(USA TODAY/DAILY MEAL) -- Of all the culinary creations in the world, few single items encompass an entire meal quite like the burrito: meat, beans, rice, salsa, maybe some vegetables, all wrapped up in that versatile food vessel - the tortilla.
In the best burritos, each ingredient stands out in every bite while at the same time harmonizing inside its casing. It may well be the perfect food for any meal (see: breakfast burritos), though it's just as satisfying while capping off a night on the town with one last hurrah of gluttony.
Traditional, Americanized, or fused with any number of ethnic cuisines, the burrito has become as much a part of American food culture as the hamburger; enjoyed coast to coast, by all walks of life. Regale yourself with a homemade tortilla from Changos Taqueria, a "Cheezy Beef" from Habanero's or go all out with beef tongue from La Pasadita.
Consuming this gastronomic bomb leaves you tenuously balancing between a compact, delicious meal and a lap full of stained clothes and hunger. Some burritos are simply too messy to eat with one's hands, proudly taking up the plate on which they're laid, but true professionals know how to eat theirs wrapped in foil. Starting slowly at one end and working down, the foil holds all the juices in until you get to the last bite. Thanks to gravity, what would have been just a tortilla is now a tortilla that has been sitting in juices - a wad of burrito essence to finish off almost a foot of food.
However perfect and unshakeable this concoction may seem, bad burritos do exist. Lucky for you, this list only covers the country's best. The Daily Meal searched the land of the free to seek out the best burritos around, from glorified bodegas and holes-in-the-wall to flashier, younger joints. We consulted our own group of chefs and city experts, along with nationally and locally trusted sources online and in print in cities across the country. Some great places didn't make the list, but after qualifying the food based on heft, tortilla-wrapping skill and of course, flavor, the burritos from these 10 places emerged as the clear winners.
1. La Azteca Tortilleria, Los Angeles
Raved about by famished travelers and locals alike, the chile relleno burrito at La Azteca Tortilleria is a thing of beauty. They offer other options like carnitas and carne asada, but the cheese-stuffed, perfectly fried chile relleno that makes up the bulk of this burrito is what sets it apart, elevating the humble poblano to heights of Mexican food greatness.
2. Gordo, Albany, Calif.
A Bay Area institution with six locations, locals swear that the one in Albany is tops. The wonderfully juicy burrito is filled right in front of you as you look into their open kitchen with vats of fillings cooking away. If you can keep your burrito from spilling forth its contents, you'll not only have accomplished more than most Gordo diners, you'll be knocking at the gates of burrito heaven.
3. La Taqueria, San Francisco
This Mission neighborhood institution is a regular stop for food lovers in a city already famous for its Mexican offerings. Either keep it simple and just stick with meat and beans - no rice filler in the burrito here - or upgrade it with all the classic burrito extras and feel your pants tighten with each bite.
4. Zaragoza, New York City
From the outside, you'd never guess that this diminutive East Village storefront was anything other than a typical New York City bodega, but cross the threshold and you'll find some of the best Mexican food in the city. Zaragoza's burrito comes on a plate smothered in three sauces, mimicking the Mexican flag. Dig in with a knife and fork, which may sound sacrilegious to some, but here is so, so right.
5. Changos Taqueria, Austin, Texas
Located near University of Texas at Austin, the aroma of homemade tortillas hits you like a suplex from a luchador when you walk in the door, reinforced by the fact that you can actually see people making the masa rounds. Take that fresh tortilla and turn it into either a Super (bean) or Maximo (meat or guacamole) burrito and you have a great meal for a cheap college student budget.
6. Habanero's Grill, San Antonio
Skip the other burrito joints in San Antonio and make your way here for a real treat. You can make the tough decision yourself and build your own burrito from the ground up or leave yourself in the hands of the chef and choose from one of six burrito favorites with names like "Cheezy Beef" (white queso, cheddar and jack cheeses) and "Gringo-Rito" (featuring a ranch-like proprietary dressing).
7. Bell Street Burritos, Atlanta
At this Atlanta burrito mecca started by a former theology professor, you're given the choice to build your burrito however you please. Stay classic and choose one meat with your pinto beans, jack cheese, rice, and salsa fresca or be bold and try combinations such as steak and shrimp and top it off with broccoli and potatoes.
8. The Chile Pepper, Yuma, Ariz.
At The Chile Pepper, it is not about the girth of the burrito or all the extras but the exquisite execution of simplicity. Locals rave over the simplest of burritos here - bean and cheese - where the fresh tortillas and hot sauce make it go from simple to excellent.
9. La Pasadita, Chicago
A no-nonsense taqueria with a limited menu, La Pasadita makes its presence known with a screaming-yellow exterior. Meat options are plentiful, ranging from chicken to beef tongue, but vegetarians are sadly out of luck. The burrito comes loaded with cheese, sour cream, lettuce, tomato, guacamole, onions, cilantro, and rice - it is a behemoth, straddling its plate like an elephant trying to ride a circus tricycle.
10. Taco Surf Taco Shop, San Diego, Calif.
The smell will draw you off the beach and into this uniquely Southern California taqueria. Though there are more than 15 burrito filling options, opt for the carne asada. The top sirloin is cooked to order and never sits around, creating an extremely fresh burrito of warm beef juices.