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A Real N.M. Brouhaha

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As I write this, I hold in my hand a warm, fat breakfast burrito wrapped in foil and brimming with cheese and red chile. So, excuse any sloppy typos as we talk about the New Mexico crisis de jour: The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiestas’s food fight.

The war that has been bubbling like hot grated cheddar for weeks now pits the board that runs our annual gathering of gliding gondolas against the men and women who wrap scrambled eggs, spuds, cheese and chile in warm tortillas and hand over the bulging bundles of bliss to hungry balloon watchers for a week or so each October.

If you haven’t been following this particular Balloon Fiesta fiasco, allow me to catch you up. The Balloon Fiesta board has put a company from Florida in charge of food concessions to, in their words, “expand the quality of the concessions experience” at the fiesta. The company is Ovations, the people who bring you $8 beers at Isotopes Park.

A number of local vendors feel they don’t need an outside consultant to tell them how to roll their burritos and frost their cinnamon rolls and pour their hot chocolate. The balloon czars also want them to give as much as a 30 percent cut of their gross sales to the Balloon Fiesta.

There have been rumors of $7 burritos. Of $8 burritos! The fiesta says Ovations won’t be telling vendors how big to make their burritos or what to charge for them. Still, a group of local vendors (using the lingua franca of burrito artistry) told the balloon czars to stuff it; they won’t be setting up their booths at the fiesta this year.

It is one measure of the place the breakfast burrito holds in our culture that this standoff has come to involve city councilors, lawyers and a team of public relations specialists. We’ll stand for many indignities – flunking children, drunks on the road, government audits pulled out of thin air – but don’t try to mess with our breakfast burritos.

Please don’t think I’m knocking the Balloon Fiesta. It has many fine qualities. It brings tourists to Albuquerque. It’s over by noon, except for balloon glows. And it always makes it rain.

At its core though, for many of us, the fiesta is an excuse to eat. When you get up before dawn and stand around shivering and waiting for the sun to come up, waiting for hundreds of balloons to be inflated and then waiting for them to fly away, it’s not unusual to need an early breakfast, a second breakfast and then a little something for brunch.

A nice cold day at the Balloon Fiesta with a substantial wind delay amounts to permission to eat a breakfast burrito, a cinnamon roll, some ribs and a big barbecued turkey leg – before noon! Vendors sell all sorts of food at the fiesta, but burritos are king. They say they can move a couple thousand in a weekend.

For those of you who moved here last week and still think that breakfast comes in a bowl with milk poured over it (I think Easterners call it cereal), the breakfast burrito begins with a warm flour tortilla, to which is added eggs and potatoes, cheese and chile. Bacon, chorizo, carne adovada or beans are acceptable additions. The result can be served on a plate and covered in more chile and cheese (smothered) or it can be wrapped and placed in a paper sack (handheld). Few things in life are as perfectly engineered to create happiness.

Everyone has a favorite burrito and defends it with religious fervor. I’m ecumenical. I’ll worship at El Camino with their delicious burrito of eggs and home fries smothered in red. I’ll happily take Golden Pride’s No. 1 or No. 6. Or a Dos Hermanos. Or a Little Anita’s. A Blake’s Lotaburger No. 3 with red is what is fueling this particular morning’s work.

The breakfast burrito is the egg-filled offspring of the standard burrito, which has a history dating back as far as the arrival of wheat flour in the New World. Tia Sophia’s restaurant in Santa Fe is credited with introducing the first breakfast burrito, in 1975. My guess is that the breakfast burrito is actually as old as hungry men and women with pockets in their pants, tortillas and other comestibles on hand and no time to sit down at the breakfast table.

But we don’t gather just to praise breakfast burritos; we like to eat them.

I’m probably not alone in eyeing my Lotaburger No. 3 and thinking it would slip nicely inside a sweatshirt pocket on fiesta morning – the burrito equivalent of concealed carry. That would be warm and affordable – and actually allowable under fiesta park rules – but it would also be wrong.

The vendors who will accept the fiesta’s new concession rules and set up their booths this October deserve our appreciation and our business. Smothered or handheld, $5 or $8 – hey, it’s a burrito. Hand over the cash and enjoy.

And the vendors who will not play by the Balloon Fiesta’s rules deserve our respect for standing up for breakfast rights. In fact, all local purveyors of breakfast burritos could probably use a moral and economic boost right about now.

So please join me in taking the Breakfast Burrito Balloon pledge. From now until the sky is filled with those colorful orbs, let’s all vow to think “burrito” when we think “breakfast.”

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or Go to to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal