Food & Drink

Review: Mystic Burrito is a Mouthwatering Mash-Up in Highlandtown

Eating one of owner Alex Sushko's burritos in a single sitting requires a Herculean effort—but you’ll want to try, because quality is not sacrificed for quantity.
The steak burrito at Mystic Burrito. —Photography by Justin Tsucalas

Highlandtown is home to several taquerias serving delicious authentic dishes from Mexico and other Latin American countries.

Mystic Burrito is not one of them.

“This isn’t Mexican food; this is California food from people of Mexican heritage,” says Alex Sushko, who opened the outstanding fast-casual spot across from the Creative Alliance on New Year’s Eve. “My influences are also from the Pacific Rim. It’s an interesting twist.”

It is indeed. Sushko, 57, is a native of the neighborhood, but he lived in California for nearly three decades before returning last year. His menu is inspired not entirely by traditional Mexican food, which he did fall in love with while living there as well, but also by the adaptation of that cuisine that emerged from Latino communities in Northern California’s Bay Area—and around the globe.

While the foundation of the extensive menu might look familiar—burritos, tacos, quesadillas, nachos—the fillings are where Sushko’s creativity emerges. While out west he became enamored with Señor Sisig, a food truck born from a collaboration of a “Mexican dude and a Filipino dude,” as he puts it. (Sushko ran surf shops in Ocean City, Maryland, and Aptos, California, and his manner still resembles that of a man looking forward to catching his next wave.) His version of the traditional Filipino dish involves marinating pork, chicken, or tofu in pepper, laurel, soy sauce, sugar, and pineapple. After grilling it, it’s marinated again with lime, soy sauce, and red chile peppers. The result is a savory and sweet combination that awakens the palate.

Sushko is militant when it comes to sourcing his food. He spent years searching for the right Monterrey Jack cheese before finding it on a farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He won’t buy any fish from a non-sustainable fishery, and the flour tortillas he uses are made in California. They’re bigger than standard ones so he can make his burritos in the mold of the massive ones made famous in San Francisco’s Mission District. They’re also thinner.

“I wanted to get that flat tortilla so when [diners] eat my burrito they’re not getting filled with a bunch of processed flour,” he says. “If you take my tortilla and hold it up to the light, you can see your hand through it.”

Once a tortilla is filled, grasping it for a sustained period is no easy task. As noted, Sushko’s burritos are huge; eating one in a single sitting requires a Herculean effort. But a few bites in you’ll want to try because quality is not sacrificed for quantity—quite the opposite. Carne asada, chicken diablo, carnitas, fish, shrimp, and a handful of vegetarian options—the classics are all here.

But the Pacific Island-style offerings are the varieties that really shine. The Hawaiian steak, filled with rice, onion rings, black beans, cheese, spicy green hot sauce, and sour cream, is among the most popular. The chargrilled preparation of the meat combined with its teriyaki marinade creates a dynamic flavor. For Sushko’s version of mochiko, inspired by a popular Hawaiian dish, he marinates thighs in gochujang and rice flour then coats them in a Japanese mirin glaze, furikake, and sake. Large chunks of juicy chicken mesh nicely with yams, cheese, rice, and pico de gallo. Gochujang sauce provides a creaminess and cole slaw a crunchiness that complement one another well. There’s also a breakfast burrito (available until 2 p.m.) with French fries, thick-cut bacon, and eggs.

Sushko’s attention to detail is evident right down to the tortilla chips, which he makes in-house daily. They’re fried in canola oil, which gives them the right amount of grease and perfect crunch. A $3.75 order is served with red and green salsas, but we recommend splurging on fresh guacamole or spicy pineapple salsa, which take two days to prepare. Sushko likes to say that there’s nothing he hasn’t thought about, down to the higher quality toilet paper in the bathroom. (No single ply here.)

Photographs by local artist Stephen Wakefield adorn the walls of the small dining room. After ordering at the counter, most people we’ve seen take their food to-go. Be prepared to wait—everything here is made to order.

“If they want a burrito in two minutes, they can go to Chipotle,” Sushko says without a hint of ire. His restaurant mirrors his laid-back California vibe—and his food is in a category of its own.


MYSTIC BURRITO: 3133 Eastern Ave., Highlandtown, 667-260-4118. HOURS: Tue.-Thur. 10 a.m.- 8 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-7 p.m. PRICES: Nothing more than $13.95. AMBIANCE: California cool.