I remember my first restaurant in Key West. Not the first restaurant that I ever went to, but the first restaurant that was actually memorable. It was over a meal that I have had many times since; that I still crave at least every other week. At the time, Chris Otten was the executive chef at that restaurant and responsible for a style of menu that was fresh and simple in ingredients, but complex in recipe. It was his dish that became my favorite on the island. When he left to open his own place, I quietly mourned the end. The restaurant continued to serve good food and the place didn’t look any different, but in my opinion, the kitchen would never be the same.
Years later, I asked Otten why he decided to open a burrito shop. It turns out that the shop had been the dream of Otten’s wife, Erin, for years. After they had talked about it enough, and finally came upon the small narrow space on Simonton Street, Otten left his position to pursue the unknown. It may have been her idea at first, but for someone who almost left Key West because of the lack of fresh produce, it was also a chance for him to take ingredients into his own hands. With a respectable reputation like theirs, it didn’t take long for word to spread about the husband and wife team behind the busy take out joint, Bad Boy Burrito. A dedicated local following quickly began.
Every day at Bad Boy starts the same, usually with Erin in the kitchen chopping the vegetables or cooking the meats, or doing whatever it is that needs to be done before the orders start rushing in. The delivery driver arrives for his shift at 11 a.m. and waits for the phone to ring. If there’s no driver scheduled, Chris and Erin will jump on the scooter between answering the phone, greeting walk-ins and rolling “Phatties” — their signature burritos with rice and beans. Then they set about around Old Town, bringing people made-to-order burritos until the kitchen runs dry. The next day they do it all over again.
There’s pork carnitas with cilantro, avocado, queso, tomatillo sauce and jalapeños. There’s Kobe beef with chopped onions, sliced radish, verde sauce and jalapeños, or wild mushroom with shaved cabbage, sour cream, sharp cheddar, mango habanero sauce and jalapeños — always jalapeños. The Otten’s insist on it. Not only because they add a kick of flavor, but also because they hold more vitamin C than oranges.
Sometimes the delivery isn’t a burrito at all, but one of their other famous dishes like the Cayo Hueso fish tacos on handmade corn tortillas or the Disco Duck quesadilla. Sometimes it’s an order for half a dozen organic juice smoothies and no food at all.
Some of the people who open the door are strangers while some are friends and others are repeat customers who order so often that they simply hand over $100 and tell them to keep the burritos coming until the money runs out. At $8 a burrito, plus tip, that’s lunch for an entire week. They deliver to the same businesses everyday and memorize orders before they remember names.
If you were to walk into Bad Boy today you will more than likely find Erin behind the prep counter. If it’s not too busy Otten can leave his wife to run the shop while he focuses on his newest sensation — 2 Cents — where he is not only executive chef but also part owner. If it is busy though, as it is during this time of the year when the spring breakers and snow birders are discovering the secrets of the locals, you’ll probably catch both of them in the kitchen, riding off on the scooter, and the dream. Or you can just order delivery.
If you go:
Bad Boy Burrito
1220 Simonton St., Key West
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.