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October 28, 2008

Burritos for Barack

Nate Silver, the statistician behind FiveThirtyEight.com and Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA has recently become something of media phenomenon. But while some have suggested that PECOTA's pre-season embrace of the Rays (who were dismissed by most analysts) augurs good news for Barack Obama (whom Silver projects to win the Presidency by a near-landslide margin), we can't help but wonder if another, lesser-known, exploit of Silver's can help to predict his predicting acumen. We are referring, of course, to his ability to find the best taqueria in Chicago's Wicker Park.


Burrito photo courtesy of metalcowboy's Flickr stream.

Last year, Silver, who once used the name of a chile pepper for a blogging pseudonym, started The Burrito Bracket, an endearingly quasi-scientific attempt to find the best burrito in his neighborhood. The site organized the taquerias into seeds, NCAA-style, with Silver eliminating one each until he determined a winner.

Silver's effort was eerily reminiscent of San Francisco's Burritoeater, whom Gelf interviewed in 2006. Of course the Burritoeater is a more comprehensive site, focusing on an entire city rather than one or two neighborhoods, though it lacks Silver's tourney-style bracketology. As such, there is no "winner," just highly rated taquerias based on the site's 10-Mustache Rating Scale.

So who won the Burrito Bracket? Nobody. The site has not been updated since November 2007, and the Final Four is still undetermined.

Because we consider it unlikely that Silver will suddenly forsake FiveThirtyEight for Mexican food, let's take a look at three taquerias that have survived the competition. (We sent Silver an email for comment, but he has yet to get back to us.)

La Pasadita, Silver's first seed, received an 8.8 ("highly recommended") on Burritophile, and five stars on Citysearch Chicago. El Taco Veloz, the second seed, received a 7 on Burritophile ("recommended"), and De Pasada, the fourth seed, received 4.5 stars on Yelp. Public sentiment seems to agree with Silver's intuitions, and his numbers (yes, there are numbers), at least in the realm of Mexican food.

Does this herald a big win for Barack Obama? Taken together with the 2008 American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays, it couldn't hurt.

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