On Monday, to the joy and bemusement of many, Burger King unveiled the Whopperrito, a limited-time item that marries burger with burrito. “We’re infusing classic American fare with Tex-Mex flare,” said Alex Macedo, the company’s North American president, in a press release.
There’s a lot to unpack there, even if unpacking almost certainly runs against the entire idea of a burrito. Thick queso sauce in lieu of ketchup and mayo and cheese? Pickles inside a burrito? While a true Whopper loyalist might already be intrigued, this hybrid foodstuff is revelatory in ways beyond its fleeting availability. The Whopperrito as a featured item on the menu of America’s second-largest burger chain seems like a good opportunity to reflect on the wildly successful saturation of Mexican-inspired food in the United States.
“Yet another achievement in the evolution and devolution of Mexican food in America,” Gustavo Arellano, the author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, said of the Whopperrito. “Every decade there’s a new trend in Mexican food in the United States that Americans go crazy over. And they get over that, but they just assimilate it into their diet.”
And assimilate, they have. As the Associated Press noted in 2013, tortillas now outsell hamburger and hot-dog buns in the United States, and tortilla chips are more popular than potato chips. Salsa, as it’s been well documented, dethroned ketchup as America’s most popular condiment decades ago. And though the definition is admittedly loose and questions of authenticity constantly linger, according to data from the U.S. Economic Census, the number of Mexican restaurants has surpassed those of their Italian and Chinese counterparts in the United States in recent years. Meanwhile, casual restaurants as well as purveyors of frozen and packaged foods are adjusting their offerings to feature more Mexican, Tex-Mex, and Cali-Mex standards or ingredients. A burgeoning affinity for Mexican-style food is also increasingly evident in Canada and Britain.