Royale Lunch Bar
7 Union St., Portland
Why is it so hard to find a good breakfast burrito in Southern Maine? It’s something I came to take for granted during my seven-year stint in Southern California, but since moving here in 2002 I’ve been on a seemingly futile quest for greatness. Some were too dry; others were sloppy and saucy. They were tiny and understuffed, or way too large and unwieldy. I suffered through burritos filled with soggy, bland potatoes, and those with no potatoes at all. After more than 15 years, I had nearly given up hope. But thanks to Royale Lunch Bar, I feel like I’m getting much closer to the Grail.
My friend and I arrived early on a recent Thursday morning. We had the place to ourselves — the server said it usually stays pretty quiet until the lunch rush (lucky for latecomers, their breakfast menu is available all day). We placed our order at the bar, starting with two self-serve mugs of excellent coffee ($2).
My Crow’s Burrito ($8) totally hit the spot. It was simply presented, stuffed with chunks of smoked brisket along with eggs, potatoes, tomatoes, cilantro, onions and cheesy queso sauce. The whole thing was finished on the griddle, rendering the wheat tortilla nice and crispy and providing crucial structural integrity (no one loves a burrito that falls apart halfway through). Cubes of home-fried potatoes maintained much of their crispness, and the tender beef was satisfyingly smoky. It needed a bit more of a spicy kick, but a few shakes of Cholula hot sauce took care of that. My only issue was with a few large pieces of fat, which I ended up trimming off and leaving on the plate.
My friend ordered the smoked meat hash ($9), a dish of brisket, potatoes, peppers and onions. He decided against adding an egg ($2), which seemed like a rookie mistake to me, but to each his own. Still, it was a rich and satisfying meal, with a nice balance of flavors and textures.
I’m still not 100-percent ready to call my quest complete. There may be an even better breakfast burrito in the area waiting to be discovered. But as I continue the hunt, I’ll do so with renewed faith. And if I start to lose hope, I’ll just head back to Royale Lunch Bar.
Royale Lunch Bar is open Tuesday-Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday and Saturday nights from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Breakfast is served all day.