It was just last summer that I was sitting across from Armando Delacruz, our masks threatening to slip in the lunchtime heat, outside of the Hungry Burrito, a tiny hole-in-the-wall burrito spot on Morgan Avenue. Delacruz is also the owner of another restaurant called the Hungry Burrito, but Armando works part-time as a cook at the first one on Morgan Avenue.
Armando Delacruz came to America with his brother, Greg, in search of a better life. Delacruz painted a picture of his home in Mexico: “The place where I come from is a very very small town where we had no electricity, we had no gas, we had no cars, no TV, and you want to change your situation.”
He came to America 25 years ago seeking opportunity and found it in the kitchen of an Upper West Side restaurant called Nacho Mama’s, now known as The Heights. He did whatever he could to pay the bills: at times he worked as a dishwasher, a cleaner and a stocker. To this day, Delacruz still does not identify as a chef.
It was his brother Greg who persisted: “I’m not going to stop here, this isn’t going to stop me.” And eventually, Greg was able to build up a construction business to secure funds to open his own restaurant, which turned into the first Hungry Burrito on Morgan Avenue. He asked Armando to share ownership, but Armando stayed out of it for the time, choosing then to just work as a cook.
But Greg soon wanted to open a second Hungry Burrito. He initially sought out a small spot. Armando explained, “Our plan was to open a small place where we could sell tacos and quesadillas, maybe nachos, something smaller.” But an opportunity arose for a larger space in Ridgewood. This time, Delacruz couldn’t resist joining forces with his brother, and together they opened the Hungry Burrito on Seneca Avenue in March 2018.
Delacruz found that most Mexican restaurants in the area were either purely traditional Mexican or fully Tex-Mex. But Delacruz’s experience at Nacho Mama’s had taught him a kind of Tex-Mex style that he could combine with his own traditional recipes.
Hungry Burrito is where traditional dishes like tacos al pastor meet salmon a la plancha. It’s where margaritas are never in short supply. His classic margaritas pair perfectly with his Hungry Cemita, a Mexican-style sandwich with chipotle chicken and a homemade guajillo chili sauce. Elsewhere on the menu is the Hungry Torta, a take on the hot dog that pairs it with zesty flavor.
Delacruz’s dream was to do something different, to have a good home, to be able to build a house for his parents and for himself. He eventually wants to go back to Mexico to open a business at home with his family. But in the meantime, he remembers receiving a delivery of drinks, sitting outside with his brother in the smoky heat on Seneca Avenue.
Greg said to Armando, “Remember when we were children, when we were like eight or ten years old, when we were begging for money to buy a drink, and now we have all this right here, all these drinks?”
When I asked Delacruz if he thinks he’s living the American Dream, he said, “Everybody’s looking for a dream. And our dream is here. But then you start to feel comfortable, you start to feel like you can do a lot of things. Then you get happy with the stuff you do. Then you spend money on clothes, you spend money on shoes, you spend money to go to restaurants and on dinner, and you lose your dream.”
Top photo credit: Andrew Karpan
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