Señor Taco & his truck of misfits

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(In case you don’t know by now, I’m going to ramble on in story form about something only tangentially related to the actual burrito review. If you don’t feel like getting to know me better, scroll down a ways to just below the “Señor Taco” picture. I won’t be that offended.)

When I was 17 I moved from the comfortable suburbs of Connecticut, which comes from the Pequot word for “Land of the WASPs,” to Sugar Land, Texas, whose city motto was “Just like that movie Pleasantville… except fatter and with less personality.”  At the time I had dreams of being recruited to play lacrosse at some small liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere New England to study a worthless major like history, poli-sci, international relations, or some combination of the three.

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Those flowing locks! The early aughts were a simpler time

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130 lbs of awesome – Somebody recruit this guy!

Unfortunately, my dream was shattered, not by the realization that I am a terrible athlete (average sized white dude with a slow first step, no ups, and a mouth that won’t quit), but by the first time someone in Texas said to me, “Lacrosse? Is that the sport with the spoons?”  My hopes were dashed, my best friends (including the first girl that ever let me kiss her in a scenario that didn’t involve a spinning bottle) were 2000 miles away, and my new neighborhood was a repeating pattern of generic houses alternating with strip malls of chain retailers and restaurants. At this point, I did not know that my future held a city school, playing a stupid made up sport like Ultimate, and… a couple of worthless liberal arts degrees. (In the words of KG, “ANYTHING IS POSSSSIBBBLLEEE!!!”)

After driving the ~32 hours straight from CT to TX with my father immediately following my midterms junior year, I was exhausted, dejected, and cranky. My dad and I went to my new high school to register me for classes. The school, apparently designed by the same guy who designed Shawshank, had no outward facing windows and was bigger than many of the small liberal arts colleges I had thought I would be attending. By now it’s mid-morning and the guidance counselor says, “Would you like to start today?”, to which I reply, “Maybe it would be best to start fresh tomorrow.” Then my dad chimes in, “You should start today.” Great, glad I could be a part of this discussion.

Back when we had REAL leadership

I made my way through the torrent of Texan students, wading around them lost, confused, and probably looking like Hellen Keller participating in a spelunking competition, to find a mostly empty classroom. I sat down in a desk near the entrance. Slowly, other students began to trickle in, hanging out and chatting amongst themselves. “Hey, what’s your AIM screen name?” “Have you seen that new video on the Music Television channel?” “I love that new song by Crazy Town.” And so on.

Eventually, a flustered middle-aged woman comes running in, throws her stuff on her desk and gets right into it, jabbering on about some US presidents in the mid-19th century. I timidly and politely interrupt her, “Excuse me… I think I’m in your class…” She looked at my schedule, and says, “Ok, grab a seat back there,” and pointed to the back of the class. (racist much?!) By now, the class is silent and staring at me, understandable since I interrupted the class and am standing there… a strange man in a strange land. As I started to make my way to my seat, a girl a few rows back pipes up and says, “Oh you’re new? Where did you move from?” to which I respond, “Connecticut.” I figure that’s a fair question and our small talk is now done, but boy was I wrong…so so wrong.

Without missing a beat, this young lady then queried, “What religion are you?” A million things raced through my head, “What the hell kind of a question is that? Where the hell am I? This is a public school right? Should I lie? Do I make a bad joke here about religion and see how it lands? Hmm, ok let’s lie.” To which I then replied, “Uhh…Catholic,” and took my seat. I guess I hadn’t shaken the real foundation of Catholicism yet: guilt. I was shaken and the rest of the day was a blur of awkward small talk and Texas twangs.

How pretty much every event started in Texas

And who was that girl that made me uncomfortable all those years ago? …Albert Einstein. Wait, no, that’s not right. It was my future dear friend Attorney Angela… Lawyer at Law.  Despite our awkward initial introduction and my new found bitterness to the world, Angela and I became friends. After college, grad school, etc. we both found ourselves in DC and reconnected. Most of the time she’s jet-setting around to fancy destinations like Pittsburgh to lawyer things, but on this particular day, she was in town at her office in Farragut. We met for lunch in the food truck square, and under the suggestion of Pino de Gallo, she went right for Far East Taco Grille. Although I’ve made it known I’m a fan, I had to try something new. And there it was, an inauspicious white truck with a picture of a sombrero and a real sombrero hanging on it. ¡Si señor!

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A simple menu for a simple truck. Taco, quesadilla, burrito, and sopa del día options. Steak, chicken, and veggie were all the same price ($7.99) so I figured I’d go hearty and grab the carne. Each burrito comes with “Lettuce, Pica de Gallo, Cheese, sour Cream, Rice, Bean & sauce.” I ordered my steak burrito with everything on it, but inquired as to what the “sauce” was, to which I received an unintelligible response and felt too awkward to ask him to repeat it in a heavy accent a third time.

After the adorable hard working people inside the truck gave me my burrito, Angela and I grabbed a bench where I unwrapped my meal while longingly stared at her awesome Far East tacos. I began to dig into señor’s burrito (phrasing!) and got four or five bites of bland and possibly under cooked rice before even getting a hint of meat. It tasted like al dente Kraft macaroni had a one night stand with the least interesting white person you know in the back of a taco truck and gave us this bastard love child. Occasionally I would get a bite of the sour cream, which had a hearty texture (in a good way!) and may have been the highlight of the burrito. When the sour cream is the highlight of the burrito, you know you’re in trouble; like a movie that spent too much money on the wrong things.

“That movie was poorly acted, made no sense, and was generally awful but at least it had a great soundtrack!” (I’m looking at you 1998 Godzilla movie with Matthew Broderick; but it did give us a Puff Daddy-Jimmy Page collaboration so it might have broken even.)

 

As I slogged through this burrito, there was nary a hint of cheese or pico. Every few bites I would find a scrap of steak, which made me feel like the poor I currently am. (The Mexican version of Oliver Twist maybe? “¿Puedo tener un poco más, por favor?”) Our friend from another post, Pamnado, turned me onto the phrase “The Devil’s Inch” to describe the final bit of a beer that is warm and backwashy; the devil’s inch could certainly apply to burritos as well – that weird mix of drippings, tortilla, and whatever other scraps have made their way to the bottom. Somehow in this burrito, the devil’s inch contained some of the actual ingredients I ordered, namely the meat and the pico.

I have no idea what Señor Taco’s tacos are actually like, but stay the hell away from their burritos. Apparently, I’m not the only to have this experience with them as Hustle Russell had nearly the same thing happen once near this work. Just hope Far East Taco truck is parked nearby. 1.5 Sombreros.

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Far East Taco Grille

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Far East Taco Grille

 

At the tail end of this winter of our discontent, I felt like Joakim Noah being told it’s snowing in Chicago again when I wandered outside. The crisp winter spring air smacked me in the face when I emerged at the crack of noon to go to bikram yoga. Bikram yoga is the masochistic practice of doing a bunch of funny sounding poses in a room at 104 degrees with 40% humidity… because I can’t wait for DC summer to sweat like that!

Standard DC summer

And what you may not know about me is I’m very spiritual and believe in the healing powers of yoga. Like the ability to flush out toxins (although I can’t sweat out my entire liver), center my chi, stretch my thyroid, align my chakras, cure cancer, make me remember where I left my keys, and get my student loans absolved… all through the power of breathing and stretching! I know it’s hard for you to picture me doing this, so I took the liberty of including a picture of me in action:

It’s called the reclined rattlesnake.

On this latest excursion to the ol’ sweating ‘n stretchin’, J-Cro accompanied me to hang out in a room to the point of near fainting. When we exited the studio several pounds lighter, I realized that our lightheadedness was likely due to an acute lack of burritos in our system, and therefore the perfect time for a burrito outing. We ditched our yoga mats (because nothing says “You can probably beat me up” more than carrying around a yoga mat), and headed off to the Far (north) East of 15th & D St.

That's one interpretation of the Far East

That’s one interpretation of the Far East

I knew I was going to get a burrito (obviously) but I had seen their food truck floating around and vaguely knew of a diverse menu, so I had to weigh my options carefully. I love the general concept of their menu: flat rate – all proteins cost the same, several options,, and then a variety of ingredients that compliment each other as the fixins. Tacos are $3 per (or 3 for $8… the obvious taco choice) and burritos & burrito bowls are $8. They also have a wet burrito option covered in mole sauce, which intrigued me but was not for this time.

2014-04-16 14.04.20J-Cro led off with only 2 tacos: chicken with the salsa roja, and a steak taco with pineapple sauce & bahn mi on corn tortillas (the appropriate taco choice). Although the eastern flavors were very alluring, I didn’t want to overdo it with the clash of styles; a Euro-Latin fusion man eating an Asian-Latin fusion meal might be just too much for this world to handle if I didn’t tread carefully. I stepped up and ordered a burrito with “powerful steak”, the standard lettuce, sesame rice, and jack & cheddar cheese blends, then salsa roja (hot) and spicy mayo then picked Volcano Fajita style, which included “Seasoned red & green bell peppers and onions grilled to perfection.”

The “powerful steak” actually meant a form of teriyaki, which I always forget how much I generally love as a flavor. The first bite gave me a big hunk of chewy steak. Not the most welcoming first bite, but I saw potential and upside buried in here… and by that I mean more steak. The sesame rice had a hint of stickiness (like my thighs after yoga… but much more appealing) and blended really well with the roja sauce. Neither overpowered the other one. The peppers were the real pleasant surprise here. They were indeed cooked to perfection and still had a nice crunch to them to go along with their seasoning. Many other places over cook them to the point that they lose their… firmness.

For a bite or two, the meat seemed to disappear and I was concerned that the way FETG keeps all the proteins the same price was by skimping, but then upon further review I discovered that was actually a tunnel of meat down the middle of the burrito, and who am I to complain about that. Both the cheese and the spicy mayo made yummy but subtle (complimentary?) appearances periodically throughout the burrito. The tortilla held together extremely well (unlike my experience at another Asian-ish burrito joint), but was grilled rather than steamed (a personal preference I’ve ranted about ad nauseum) and a wee bit dry, although not to the point of being a distraction or a negative.

The burrito was a little underwhelming in size when it arrived, but upon completion I was both satisfied and did not hate myself! I guess that is how we’re supposed to feel after a meal? I have to say this was one of the best burritos I’ve eaten in DC. There is no question that I will be making this a regular in my rotation, especially with all the different options on the menu. I cannot wait to return. Go get yourself some Far Eat burritos! If I could, I’d give it a 4.25 sombreros, but an enthusiastic 4 sombrero rating will have to do.

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Far East Taco Grille
409 15th St. NE
Washington, DC 20002
(202) 601-4346
@FarEastTG

Well Dressed Burrito 2: Electric Burritoloo

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well dressed burrito penguin

“Oh, you write a burrito blog? Have you been to Well Dressed Burrito?”
“There’s some burrito place in an alley, just past the homeless man peeing; I heard it’s really good.”
“There’s a penguin that makes burritos and it’s the best krill burrito in the city!”

Dooby dooby doo

Dooby dooby doo

Now, I was always taught to beware of the penguins, (DAE 90s kid?! Amirite?!) but I decided to make an exception to this because I had been there before. Long, long ago in the dark, gassy beginnings of the Pino de Gallo universe, I made The Well Dress Burrito my first official review.  Let’s take a moment to revel in how simple things were back then. My unrefined writing style, my poor formatting, the low resolution pictures from my flip phone, and the total lack of gifs. Apparently I barely knew how to use a computer. Primitive really.

I had so much hair back then

After everyone saw the rip roarin’ good time that Salmi/Pamnado had with me at the Chinaman burrito shop, there was a real clamoring to let more people in on my fun. What better way to make the masses happy than pick a popular place in an area where many people work? I cast a wide net and invited JDK, the Cole Mine, C-Rich, Plastic Flicker Kolick (professional athlete sighting!!!), J-Cro, Our-Man-Vir, and the Pamnado (again!).

At the Well Dressed Burrito, the titular (hehe) burrito changes daily on roughly a 10 day rotation (give or take). As C-Rich said, the veteran move was to call ahead and avoid the rush, but because this day I was not interested in the burrito du jour, I needed to dive into the operation myself. I opted out of the mushroom (fungus!) steak burrito or whatever was the WDB of the day, and eyed the rest of the menu.

well dressed burrito menuIt was nice of them to prematurely name a burrito after me, but I wasn’t sure if I was up for “El Gordo” today. A burrito that might double as an eating challenge has betrayed me in the past. I ordered the marinated chicken burrito (Only $6.10!) with refried beans, lettuce, cheese, and tomatoes. Given the fact that burritos are generally associated with Mexican food, I’m surprised with how rarely refried beans are an option at most places. They are my favorite of the musical fruits.

We gathered our various Mexo-Dupont cuisine and headed to the exclusive roof of OurmanVir’s office building. It was nice because it reminded me of my roof deck, except much more restrictive because you need a key card and pants to enter. As people began digging into their food, I glanced over and saw J-Cro cut her burrito in half. Laying a burrito down? Using a fork and a knife for a dry burrito? What are you… Donald Trump eating pizza? The beauty of the burrito is that it’s the most important handheld ever created!

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Proper burrito eating form

First thing I noticed was the great texture of the warm, soft tortilla. It was welcoming and comforting saying, “C’mon Mase, just put me in your mouth.” And I quickly acquiesced. I dug in and found chunky beans (I guess it wasn’t the real mashed up kind of refried beans that I prefer), moist Mexican rice (huzzah!), and plenty of cheese.

Unfortunately the tomatoes brought nothing to the table. If the burrito was a party, then they were the awkward guy (and it’s always a guy) standing just to the edge of the conversation circle where you’re not sure if he’s trying to contribute or not.  The chicken was advertised as “marinated’ thus eliciting an image of rich and moist meat that melts in your mouth, not in your burrito. The reality was that the chicken was pretty dry with middling flavor. I ordered an accompaniment of the spicy habanero salsa which I had to dump repeatedly onto the burrito. As I’ve riffed on many times, I greatly prefer the salsa in the burrito (it is supposed to be a self-contained meal) which possibly could have hid some of the chicken’s shortcomings; like writing a burrito blog totally obscures the fact that the author is unemployed. Same thing right?

The general consensus was a solid 3 sombrero. The rotating daily menu is a plus, but with the variety you’re going to get some ups and downs. The meat, which is the main course, was disappointing in an otherwise strong showing of a burrito. If I worked in the Dupont area, I would definitely frequent this small lunch time venue though and the reviews were positive on their other non-burrito offerings. Don’t go there expecting to have your mind blown, but remember that Chipotle isn’t the only place to get a burrito around the circle.

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The Well Dressed Burrito
“Somewhere in an alley”
1220 19th St. NW
Washington, DC 22036
202.293.0515
WDB on Facebook

 

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Chinito’s Burritos

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One of the first questions anyone asked me after I re-booted Pino de Gallo came from my buddy Salmi who immediately wanted to know if he could be my escort on a burrito outing. In the past, I would only venture out in public with the classiest escorts, but as a recent addition to the moocher class those “between opportunities,” I was forced to settle on good ol’ Steady Salmi.  To quote his lady companion, the Pamnado, “Continuity is the spice of Salmi’s life,”  so although he’s a fast ball right down the middle kind of guy, he also doesn’t mince words when it comes to things he puts in his mouth. He’ll do.

Located across the street from Galludet University (fun fact: where the football huddle was invented!), and in close proximity to both of our houses, is the local establishment Chinito’s Burritos. Chinito translates to (and I know this is not the preferred nomenclature) Chinaman; but hey, he said it, not me. And that man behind the potentially uncomfortable restaurant name is Chicago-born Chef Jin Chong. Chinito’s is his first “project restaurant” and does a bit of the “East-meets-West” thing with a diverse menu. Or as Mister Halfsmoke X says in a comment on their Facebook page: “YO CHECK IT: Dis joint just popped outta space when I wuz cruzin thru da NE spot, and alls I gotta say is: DAAAYYYYUMMMM! Get it? Day-yum? HAHA, i’m funny and you know it. Truth baby, truth…

They be crushin it right herrrr son, word is bond! I mean they got tha burritos, tha tacos, the mucho deliciouso homemade chips, the fresh homemade gaucalamoleypoley, the fresh “SALSA” (sexy Mexican accent) and get this—–they even got the MEXICAN EGG ROLLS! OMG WTF FELIZ NAVIDAD!!!”

(I wish I was making that up)

So with that in mind, we went right before Chinito’s debuted a new, slightly altered menu, but most of the basics are the same. At the counter near the entrance to the restaurant are slips of papers where a mix of customizeable options are laid out.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I love a burrito place that has the ingredients displayed for all to see… none of these back-door room shenanigans! It’s the sort of honesty that is valued in Mexican society and can be traced all the way back to Cortés, when he said, “Give me all your gold or honestly, I’ll kill you.” We value that kind of transparency.

Old Honest Hernan

We blew past the appetizers which include Tex-Mex Egg rolls, but I have had them in the past and they are delicious. Plus for $3, they come with avocado ranch dressing and can’t be beat. It ended up being fortuitous that we opted out because we would need all the room we could spare for the upcoming burritos. Despite being a burrito connisseur, I enjoy making burrito excursions social functions not just because it forces me to eat like a normal member of society, but because I enjoy the banter and hearing what people think about their choices in life, love, and burritos (or in my case, that are one in the same). The teryiaki chicken and Asian slaw caught our eyes as ingredients, but I was hesistant to stray from the Mexican path. My first instinct was that the one among us of Asian descent, Pamnado, should be the one to try it out, but Salmi appropriately chimed in, “Well, I do have a taste for the Asian.” In the end, Pamnado was a champ and ended up going with the more Asian flav with the teriyaki chicken.

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A sense of foreboding washes over Palmi

On this day, I felt like going big time, so I went with both steak (carne asada) and guacamole (extra $2!) in my burrito on top of the standard ingredients which this time were spicy roasted tomato salsa, green salsa, cheese, lettuce, rice, and pinto beans. I even splurged on a grapefruit flavored Jarritos soda, which I bet often confuses people who expect it to be lime since it’s in a green bottle. Crafty Mexicans.

We moseyed over to one of the high tables where there were an array of different sauces for us to try: Mambo Sauce (a DC favorite!), salsa verde, red habenero, wasabi mayo, Siracha, and the roasted tomato.

Mambo Sauce – What can I say? It’s a sweet tangy sauce that goes pretty well on most things. It made a few splashes on my burrito. Buy local!
Salsa Verde – It was hearty, it was spicy, and had great texture. I’m a harsh critic of salsa verde but this was possibly the best SV I’ve had in DC. Reminds me of Papa Pino’s back home on the radish farm.
Habanero – Real Spicy. Possibly too much at times, but it had great flavor, so if you can deal with the burn, I highly recommend it. In other words, how I imagine Leo’s character in The Wolf of Wall Street viewed sleeping with prostitutes.

“It’s a good burn!” -Jordan Belfort

Pamnado described the mild teriyaki flavor as “slightly sweeter” and “good for picky eaters… or children… who are picky eaters.” The grilled vegetables she ordered were practically non-existent. It wasn’t until a late dissecting of the burrito remains did we find evidence that there were grilled vegetables in there at all. Salmi was brave enough to opt-in to the unorthodox fried egg option for his burrito, and concluded that he was very pro-egg. Egg in general is a highly underrated topping.

Siracha for scale. I'm sorry I didn't have a banana.

Siracha for scale. I’m sorry I didn’t have a banana.

The enormous burritos were a bit intimidating when they came out. We started to dig in, but the tortilla’s structural integrity failed and the burritos quickly descending to a Lord of the Flies type scenario with toppings going everywhere, meats bursting out of holes (phrasing?), and Pamnado turning her burrito into bootleg nachos. This was combined with both very bland rice (did they add any flavor?) and guacamole (for $2!). At times the beans tried to wrestle dominance of the burrito from the other flavors, and the salsas certainly didn’t do anything to stop it – they were pretty much non-factors. The steak was cooked perfectly and had a delicious salty fresh flavor that I really enjoyed. Thankfully the salsas detailed above were on the table and at my disposal because I had to hit them frequently and hard.

 

After every burrito

Late in the game, I hear “I’ve got a burrito crisis on my hands,” and I look up to see Salmi’s burrito on the verge of disintegration. Maybe Chinito’s burrista’s ambitions were too grand for their questionable tortillas, but I won’t fault anyone for trying to feed me a hearty burrito. In the end, Salmi and I were both full until well into the next day, while I believe Pamnado was able to subsist on hers until early the next week.

Chinito’s has a lot of good going for them. It’s got a good vision with some interesting twists and a bevy of options. The staff was super nice, and even gave us extra chips (that were delicious and tasted homemade). My particular combination didn’t work for me too well today, but I will definitely return and give some of the other interesting options a try.

3 Sombreros

Chinito’s Burritos
635 Florida Ave. NE
Washington, DC
202-544-4447
@ChinitosBurrito

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