El Burro brings genuine Mexican flavor to the North Side
By Mark Kanny
Published: Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, 8:53 p.m.
Derek Burnell may be bullish on the North Side, but Mexican food has been a passion since he was a child.
He opened El Burro on Federal Street on Nov. 2. By the middle of the following week, Burnell and co-owner Wes de Renouard were very busy at lunchtime. There is a rail with bar stools extending around the interior of the small space for people who wish to eat right away, but much of the business is takeout.
“We are very limited in size and storage, so we are truly making everything every day,” he says. “We have food deliveries every day, which is not the easiest thing when you have to do inventory twice a day.”
El Burro is an expansion from Burnell's Round Corner Cantina at 3720 Butler St. in Lawrenceville, which opened in 2009 and where the food serves as snacks to eat with beers and tequila. El Burro is all about the food.
Burnell grew up in San Diego, 15 minutes from the Mexican border.
“My dad and I would go down there every weekend or every other weekend. We'd have a Mexican doughnut for breakfast, spend 2 to 3 hours and come home,” he says. “When I was older, I'd go down to have beers. It felt like a second home. There, Mexican and American cultures are one and the same. When we'd barbecue at home, it was always grilled Mexican food.”
He was confident the North Side was the right location for his new business.
“The North Side is beautiful. I think it has the highest concentration of interesting and beautiful buildings, but there are not enough places for people to eat. I think that alone is reason enough to come in and open a good place. There are a dozen fantastic restaurants on the North Side, but a dozen isn't enough.”
He's also aware that he's located in a section of the North Side showing revitalization even before the Garden Theater Block is redeveloped. With Allegheny General Hospital, museums and other businesses in walking distance, his location can serve a large base of potential customers. The area will soon be called Allegheny Central City.
El Burro's menu is dominated by 11 varieties of burritos, $4.95 to $7.49. The fillings include bean and cheese, carne asada, chile relleno, chorizo, shredded beef and chicken, and shrimp.
Hard or soft tacos are $2.49 with a variety of meat or potato fillings. Rolled tacos are $5.95 with shredded beef or chicken, and $4.95 for potato.
Burnell's Southern California roots show in the Flying Saucer, $6.95. It's a flat, fried, flour tortilla with a mound of whatever you want on it, such as refried beans, chorizo, cheese, fresh avocado and slices of tomato.
Sides, including sour cream, refried beans, rice, salsa, and chips and salsa, are 79 cents to $2.95. Guacamole is available in a small portion for $1 or $4.49 for a large one.
Beverages include Jarritos Mexican soda, $2.29 and Mexican Coke, $2.49, the latter in glass bottles and made from the old recipe with cane sugar.
El Burro, 1108 Federal St., North Side. Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays. Details: 412-904-3451
Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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