the beefier and porkier options we’d tried along the way. A burrito palate cleanser, if you will. Though we’d originally visited Carbon Live Fire Mexican Grill intending to grab a steak burrito, the Mother Clucker chicken burrito caught our eye instead. It’s an entire pound (yes, pound), of grilled chicken along with tequila lime sauce, onions, and cilantro, wrapped in a flour tortilla.

On paper, the Mother Clucker isn’t particularly interesting. It’s basically just a lot of chicken. In practice, however, we found ourselves taking more and more bites of it, marveling at the slight sweetness in the chicken’s marinade, which came out when grilled. The onions and cilantro woke each bite up with sharp freshness, and when we applied a touch of salsa, we realized that the burrito didn’t need any other flourishes. Travis noted that this burrito was one he’d reach for after a workout. 810 N Marshfield Ave., West Town Website