Culture  The best burrito in town

I have a confession to make: when I first heard of Burritoville and its vegetarian dishes, I wrote it off. The prospect of vegetarian interpretations of Mexican food was unappealing. Hopefully you won’t make the same mistake.

The short but varied menu ranges from spinach and mushroom quesadillas to sweet potato burritos, Burritoville’s signature dish. In fact, the restaurant was opened by a school teacher couple who originally cooked up sweet potato burritos for their children. It is now run by Jono Aitchison, the original chef and creator of the current menu, along with his cousin Steve Aitchison and their friend Dave Tamas.

In September 2008, the restaurant moved from its original NDG location to Bishop, just north of Maisonneuve. Steve Aitchison explained that they had “always wanted to be near Concordia because we felt like there was a large portion of the student body that shared our ethics and morals.” In keeping with the student clientele, the food is affordable; tacos are $3.50 and the most expensive item is two quesadillas for 8$.

Stepping inside their brownstone building, through the foyer, and into a back room is like being invited into a friend’s home, especially if you can ignore the sign on the wall. Each time I’ve visited, Aitchison’s brother James has greeted me and taken my order – he seems to recognize and know everybody who comes in. The main dining room is laid-back, with music like Neil Young or the Flaming Lips playing softly as the friendly staff chats with customers.

Burritoville is currently the only fully organic vegetarian restaurant in the downtown area and offers an alternative to the many greasy fast food options near Concordia. Don’t be fooled by the “vegetarian” part. Though the conception is that vegetarian food is bland, these meals are delicious and satisfying, even for committed carnivores. When I asked if everyone who worked at Burritoville is a vegetarian, Steve Aitchison informed me, “None of us are vegetarians, actually.”

“We don’t actively advertise the fact that our food is vegetarian,” says Aitchison. “Some people have biases about what vegetarian food is. Sometimes people come in, find out that it’s vegetarian, then turn around and leave. Though a lot of the time, people come in, try it once, and then come back every week after that.” Despite my initial prejudice, I’ve tried most of the menu and have never been disappointed. All the food is filling, but not greasy. The sweet potato burrito in particular achieves a good balance of sweet and savoury.

A sign above the cash register says that “our mission is to nourish, through providing a space open to all who love food, music, and art” and Burritoville is as much an art space as much as a restaurant. Its architectural layout certainly suggests as much: the dining area occupies only one of its three levels. Aitchison explained that “the idea was always to be both a restaurant for people who choose to eat and live well and a space to support local artists.”

The second floor is an entertainment area equipped with a stage, PA system, piano, and Hammond organ, in order to provide a space for various performing artists, ranging from musicians to drama groups to comedy acts and more. Though modest in size, the space is roomy enough for shows – or for someone to just to bang out a few tunes on the piano. In the hallway, a different Montreal visual artist is featured every month. The third floor, currently under construction, is soon to be a free lending library, a new and improved transplant from their old NDG basement.

Burritoville is committed to serving both appetites and the local community – when the cost of pay phones went up in Montreal, the owners installed an old fashioned rotary phone booth to make free local calls. An important aspect of this community involvement is their emphasis on following an environmentally friendly business model. They even have a sustainability charge of $.25 for take out orders to offset the additional waste.

So if you’re looking for delicious meals for under $10, performances, visual art, and soon a lending library, don’t make the same mistake I did and disregard Burritoville. You would be missing out not only on one of the tastiest socially conscious restaurants, but also on one of the staunchest supporters of local arts in Montreal.

Burritoville is located at 2055 Bishop.