Toms River, N.J.—Suppose I were to tell you a story about a simple burrito, the kind that contains ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles, dressed in a light queso sauce and wrapped snugly in a warm flour tortilla. You’d be the first in line, wouldn’t you? Why take a chance on a Chipotle burrito when you can have something so light and fresh at the low, low price of $3.99?
But then I tell you it’s called the Whopperrito—Burger King’s latest creation, in which a Whopper sandwich is transformed into a burrito. "Burger King’s Whopper Burrito Is Clearly a Sign of the Apocalypse," says Eater. The company’s own press release uses not-so-savory terms like "burger-burrito remix" and "burger-burrito mashup" and touts that it is "made with 100 percent beef" (you mean there’s no pink slime?). Suddenly it’s a joke.
In other words, the Whopperrito is the Ugly Duckling. Everyone makes fun of it but deep down inside, it’s a beautiful thing. I, too, was prepared to call this promotional item a gastronomic atrocity—Taco Town fully realized—until I went to Burger King and tried it myself.
— Victorino Matus (@VictorinoMatus) August 17, 2016
Located on the westbound side of Route 37 in Toms River just before the road connects with the Garden State Parkway, this BK tends to get the beachgoers coming back from a day at the shore. The place is quiet around noon with just a handful of workers on break. None of them are eating the latest menu offering, but Francisco, the assistant manager, tells me Whopperrito sales are "surprisingly good" since the launch two days earlier. Jeremy, the head manager, also assures me it’s "off to a good start."
It doesn’t take long before my $5.99 combo meal arrives (with fries and a side of Vanilla Diet Coke). When I cradle the Whopperrito in my hands, I can’t help but notice just how neatly it’s all contained inside that soft flour tortilla. My friend Jonathan V. Last used to describe suburb fast-food joints as flagships—the place is clean, the workers are nice, and the food isn’t prepared in a slapdash manner. This BK in Toms River is a flagship. The Whopperrito not only holds together well, it also kind of tastes like a Whopper—the healthier version of one.
How could this be? As the manager points out, substituting the queso sauce for mayonnaise is one factor, not to mention use of a tortilla instead of a bun. The Whopperrito clocks in at 570 calories whereas the Whopper totals 630 calories and the Double Whopper has, well, a whopping 850 calories. The choice is clear: If you are looking for a healthy alternative to your favorite flame-grilled sandwich, look no further than the Whopperrito.
Except, of course, most people probably don’t walk into a Burger King looking for a healthy alternative to anything. What they come for is the original Whopper, the one first created in 1957 at Insta-Burger King. (As the late Josh Ozersky noted in The Hamburger, "Amazingly, Burger King would have the field all to itself for almost twenty years, since the imperious McDonald’s did not fire back until 1972 with the invention of the Quarter Pounder").
I ask a few customers if they would at least consider trying a Whopperrito. "Probably," said a solidly built guy named T.J. "I don’t know," said his friend, a skeptical-looking Gerard. "I don’t really like wraps." Shawn, meanwhile, agreed with T.J., saying, "Yeah, sure. It looks good." So what do these Jersey guys prefer? Burgers, fries, and chicken fries. Chicken fries? Isn’t that something for kids? (I later learn my interview subjects are 11, 11, and 12 years of age, respectively.)
But I have to agree, having made a comparison (after a much-needed burp): there’s nothing like an old-fashioned Whopper. The hamburger patty retains a much stronger flame-broiled taste, plus I’ll admit to liking burgers with mayo.
— Victorino Matus (@VictorinoMatus) August 17, 2016
Nevertheless, the idea of turning a burger into a burrito isn’t that crazy. In fact, it’s been happening for some time. Not to toot my own horn (although I did just have a Whopperrito and a Whopper), but I predicted this trend back in 2008 in a piece for the Weekly Standard called "Tortilla Nation." Although Burger King North America president Alex Macedo said in a recent interview that "it’s certainly one of the first times that we’ve tapped into the Tex-Mex category," the chain had been testing out flour tortillas since at least 2008 when it sold the Cheesy Bacon BK Wrapper, a breakfast sandwich.
Not that adding a flour wrap makes anything Tex-Mex per se. And it certainly isn’t Mexican: When I interviewed Mexican celebrity chef Pati Jinich for the "Tortilla Nation" article, she insisted there’s almost nothing in common between the Mexican burra or burrita and our burrito. Americans "completely transformed the inside because in Mexico we have one ingredient that you can really taste [fresh or stewed meat]," said the host of Pati’s Mexican Table on PBS. "Here they put everything inside of the burrito. To Mexicans, that’s not a burrita, that’s like a bomb. The Mexican way of eating burritas and burras is much more delicate than the burrito—you just stuff [the burrito] with a thousand things. You can barely taste what you are eating."
If only Pati knew the simple pleasures of the Whopperrito.
The Whopperrito will be available for the next three to four months at participating Burger Kings.