In mid-January, when Mexican restaurant Nina’s Great Burrito Bar opened on the Upper West Side at 522 Columbus Avenue near West 85th Street, the debut marked the culmination of decades of work for its eponymous owner. Nina Flores and her family.
Flores, born in Oaxaca, is the former owner of The Great Burrito, a shoebox-sized store on the Upper West Side where she and her family sold burritos and quesadillas to neighborhood regulars for nearly 30 years old. In 2020, complications with the building’s owner halted the operation just as the city itself was closing, according to Flores’ daughter, Beatriz Flores. The family made a quick pivot to takeout and delivery, partnering with neighborhood restaurateur Jeremy Wladis, and ended up being able to sustain the operation for nearly two years throughout the pandemic. That success has now morphed into Nina’s Great Burrito Bar, a large-scale Mexican restaurant owned by Beatriz and run by the Flores family.
At the restaurant, the team goes beyond burritos to present a full range of their favorite regional Mexican dishes. It starts with huaraches, which Beatriz is proud to introduce to many New Yorkers who may not be familiar with the food, she says. The thick tortillas are stuffed with refried beans, shaped like a sandal sole – hence the name, which translates to sandal in Spanish – and topped with queso fresco, cream and a subtly spiced mole that Nina Flores has perfected for decades at the Great Burrito. The menu also includes jalapeno aquachiles from Veracruz; Juicy, slow-roasted Yucatán-style cochinita pibil; and some old signature favorites, including chicken mole and ground beef burritos.
“We have family all over Mexico City and I grew up eating all kinds of different foods from there,” says Beatriz. “We try to allow everyone to taste everything that comes from Mexico.”
The restaurateur they partnered with for takeout and delivery, Wladis, had flipped a few restaurants in the space where Nina’s Great Burrito Bar now stands, including Japanese spot Hachi Maki and a sushi restaurant, Sushi 85. After it was clear that Sushi 85 was going to close — while the Great Burrito takeout operation, in the same space, was going strong — the initial plans for Nina’s Great Burrito Bar were born. Wladis now operates the bar while the Flores family manages the kitchen and dining room, which has 70 seats inside and 54 seats outside.
It had long been her mother’s dream, when she ran The Great Burrito, to open a full restaurant where she could serve a wider range of Mexican dishes, Beatriz says. Now the restaurant’s name is a tribute to Nina, who isn’t in the kitchen as much due to health issues, says Beatriz, but keeps a close eye on the menu. “After many years of having the Great Burrito, she always wanted to have a nicer restaurant,” says Beatriz. “I think it’s a great way to integrate what we have with what she wants, and I think it’s worked really well.”
Nina’s Great Burrito Bar is open for dinner, takeout, and delivery Monday through Thursday 12 p.m. to 12 a.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.
Nina’s Burrito Bar Menu: