Yes, Virginia, the Frito pie did convey.
Allow yourself to envision a full, single-serving bag of Fritos, plus pinto beans, shredded beef, cheese, salsa, lettuce and sour cream. It was a meal in a bag, a six-layer dip complete with chips mixed in. Legion are the Richmonders who fell in love with Nate Gutierrez's Frito pie back in the days of Nate's Taco Truck, and plenty of us followed that pie to Don't Look Back when Guitierrez opened the Carytown taco shop with partner Hamooda Shami.
When a fire last summer resulted in the restaurant's closure, the fate of the Frito pie hung in the balance. Fortunately, not for long.
By September, partners Gutierrez and Shami opened the doors on Best Friends Forever, a new burrito joint a few doors down from the dearly departed restaurant. There, on the menu of specialty burritos, is, lo and behold, a Frito pie burrito.
The lowbrow charm of eating from a bag is about all that's lost in translation to massive burrito form. The Frito pie burrito ($9.50) still delivers all the mix-ins of the original, with the added bonus of red chili sauce, all wrapped up in a flour tortilla. The adjustment for longtime fans is that the Fritos are scattered over and around the burrito, rather than being incorporated into it. I know — change is hard.
For those who don't have a history with Fritos, the menu offers two other specialty burritos, plus a plain Jane ($5) and a build-your-own option. Fans of customizable meals — generally the bane of a kitchen's existence — are invited to have it their way. Sure, a flour tortilla is standard around a burrito, but perhaps you'd prefer yours naked — served over romaine — or naked-plus, which includes three small corn tortillas with the bed of lettuce. Then there's the issue of girth, because we all know size matters. A so-called small burrito addresses all but the heartiest appetites, and I've yet to dine with anyone who can finish a large, and I've been three times.
Exercising your freedom to build your own is a journey. Fillings for carnivores include shredded beef ($6/8.50), roasted chicken ($6/8.50), slow-cooked pork ($6/8.50) and seared shrimp ($7/9.50). Vegetarians can opt for textured vegetable protein "chorizo" ($5/7.50) or calabacitas ($5/$7.50) of roasted squash, zucchini and tomatoes, which was incidentally so tasty this carnivore declared it best in show.
That accomplished, now you've got to make peace with your choice of either black or pinto beans, white or green cilantro-poblano rice, and traditional salsa fresco or green tomatillo poblano salsa. All are served with cheddar-jack cheese and sour cream.
Just when you think you've made every burrito decision imaginable, it's time to consider whether your burrito arrives smothered in red or green chili sauce ($1), red and green Christmas sauce ($1), queso ($2) or guacamole ($2). The final question is deep fried ($2) or not, a decision best not considered by your sensible side.
After trying several custom options, I'm only too happy to concede that no combination I came up with compared to the specialty burritos. Look no further than a chicken pibil burrito, balancing peppery annatto with hints of garlic and citrus, to prove that a talented kitchen combines ingredients far better than a rank amateur.
You'd be hard-pressed to come by a better hangover cure than the restaurant's breakfast burrito ($8), with its belly-filling stuffing of two eggs fried hard, bacon, black beans, salsa fresco and cheese. That said, biting into a burrito with full-length slices of thick-cut bacon all but guarantees bacon fallout, a dilemma easily solvable with smaller pieces.
The usual suspects with chips show up as starters. Guacamole ($7) tastes fresh, but needs salt, while queso ($5) is uneven, bland and unappealingly separating on one visit and nicely spiced and homogenous on another.
Should you manage to save room for dessert, the churro ($5) game is solid. A spicy chocolate dipping sauce rides shotgun, but the cinnamon-dusted wands of fried dough don't really need it.
Word on the street is that Don't Look Back will be opening on Forest Hill Avenue this summer, so the original Frito pie may soon be back in town. By then, converts to the Frito pie burrito may not care.
In or out, it all depends on where you like your Fritos. S
Best Friends Forever
Daily 11 a.m. - midnight
2915 W. Cary St.