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Boston’s all wrapped up in food

Boston has long been known for its amazing chowder, but what about its burritos? Back in the 1990s, when rents were affordable and the Big Dig seemed like a good idea, burritos were a tough item to get. Only a few wrap restaurants, such as Anna’s Taqueria, existed.

Since then, several wrap restaurants have sprung up in and around Boston. Big Burrito, The Wrap, Good and Healthy, and Fresh City are some of the wrap restaurants working to put the right combination of ingredients into a tortilla for Bostonians.

Though burritos’ origins lie in Mexico, their popularity comes from trend-setting Southern California. West coast taquerias have long been working at perfecting the right combination of beans, rice, chicken and other ingredients in order to create the perfect wrap. Most Boston wrap restaurants admit that there is a heavy influence from the West Coast.

“We have an affiliation with a taqueria in San Francisco, Gordo’s,” said Michale Kamio, owner of Anna’s Taqueria. “My cousin has been in business for 20 years and taught us how to run an authentic Mexican taqueria.”

Michael, a San Francisco native, came out to the East Coast with what he had learned and started Anna’s Taqueria in 1995. Since opening his first location on 1412 Beacon St., he has opened two more locations, located at 446 Harvard St. in Boston and in Cambridge’s Porter Square.

Boston University has a wrap restaurant, Good n’ Healthy, at 627 Commonwealth Ave. In 1998, Bob Lowry decided to expand into Boston after five years of success at the University of Massachusetts st Amherst with his wrap restaurant, Bueno Y Sano. Since opening Good and Healthy, Lowry has adjusted his menu and redesigned the restaurant in order to help him be more competitive.

“Our main competitor is Boston University, because they are really good at feeding all of their students with the food court,” Lowry said.

He cites BU’s points system as its main competitive advantage. Though competition has intensified in the Boston wrap business, one restaurant has really taken Boston by storm.

The Wrap, started in 1997 by John Pepper and two BU graduates, Greg Harris and Adam Liebman, has grown from a single location on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Boylston Street to eight locations throughout Boston that not only serve wraps, but also Jera’s Juice smoothies.

“I spent all of 1998 trying to figure out how to make the business work,” said Pepper. “All I knew was that I kept eating two or three of these wraps a day.”

Last year, The Wrap and Jera’s Juice merged to create a better restaurant with more locations and a combination of smoothies and wraps that no other restaurant offers. The Wrap has been focused on evolving into a restaurant responsive to customers’ needs.

“That first day we opened, we never advertised,” said Pepper about his financial district location. “We just kind of opened the doors and watched what happened. The very first day we opened the door, the line was 75 to 80 people deep.”

In response, Pepper and his management team worked to redevelop the entire restaurant. The restaurant has multiple production teams that allows The Wrap to serve 250-300 customers an hour instead of the original 100 customers an hour the restaurant could handle.

But is Boston really buying into this whole “wrap thing?”

“The Wrap is a great bang for your buck,” said Matt Feinberg, who works on Newbury Street. “I’m also a big fan of Burrito Max in Kenmore Square.”

“I think that as far as healthy food goes, you need quality,” said College of Communication senior Andrea Berman. “I won’t get turkey sandwiches from the GSU because I don’t think the turkey or chicken is real. But at Good and Healthy, I like the fact that you can see all of the food being cooked there. It seems fresher.”

The balance between being healthy and tasting good is a fine line. Most burritos and wraps’ fat content can range from four to 40 grams of fat per wrap. Most wrap restaurants don’t have official nutritional information for their wraps. So is everyone being fooled into thinking they’re eating healthy when they’re not?

Yes and no. Some restaurants such as The Wrap have hired nutritionists and have determined nutritional values for all of their food.

“People don’t realize that tortillas can be extremely fatty,” said Pepper. “The Wrap actually forced our tortilla manufacturer to make a new tortilla that fit into certain nutrition guidelines. But I made sure it didn’t hurt the taste. I think it actually tastes better.”

So how can BU students figure out where to go for a burrito? Should students get gourmet wraps at a restaurant like The Wrap or authentic Mexican burritos at a restaurant such as Anna’s Taqueria?

“I just like wraps,” said COM senior Pilar Prassas. “I’ll eat at Burrito Max, Anna’s, The Wrap,or Good and Healthy. As long as it tastes good and isn’t too expensive, I’m game.”

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