Atlas has Sol

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Sol Cantina Sign

Oh my goodness, what is this? There seems to be a huge tournament of amateur basketball flooding my television. It’s a non-stop deluge of white guys taking layups, awkward college kids passing the ball around the perimeter, and undersized forwards who don’t know how to pass out of a double team. And if you thought the professional game moved just a little too quickly for you, don’t you worry because the NC2A has taken the liberty of slowing that down to a nice easy paced 90 second shot clock. What’s that? It’s only 35 seconds? Could have fooled me.

“Low scoring! Slow shooting! And missed layups? We’ve got ’em!”

This beautiful Thursday was the kick off of what people have started calling “Crazy March”. I assume that’s because it’s insane how excited people get for low quality basketball but in the end, they’re looking for any reason to avoid doing work or relive their glory days of going to games at Eastern Southern State University. (“But it’s exciting! They try so hard!” It’s only exciting because of how often they mess up. Trying =/= succeeding.)

“I’m picking based on school colors!” “I’ve got Mercer going all the way!”

That morning I had posted my heroic tale of “Mase vs. El Toro“, and a normal person would be totally averse to ever eating a burrito again after such an experience. But I am not a normal person; I am Mase Pino and this is Pino de Gallo, and like the burrito-aficionado I am, I went in search of a nearby yummy burrito to enjoy as young men ran around on my TV trying to put a leather pumpkin in a peach basket. Plus everyone has been bugging me to review a burrito in DC, so now’s as good a time as any.

I ventured out in my neighborhood of H St. (also known as the Atlas District) to the nearby Sol Mexican Cantina at the corner of 12th & H St. NE, a restaurant less than a year old based on the food truck of the same name. I have stopped by a number of times with Hustle Russell for $2 taco Tuesdays, which has been enjoyable in the past, so why not try their burritos this time? 2014-03-20 15.20.48

The menu has a number of the classics – pollo, carnitas, barbacoa; but, it also includes some other authentic but less common options like fish & lengua (beef tongue), and some options that will appeal to other people like brisket (real Americans) and vegan (un-Americans) . Beyond their very welcoming sign are the instructions to order: Meat => Free Toppings => Extras => Alcohol. Perfecto.

With the counter behind glass layout, I could get a Cyclops style eye-full of the ingredients and make a snap judgement on what I thought looked good that day. This day, the carnitas were calling out to me saying, “Mase, please choose us! We won’t let you down like so many women, employers, and Wiz-ards draft picks have before!” So I said, “Carnitas… I choose you!” The tortilla was immediately thrown into the steamer, which means they must have read Pino de Gallo and known that I greatly prefer a steamed tortilla over grilled because of its texture and structural integrity. From there it was the standard run of pinto beans (choice of black beans as well), Mexican rice (or white, if that’s what you prefer… racist), lettuce, red onion, pico de gallo, salsa verde, habanero salsa, cheese, and cilantro (which I was happy to see because I love cilantro and I feel bad for those out there that think it tastes like soap). I declined the premium ingredients and alcohol because I’m unemployed and have Kirkland brand whiskey at my house, so the final damage was:  $7.86 – Not a bad deal for a hearty burrito.

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In the comfort of my own home (read: pantsless), I tore into this burrito. I immediately caught the flavor of juicy, salty carnitas that were moist and rich in texture. The habanero salsa added a noticeable and welcomed kick to the burrito, but the other two salsas (verde & pico) got lost in the cacophony of flavor sounds. The pintos were juicy but did not add much to the experience. The Mexican rice had a subtle meaty/hearty flavor that complimented the rest of the burrito and acted as the solid foundation it should be. The tortilla did not impress me in terms of quality (looked/felt store bought), but it held up to the rigors of a Mase Pino burrito demolishing. The end result was a bit wetter and messier than I would have liked, so I will likely skip the pico de gallo next time.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the Sol burrito. I am comforted knowing I have an above average burrito within walking distance of my house. My socks were still on at the end of this sitting, but at this moment it’s definitely the best place to get a burrito for a good distance. If you’re on H St. and can’t get into Toki or Granville Moore’s and aren’t in the mood for Taylor Gourmet or H &Pizza, then catch some Sol.

Verdict: 3.5 Sombreros

Sol Mexican Cantina
1251 H st NE, Washington, District of Columbia 20002
(202) 808-2625

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Mase vs. El Toro

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In late May of Twenty Aught Eleven, Mase battled EL TORO at Pica Taco. I had previously stopped by the Pica Taco on Columbia Road and detailed the experience here. This time I was stopping by the other location at the taint between Columbia Heights and U St. at 14th & Florida Ave. At this juncture, Pauly and I were still young and foolish (Pauly even had hair!), and had decided that it was a good idea to make fools of ourselves by trying out for DC’s “elite” men’s ultimate frisbee team: Truck Stop Glory Hole.  Why did we do this? I’m not really sure, but I’m going to retroactively say it was just to work up a good burrito hunger.

Once a month, Pica Taco hosts its El Toro Challenge. What is the challenge exactly? It should be obvious from the name because El Toro is Spanish for…. the Toro. (RIP Farley) It’s 4 pounds of burrito in 45 minutes and costs $14.99 (if you don’t finish). If you finish it in the allotted time, you earn “an exclusive El Toro T-Shirt, gift certificate, and bask in eternal fame on the Wall of Champions.” My appetite was so whet you could drown a toddler in its panties, and I was ready to grab le taureau by the horns (that means “the bull” in French. I don’t know why I know that, I took 6 years of Spanish!) and make this burrito my bitch. And as we all know, if one pound of something is great, four pounds of it must be at least four times as great, right?!

It's a metaphor... but it actually happened.

It’s a metaphor… but it actually happened.

We entered the small restaurant that really has an authentic feel complete with either soccer or a Spanish telenovela on the TV, a case full of Tecates, Modelos, and Jarritos, and a couple of tiny adorable Latina women behind the counter. My options today were chicken or steak, and like the greedy (half) white man I am, I chose both. Into the 4 or so large tortillas went hearty helpings of rice, black beans, and the 2 meats (separated). This is still technically a burrito by the barest of definitions (or purest, if you’re really into the Mexican style), but as I’ve previously discussed, I prefer my burritos to be Missionary position style and with all the bells and whistles of cheese/salsa/guac on the inside, because it is what’s on the inside that counts, right? (At least to ugly people)

I absolutely demolished the first quarter of the burrito. I’m more of a sprinter than a marathoner in just about everything I do in life (except for drinking, there I’m a try to sprint the marathon). Estimates put it at about 6 minutes, so I’m at a good pace. I attack from the steak side of the burrito, which turns out to be a big mistake, but we’ll get to that later. With my beloved Dan Pauly cheering me on (and by that, I mean eating his food like a normal human whilst occasionally glancing my way and chuckling/photographing), I dove mouth first into the next pound. This one took me noticeably longer, probably closer to 12-15, but I’m still on a fine pace to finish in time.

Then… I start to slow. I hit the Heartbreak Hill of the burrito… the unreasonably dry chicken. Each bite was agony as I struggled to make it swallowable through arduous chewing and fruitless efforts in saliva generation. I grabbed the bottle of spicy salsa verde and began slathering it on every bite to lubricate it down my throat. Anyone who has eaten through the point of pain, aka like an American, knows that you need to trick your body into fitting more down there. You’ve got a 20 minute window before your body knows it’s full to shove as much crap down your gullet before it taps out. The dry chicken was slowing  my pace in this precious window.

The 3rd pound took up about 20 minutes, until it was just me and the last quarter of this behemoth staring at me with its dark dead eyes. With each agonizing bite, my body continued to breakdown. Salsa flowing through my veins, rice floating in my brain, beans bombing my intestines… it was all too much. What little joy that was in this burrito was long gone… and I was but a husk of my former self. Finally, the timer went off, the 45 minute limit was up sending a wave of simultaneous frustration and relief over me…. frustlief if you will.

In this instance, my sprinters training did me no good as I was defeated by El Toro and he stuck a 3.5 lb horn deep into my body, mixed it around, and left me to die… or in the very least attempt to kill my toilet. I would say I’m going to get revenge on Señor Toro, but it’s unlikely. I don’t like making $15 bets that I will likely lose, unless it’s fantasy football.

Since a picture is worth a baker’s dozen words or so, I’ll let the gallery really illuminate the experience.

Bell Street Burritos – Hotlanta, Jojah

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Editor’s Note: The stars have aligned and the magical combination of my new-found unemployment and the insatiable cries of the general public for a Pino de Gallo revival have led me to reboot this bad boy. But first thing’s first, I’ve got a backlog of half-digested blog posts from 2-3 years ago that I’m going to try to piece together, roll up, and deliver to you all. I would take any and all opinions of these burritos lightly because years of alcohol abuse has resulted in a shaky memory at best. And much like my memory, the pictures were taken in a time pre-smartphone and will therefore be of low quality. In the meantime, put on “Welcome Back” and enjoy the new post!

I always sleep in full green tunic

I woke up to my alarm (overworld theme of the Legend of Zelda) and realized that in just a few short hours I will be in Atlanta with the Berry Boys. This means I needed two things: 1) Blazer and cufflinks for easy traveling followed by a night on the town (What’s that smell? ATL!), and 2) Gear for a night of drinking and merrymaking with 10 men in a cabin in rural Jojah. Check and check.

(Can 2014 Mase interject here for a moment? First off, I had a theory a few years ago that I could move through security more quickly if I was dressed up because then they’d think I was important and definitely not a terrorist. My evidence for this was the very scientific comparison of the experiences of the behoodied Lil Peen who was regularly stopped by the TSA. The clear (and real) answer is that the trick to making it through security clearly is to appear white, so I’ve got that going for me… which is nice. Secondly, I think I embraced this idea just to cover up the fact that I was a fat bloated alcoholic a la Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. And finally, I don’t know why I always thought that in order to sleep on the plane, I should go out drinking then come home and pack while mid-black out. Not only did it make the flight bad, but I always forgot something kind of important – socks, condoms, phone charger, contact solution, etc. Maybe I should have taken C-Rich’s approach.

The Horror... the horror... seriously Mase, put a shirt on.

The Horror… the horror… seriously Mase, put a shirt on.

I was still reeling from Bonesaw up and leaving me for a “yob” in Portlandia. After the briefest of brief year in DC together, which included such highlights as making stuffed peppers and watching Archer while drinking a 12 pack of Yeungling in my room on Valentine’s day, my sweet simple Bonesaw was leaving me for more bearded pastures. And much like my trip to San Francisco, the rational side of me thought “Let’s save this money or pay down our debt” while Mase threw back a glass of whiskey, grabbed the keyboard, and promptly booked a flight to Atlanta where Bonesaw was gathering himself before finally leaving for the northwest. The parents of Bonesaw and his twin, The Boy, have a cabin in rural Georgia straight out of Deliverance. (well not that straight) But before we retreat for some banjo playing and squealing like a pig, it was time to explore some good old fashion southern cuisine… well way south of the border. No, not that one. And I wasn’t stoppin’ at no Moe’s, I wanted the good stuff.

Enter Bell Street Burritos. At the time, it was but a small stand at the Sweet Auburn Curb Market near Grady Memorial Hospital. The market is a great lunch spot filled with an ecclectic mix of doctors, immigrants, shiftless hobos, and area professionals. One highlight was a man who walked by with a 3/4 Van Buren and a soul patch. “I’m sure he’s really interesting…” the Boy quipped. I bet he is. Founder and proprietor, Matt Hinton, started Bell Street Burritos as an informal burrito delivery service in early 2009. As an adjunct professor of fiction religion at Morehouse College, Hinton had time on his hands and “announced to his friends that Mondays would be ‘burrito night’ and began delivering burritos to all who ordered them.” After he started receiving orders from strangers, he decided to go legit and put up a real sign and stand. When we were there, the founder was even there in the back, still making burritos, wrist deep in beans… or what I call (cue Will Ferrell):
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Now down to brass tack(o)s. I ordered a steak burrito with pinto beans, rice, salsa fresca and the spicy chipotle salsa. One of the Berrys ordered the shrimp burrito and added green chiles. And to top it off, we paired with some great Mexican Coke. Oh, and we also ordered cane sugar sweetened sodas. I’m not normally a huge fan of beans, but I have to say that these pinto beans had great flavor and texture, not too chewy but well cooked. Unfortunately the rice was middling and didn’t blend well with the rest of the burrito; and as we all know, it is the job of the rice to be a supportive and complimentary actor to the meats and salsa in the burrito. The Wilson to the meat’s Tom Hanks.

Wait, don't forget the guac-a-MOLE!!!!

Wait, don’t forget the guac-a-MOLE!!!!

The chipotle salsa didn’t pop in the burrito, but solo it was excellent; the red salsa was flavorful with a hint of spice, while the salsa verde was mediocre, chalky, and a general let down. The salsa fresca was not very noticeable and contributed to the overall wetness of the burrito, which I felt was a bit too… moist – a problem I have not often encountered. In the Berry’s burrito, they did not scrimp on the shrimp and the green chiles were an excellent complement to it. The steak on the other hand was chewy and nothing special, and cannot get the Pino de Gallo seal of approval. Despite the general juiciness, the tortilla managed to hold it together and had great texture, which is important for the foundation of the burrito.

(Future Doctor) Boy about to go all proctologist on his burrito. "Please be gentle..."

(Future Doctor) Boy about to go all proctologist on his burrito. “Please be gentle…”

Bell Street Burritos is held in high regard in the general Atlanta area, and rightly so. Matt Hinton had a vision for delicious Mission-style burritos with a variety of great ingredient and meat options. I think this experience was closer to a 3 sombrero outing, but I’m confident that Bell Street can churn out a solid 4 with the right mix of meats and salsas. I’ll split the difference and slap a 3.5 on ’em this time.

35pinos

Bell Street Burritos
209 Edgewood Ave.
Atlanta, GA
678.732.0488
http://www.bellstreetburritos.com/

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Taqueria Cancun – SF

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Editor’s Note: The stars have aligned and the magical combination of my new-found unemployment and the insatiable cries of the general public for a Pino de Gallo revival have led me to reboot this bad boy. But first thing’s first, I’ve got a backlog of half-digested blog posts from 2-3 years ago that I’m going to try to piece together, roll up, and deliver to you all. I would take any and all opinions of these burritos lightly because years of alcohol abuse has resulted in a shaky memory at best. And much like my memory, the pictures were taken in a time pre-smartphone and will therefore be of low quality. In the meantime, put on “Welcome Back” and enjoy the new post!

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In the fall of twenty aught ten, I was coming off of a rough few months from my first election cycle. NCC was busting through budgets on the backs of overworked account executives, overqualified assistants, and a revolving door of no-talent ass clown temps. As I fell in neither the first category, nor the last, I got all the work of the last group with none of the compensation of the first. Who needs commission when a little overtime and the occasional 33 oz beer at Lia’s in Friendship Heights will suffice? Needless to say that my bloated beer gut (election weight gain) and I needed a vacation.

Now, the fiscally responsible Tom thought “Let’s take this extra money I’ve earned and pay down some of our student loan debt.” But Mase was having none of that, to which he retorted, “Fuck that noise, we’re going on vacation!” And we promptly booked our ticket on Virgin Airlines to the city of angels, Sin City, the Big Apple, the Windy City, the Whale’s Vagina, Beantown…. that’s right SAN FRANCISCO! I had never been before, and I had a dear, sweet friend of mine from college living there: the 1/4 Atlantic Sea Bear Spoony Evelyn Blanchard. At the U, he was known for his big layouts on the ultimate field, warm soft & luxurious body hair, and the Spoony face.

The Spoony Face

The Spoony Face

(Sidebar: This may have been the greatest flight of my life. This is still the only trip I have flown on Virgin Airlines, and before boarding at Dulles, I had a Chipotle burrito and a fine Rogue beer in the terminal; then I stepped onto the plane that looked like a night club and went to my cushy window seat. I then find out that one of the flight attendants is a former Ms. California (hotty!), and not only that, I can start a tab at my seat and order Glenlivet 12 yr scotch delivered to my seat (at a reasonable price by airline standards). I thought that was great but was worried that my lovable Celtics are starting their season that night against the newly created Miami Heat franchise and their own Big 3… and I might miss it. But …. there was a screen on my seat and I could get as drunk while watching basketball 30,000 feet in the air as I would at the Garden or the Verizon Center! What an age we live in…)

The bay area has given us so many great things over the years: Barry Bonds, great earthquakes and fires, anachronistic modes of transportationsmartphones with easily cracked screens  that include a simple one button interface perfect for drunk white girls taking selfies… so what better place to vacation than the city that is credited with the modern iteration of our beloved burrito?

The Blimps of Land Transportation - Ring ring! "Hello, cars? It's trolleys - you win!"

The Blimps of Land Transportation – Ring ring! “Hello, cars? It’s trolleys – you win!”

 History lesson ya’ll! Ch-ch-check it out! The Mission District in SF is ground zero for the large, multi-ingredient stuffed deliciousness we all think of when the word “burrito” floats into our ears. Read more about it here, because I’m not your goddamn teacher. One of my few demands for my visit was an authentic Mission District burrito. (The others? Cuddle time with Spoony – check. One fresh sea lion pelt from Fisherman’s Wharf – tbd. Spoony’s one request? “Please don’t call me a bear in public. That means something different here.”)

On my final night in the Golden State, (coincidentally the night of Mike Vick single-handed destruction of the Washington professional football team on MNF in the form of “Vick became the first player in NFL history with at least 300 yards passing, 50 yards rushing, four passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns in a game. “ en route to a 59-28 victory. And as we all know, the good times never let up as he saved the Eagles and Lil Peen’s fantasy season!) I cashed in on my demand to go to the Mission District for god’s food. Now this was 2010, so the Mission District was still a bit sketchy much like parts of Southie Boston, H St DC, and Bushwick Brooklyn, but apparently it’s become some sort of hip and expensive area (unlike the rest of SF?) just like…. the aforementioned list. Nonetheless, accompanied by Spoonbear, we headed down to Taqueria Cancun (Cancun? Spring break! Wooooo!), a place that I had found through rigorous and in-depth research (read: 2 min on Google).

San Francisco 27

So soft and warm…

The bright glowing yellow and red sign was warm and inviting, and made it feel authentic. Why? Probably because I’m easily tricked by Mexican-ish colors. I stepped up to the counter with the impressive array of options in front of me and ordered an al pastor burrito ($5.99) with rice, beans, sour cream, salsa, cilantro, and avocado. The other (not blogged about) burrito I had in SF was traditional, so I decided to order this one “wet,” (“mojado”) to which Spoony channeled his best inner Wayne Brady and said, “I didn’t know you like to get wet…?” The mojado sauce was a combination of red enchilada sauce, salsa verde, and sour cream, because at this point I thought, why not play intestinal roulette by dropping a dairy bomb into my stomach before a cross country flight, right?

The salsa verde packed a good punch on the “picante” scale, but lacked any real flavor beyond that and was generally mediocre. The meat was very good, but the packaging of the burrito, the tortilla was a bit thin resulting in added mess and was somewhat dry (so probably even better that I got a mojado), although I did find the texture rich and the flavor complimentary. Within this flour missile, the ratios of meat/cheese/salsas/fillings was very good. I didn’t have that awful feeling of bites consisting entirely of just one ingredient or the fear of not finding something I did order.  One large complaint was the cheese that I found to be both generic and lacking in abundance. I love me cheese, not just quality or quantity, but I want a large quantity of quality cheese. Do you feel me, man(chego)?

Al Pastor Burrito Mojado

Al Pastor Burrito Mojado

Taqueria Cancun was exactly what I had hoped for in my first visit to the big Bay Hole. It didn’t totally rock my world, but it was still a great burrito and the cost:taste ratio was fantastic. Compared to about anything we have in DC, it crushes the competition, but for California, I’m sure it’s no more than slightly above average. If I lived there, I’m sure it would be in my regular rotation (especially considering it’s a 24 hour joint), but I have to dock them for neglecting the queso. Probably a Cali 3 that we’ll call an East Coast 4 (same rule applies to women, beer, and burritos).

4pinos

Taqueria Cancun
2288 Mission St San Francisco, California 94110
(415) 252-9560
Open 24 hours!

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The Pino de Gallo Revival

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Good news everyone! The polar vortex bankrupted my company and I’m out of a job. No, seriously, it really happened. The Washington Post even wrote about it.

So bad news for Mase is good news for you, because nothing gets the comedic juices flowing like time + tragedy, right? I’m going to shoot to post once every week or every other week and try to be consistent on the day of the week too once I get reviews going again. 

But because I took a 3 year hiatus/sabbatical/bout in rehab, it’s time for me to dust off the cobwebs, shake off the writing rust, and do a little refresher on just what is Pino de Gallo. 

So, what is Pino de Gallo?

The short answer is it’s a blog where I write about burrito related topics from time to time. Generally reviews with stories attached and then judged on a 5 sombrero rating system. A longer answer about it can be found here .

But why burritos?

Seriously? Why not?! You can find my crudely written explanation from 3 years ago of my journey here. I’m sure little has changed and that it’s totally respectable. And lots of very smart and respected people are burrito enthusiasts. Did you know Nate Silver had a burrito blog too?  (I didn’t find this until recently) I’m sure it had lots of fancy advanced metrics that could accurately the bite:fart ratio and whatnot.

Ok, burritos, got it. How do you rate them? Sombreros, huh? Because nothing is tastier than a Mexican straw hat…

While I try to aim for consistency in my rating system, I kind of just wing it. You can find a breakdown of the rating system here:  https://pinodegallo.wordpress.com/rating-system/

Got it. Now what have you been doing for the last 3 years? 

Eh… well… ya know… lots of stuff. Dabbling in long distance relationships, corrupting our democracy with money, and totally not playing ultimate frisbee competitively… because that would be really embarrassing! 

Now I’m not going to spend all day rifling through your crappy blog. What should I read?

If you want reviews, I’d click on one of the review tags to the right. Otherwise, I’d highly encourage you to read my exchange with the Washington professional basketball team… my beloved Wiz-ards.
A Sternly Worded Letter
The Wizards Respond

What if I’m a simpleton and a huge fan of low quality tumblrs like “What should we call me” and its ilk? Will there at least be pictures?

Don’t worry your pretty little self, there will be plenty of pictures to light up your $2000 Facebook machine Macbook Pro! How about a retro live blog with twitter feed and pictures? Does that do it for ya?

Oh man, this is old. Has anything else around here changed? 

A few things….

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But that’s not a gif? I’d really like this whole blog to be in gif form as that’s generally how I consume my media now…

Anything else?

Yeah, do that social media thing for me please? It’ll make me happy. Thanks.

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