The wet burrito is a Michigan mystery drizzled in red chile sauce.
GRAND RAPIDS—The heart of American manufacturing and the arsenal of democracy, Michigan has always been a place of ingenuity and invention. Accompanying the Model T off assembly lines were food staples like Jiffy baking mixes and Kellogg’s cereals.
But it might surprise you to know that in 1966, a culinary masterpiece rolled, flopped, and splashed its way out of a Grand Rapids kitchen and into the national spotlight—the wet burrito.
Like the modern car, some dispute exists over who can actually lay claim to the first wet burrito. But the best bet is that it’s a product of the Beltline Bar—a late-night craving cornucopia wrapped up in a Spanish Colonial-meets-strip mall setting.
Before diving into its provenance, let’s introduce the burrito in question. Ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, and beans are patted down and folded into a soft tortilla. Sometimes described as smothered, the Beltline wet burrito is more so drowned in a red chile sauce more commonly associated with enchiladas. It’s then strewn with melted Colby cheese.
The final product? An appetite-appeasing mess sure to warm the body, invite sleep, and stain lightly colored clothing that gets in the way of the dish and your mouth.
The Beltline first introduced the burrito in 1966. That much is clear. Much less clear is how it made it onto the menu.
The story told by the current owner, Jeff Lobdell, is that the wet burrito was born out of a bad order.
“As legend has it, the previous owner was on vacation and the tortillas came in too big and the manager decided to sauce them all up and have a special, and he came back from vacation, there was a line out the door,” Lobdell told ABC13. “They’ve been selling wet burritos ever since.”
A variation of the story gives credit to a restaurant cook, who responded adaptively after truckers complained regular burritos were too dry for them.
And yet others in New Mexico, California, and even within Grand Rapids (specifically, Little Mexico Cafe) lay claim to the wet burrito’s discovery.
But ask most Michiganders and they’ll tell you to go to Beltline Bar, where Lobdell says the recipe has remained the same since 1966.
While you’re at it, ask Alexa too: ”Alexa, who invented the wet burrito?”
That may clear up the debate.
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