In mid-January, when Mexican restaurant Nina’s Great Burrito Bar opened its doors on the Upper West Side at 522 Columbus Avenue, near West 85th Street, the debut marked a culmination of decades of work for its namesake Nina Flores and her family.
Oaxaca-born Flores is the former owner of Great Burrito, a shoebox-sized store on the Upper West Side where she and her family sold burritos and quesadillas to regulars in the neighborhood for nearly 30 years. In 2020, complications with the building’s landlord brought the operation to a halt, just as the town itself shut down, according to Flores’ daughter, Beatriz Flores. The family made a quick turnaround to take-away and delivery in partnership with neighborhood restaurateur Jeremy Wladis, and ended up being able to maintain operations for nearly two years throughout the pandemic. That success has now been transformed into Nina’s Great Burrito Bar, a full-scale, seated Mexican restaurant owned by Beatriz and run by the Flores family.
At the restaurant, the team goes beyond burritos to showcase a full selection of their favorite regional Mexican dishes. It starts with huaraches, which Beatriz is proud to introduce to many New Yorkers who may not know the food, she says. Thick tortillas are filled with roasted beans, shaped like a sandal sole – hence the name, which translates to sandal in Spanish – and topped with queso fresco, crema and a subtly spicy mole that Nina Flores perfected over decades at The Great Burrito. The menu also includes jalapeno-laced aquachiles from Veracruz; Slow-fried, juicy cochinita pibil in Yucatán style; and a few old, signature favorites, including chicken moles and ground beef burritos.
“We have family all over Mexico City, and I grew up eating all sorts of different foods from there,” Beatriz says. “We try to let everyone taste everything that is from Mexico.”
The restaurateur with whom they collaborated on takeaway and delivery, Wladis, had turned a few restaurants in the room where Nina’s Great Burrito Bar is now located, including Japanese spot Hachi Maki and a sushi joint, Sushi 85. After that, it became clear that Sushi 85 was to close down – while Great Burrito’s takeaway operation, in the same room, was going strong – the original plans for Nina’s Great Burrito Bar were born. Wladis now runs the bar, while the Flores family runs the kitchen and dining room, which includes 70 seats indoors and 54 seats outdoors.
It had long been her mother’s dream while running the Great Burrito to open a full restaurant where she could serve a wider range of Mexican food, Beatriz says. Now the restaurant’s name is a tribute to Nina, who is not so much in the kitchen due to health complications, says Beatriz, but keeps a watchful eye on the menu. “After many years with the Great Burrito, she always wanted a nicer restaurant,” Beatriz says. “I think it’s a great way to integrate what we have with what she wants, and I think it worked really well.”
Nina’s Great Burrito Bar is open for dining, takeaway and delivery Monday through Thursday. 12:00 to 12:00, Friday and Saturday at 11:00 to 02:00 and Sunday from kl. 11 a.m. to noon
Nina’s Great Burrito Bar menu: