Today I had the great fortune, or perhaps misfortune, of eating at Phat Burrito for the first and last time. As I still feel so new to Charlotte, there are still so many undiscovered vegan gems around town that occasionally pop into my life, and Phat Burrito was one such gem, just a little too late. I discovered this spot when I read on Instagram through a local Charlotte news account that a “california-style burrito joint” in a once-seedy part of town was to be shutting its doors down forever in no less than two days. Saddened by the news of what was probably a hip, divey little place, reminiscent of the taquerias in my old ‘hood in the Mission in San Francisco, I fell down an Instagram rabbit hole, learning more about Phat Burrito and why such a place, with such a following, had to close after ~20 years. Short story: gentrification, poorly planned development, and hyper-growth of a neighborhood that once had character, now serves as haven for the bros and preppy new grads working their first banking jobs uptown. Such is the story of the Charlotte I have walked into, and I wouldn’t be surprised if my still-cool neighborhood was next on the chopping block. Charlotte is growing, and a little too fast for many small businesses to keep up.
But this is a story not just of a loss to the burrito-loving community, to San Francisco “expats”, and to hipsters seeking cheap food. Its also a loss for the vegan community, as I quickly discovered Phat Burrito is one of the few totally non-vegan restaurants that caters wonderfully to the vegan and vegetarian crowd. Unlike San Francisco, finding secret vegan items on menus is a bit of a challenge in this still-southern, slowly-modernizing city, but Phat Burrito makes it easy for everyone to enjoy their juicy, grilled-on-the-outside burrito because they have tofu! Somehow this feels unheard of here. Whenever J and I are lazy and decide we want cheap takeout for dinner, we usually go to a place down the street that also happens to have tofu on their menu, but when I/we are craving something different, the options near us begin to thin out significantly. To know that Phat Burrito could have been on our list of regular quick stops for food, knowing they have tofu (and it is deliciously marinated in a spicy green salsa, then grilled to perfection, which shows they take care in making non-meat eaters feel some love too) and grilled veggies (zucchini, squash, etc), I’m clearly a little heartbroken in knowing that a) I never knew about this place until now, and b) it’s closing on Saturday and I’ll never be able to have what I had today again! #crushed
Sometimes its the little things that make a difference in your vegan routine. Finding a new spot that sells tofu is a goldmine in many parts of the country (or world) and it usually comes with a celebratory cheer, “THEY. HAVE. TOFU!” But today’s celebration was bittersweet. Delicious burrito that reminded me of all the times I drunkenly ate burritos in the Mission with my friends in SF, a celebration of a vegan-friendly place in a not vegan-friendly city, tied to the sad, sad feeling that the next time I’m craving a mission-style burrito, I’ll just have to fly back home.
Goodbye Phat Burrito. Thank you for the memories. Or rather… the memory. Our love was short-lived but your burrito will not be forgotten.