Welcome to ‘I tried it!’ an ongoing series in which our reporters try novel or trendy experiences in New York — so you can decide if you want to.
A couple months ago, I stumbled upon a TikTok that stopped my swiping thumb in its tracks.
“This is a Hot Cheetos Crunch Wrap,” opens the reel, quickly cutting to a close-up of what looks like a giant, outrageously overstuffed quesadilla as it splits — very, very gooily — to reveal neon-pink Cheetos stuffed among meat and cheese.
The eater, Kev, bugs his eyes and drops his jaw at the sight. Sitting behind a steering wheel (what is it about watching people eat in their cars?) Kev takes his first bite, and, unbelievably, you hear a hearty crunch. Having eaten plenty of tortilla-based meals in my day, I recognize the sustained crispiness as an impressive feat.
Kev’s post sent me down a joyful social media rabbit hole: Fatima’s Grill in LA had been on fire with content showcasing the restaurant’s unique and over-the-top bites that fuse well-executed Lebanese and Mexican cooking along with a deliriously fun Willy Wonka vibe: think French fries inside your wrap; everything chipped and dipped; your double cheeseburger doused in Hot Cheetos dust.
Fatima’s founder Ali Elreda opened the first location in 2015 to honor the Middle Eastern halal food he ate at home as a kid with the Hispanic street food that surrounded him in California.
“When you’re muslim and eat halal, sometimes you can’t enjoy food outside the home,” said Elreda, who recognized good food as a way to people’s hearts. “I wanted to offer the best of both worlds, so I took a shot.”
A common reaction to the food: “Oh my god. I didn’t want to like this, but it is sooooooo good.” So when I heard that a Fatima’s franchise had opened in Ditmas Park in May, I was delighted.
What made me want to try a Hot Cheetos burrito
Fatima’s TikTok game, first of all, is a make-you-want-to-nosh masterpiece.
The chain’s profile page is a wall of boomerang thumbnails – they appear to bounce – showing snack-inducing creations mid-ooze. Knives saw through giant, perfectly crispy burritos. Melty cheese strings from quesadillas. Toppings rain onto chips and fries. Sauces seep from burgers. Handhelds plunge into soups and salsas. And, yes: Hot-pink Cheetos dust floats on buns, tortillas and meat.
The food action shots were a hook, but there’s a particular vulnerability they tapped: My long-held affection for chips as a garnish on sandwiches and other foods.
As a young kid, I was in awe the first time I saw my older brother layer potato chips into his deli sandwich. Maverick! From there, I occasionally experimented, as long as I was in the trust-tree of select friends and family.
It felt classified at the time, but now I know I was never alone. Reddit users stage spirited debates about their favorite chip-sandwich combos. Doritos on a ham-and-cheese has become a whole meme. One of my favorite hashtags, #chilaquiles, has educated me on the use of tortilla chips in Mexican breakfast food. When crushed sour cream and onion potato chips got sprinkled over an omelet in season 2 of “The Bear,” I finally knew it was safe to be me.
I’d never seen Cheetos used in this way. And, frankly, I was worried. Would they play nicely with the ooze, or become spongy in short order?
What it was like to eat a Hot Cheetos burrito
I showed up to Fatima’s new Ditmas Park location on a hot summer Wednesday close to 8pm. All three of the small space’s dining tables were occupied by cheerful eaters, and one customer stood ahead of me at the order counter. Given the space’s virality, I was a little surprised by the lack of crowds.
Scanning the selection, I became slightly overwhelmed. The menu boasts more than 60 options across categories including burritos, crunch wraps, tortas, platters, quesadillas, burgers, salads, and sides.
Everything sounded and smelled delicious, but suddenly it was my turn to order. I choked and ordered the first Hot Cheetos item on the list: “One Asada Hot Cheetos Burrito and a Strawberry soda, please.”
The kind and competent employee let me know my order would take some time. Having received so much buzz — in fact a crew from Fox 5 New York had filmed a news segment at Fatima’s that very day — they were slammed with delivery orders. (Crowd mystery solved.)
Bathed in green light from a neon sign above, I sat at a high counter listening to hip hop straight from an FM station in LA. My $18 order arrived after about 10 minutes, and I popped open the clamshell container with excitement.
Inside I found perhaps the largest burrito I have ever seen, each half five to six inches long and nearly that in diameter. It was stuffed with chopped carne asada, glistening rice and beans, onion, cilantro, sour cream, mozzarella and a generous handful of Hot Cheetos.
The burrito had been wrapped, then crisped on the grill, cut in half and drizzled with nacho cheese and Cheetos dust. Also inside the container: sliced radish, lime wedges, green salsa, and Lebamex Hot Sauce, the brand’s trademark habanero-based condiment.
Trying to show confidence, I picked up a half and dug in. With delight, I found both the tortilla and the Cheetos had substantial crunch. The meat was tender and savory, the rice still had plenty of chew, and the Hot Cheetos delivered the hyper-palatable spice-salt-sugar combo you can count on from junk food.
Turning to the garnishes, I dipped my burrito into the green salsa: a familiar flavor — bright, tangy, and citrusy. Next I tried the Lebamex. A wonder! Spicy, smoky, and rich, with hints of onion, garlic, vinegar, and egg yolk. This became my favorite flavor strategy, and I continued with it until I was full.
What to know before you go
You will need a co-conspirator.
All of the meals I saw at Fatima’s — on my plate and on others’ — were over-the-top in terms of complexity and sheer size. I’m no bird eater, and yet I managed to get through only about a third of the burrito. Bring a friend with you to collaborate on fun add-ons and combos, and to help you take it down.
Make a plan.
Take a look at Fatima’s Grill’s extensive menu in advance so you have a general idea of what you’ll order. My regrets: I wish I’d tried the shawarma, one of their seven creative French fries offerings, consomé (for dipping), and a Crunch Wrap.
Eat it there.
The Cheetos did start to lose their crunch after about 20 minutes. Though Fatima’s is available for delivery, it may be worth an in-person visit if at all possible. Texture is a major component of the brand’s food, and time is the enemy of crisp.
Fatima’s food will be like nothing you’ve ever seen or tasted, so lean into what makes it different. Elreda, the founder, arrived at Hot Cheetos via the same sort of experimentation I remember as a kid. Public acceptance is high. “I went to the Drake concert with my son in LA a couple nights ago, and people actually recognized me: ‘You’re the guy doing Hot Cheetos on TikTok!’” Elreda says. “You take it for what it’s worth and just keep trying to see what works.”