Bad Bean Baja Grill – The OBX Vacation Burrito

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Bad Bean baja grill front

“Vacation? Vacation from what exactly?” I know, it sounds crazy, but sometimes one just needs a break from the life of sleeping in and biking around the city eating burritos, and just escape to a simpler place where I can sleep in, make a big breakfast, and drunkenly pass out on the beach. I think we can all relate to that feeling. So while most people found something fun to do Memorial Day Weekend, I decided to truly honor our fallen soldiers by celebrating a Memorial Day Week in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

I’m a known South-hater going back at least to reconstruction and my pro-Tucemseh Sherman stance (kidding… or am I?), and my disdain for their love of tobacco and amateur sports. That being said, I appreciate the delicate balance they achieve in vacation towns… something in the realm of “We hate that we have to hide our racism and homophobia, but we’re going to be sweet to you because you’re spending money and something something southern hospitality.” Well, as long as you’re selling me food in large portions and beer for cheap, I think we can reconcile these differences.

After doing a bit of research (i.e. searching yelp for literally the closest place that sells burritos), I bugged Dan Pauly and Ms. Nogic to escort me on a burritoventure. Our destination of the day: Bad Bean Baja Grill. The chef, owner, and president of redundancy, Rob Robinson, owns and operates the two Bad Beans in the OBX area. According to their website, he spent five years living and working in California and traveling both Baja and Mexico before opening the Bad Bean Taqueria and Bad Bean Baja Grill. They serve the self-proclaimed “best Cali-Mex cuisine on the Outer Banks.”

On this quiet afternoon, we sat down, and glanced at our menus. Under the “Giant Cali Burritos” section, it lists the ingredients and options (12″ or 15″ tortilla) and closes with “rolled and wrapped to be eaten like a sandwich.” Maybe the South isn’t really familiar with what a burrito involves, but how else would you eat a burrito? Shredded, strewn about, and eaten with chopsticks?

12″ or 15″… tortilla?

Like a hot woman walking into an NFL locker room, the array of options to put inside me was both varied and impressive. “Achoite Roasted Chicken, Pork Barbacoa, Ancho Braised Beef Brisket, Roasted Sweet Pepper, Marinated Grilled Tofu.” Which led to this exchange:

Mase: I don’t know what I want…
Nogic: I recommend the burrito.

 

Glad she was able to join and provide such sage advice. I solicited input from the waitress, and while I’m sure she meant it, she gave the classic non-answer of listing a bunch of menu items that she assured me were really good and said, “Everything is fresh and homemade.”  I decided on the 15″ burrito (because I’m a man!) with the Ancho Beef Brisket and everything else: Mexican spiced rice, black beans, cheese, lettuce, sour cream (hey, I’m on vacation!), habanero salsa, and guacamole. Pauly got both the beef and the pork barbacoa tacos because he was having trouble deciding between the meats as well.

When my 15″ burrito arrived, I weighed it in my hand and felt the power. It was heavy and hearty, and I’m pretty sure I could club a man to death with it. Once I quieted the voices in my head wondering if I could go on a GTA-like spree with nothing but a burrito, I began digging in and got a strong hit of the beef brisket. While I was expecting a more Mexican-peppery taste, it definitely had the southern BBQy tastes to it. I guess as the old saying goes, “You can import the Mexican, but you can’t stop the South from forcing its way on it.” That being said, I actually love BBQ and this brisket was awesome. Seriously, the waitress was right.

After the meat, the next thing that jumped out at me was an overabundance of beans. They were everywhere, but somehow didn’t detract from the flavor of my giant Cali burrito. How Chef Rob Redundinson pulled that off, I have no idea. There was a great balance of sour cream and lettuce, adding just the right amount of cooling dairy and crunch respectively. The Mexican rice was cooked perfectly and had a subtle but good flavor that complimented the burrito well. My special request of extra cilantro was accommodated for and I could taste it throughout which made me a happy camper (vacationer?).

Slowed down to 1/10th of actual speed so humans can see it

Slowed down to 1/10th of actual speed so humans can see it

I also have to give credit to the burrista who assembled this one, because the structural integrity was sound and not too drippy until the devil’s inch and a half. The rice formed a cocoon around the burrito contents, which I loved, but the guacamole was not really noticeable for a while. When I finally hit it, I wasn’t blown away but it was good. The habanero salsa didn’t overwhelm anything in the burrito, and provided residual heat like that feeling we all have deep in our loins when we finish a viewing of Magic Mike. 

How to finish the devil's inch

How to finish the devil’s inch

 

On the other side of the table, Pauly loved the two meats he was putting in his mouth, and Nogic really enjoyed her tossed salad. The cilantro-lime dressing was so phenomenal that she requested the leftover to go, and after I tasted it I decided it’s what I want on every salad for the rest of my life.

When I finally finished this behemoth, I was very full… like just at the pain threshold. Is this what the runner’s high feels like? It must be. Now I know the appeal of marathons. It felt a little pricey (at $8.99 plus another $.99 for guac), but I’ll chalk that up to its size and being located in a vacation town. I loved this burrito and espoused the virtues of this place to my friends who were joining us in the OBX later in the week. They all agreed that it was a damn good burrito. I wish I could 1) make a return trip to the Bad Bean Baja Grill and 2) go on vacation with this burrito. Very solid 4 out of 5 sombreros.

And with this burrito protruding out of me like I’m in the movie Alien, I made my way back to the beach to lie in the sun and digest like a snake. Like our receipt, “Thank You” for reading.

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Bad Bean Baja Grill
3105 N. Croatan Highway
Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
252.261.1300
4pinos

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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4pinos

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

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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Viva! (Live!) Burrito

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Editor’s (aka Mase’s) notes: Little Peen returns for his second review on Pino(s) de Gallo. As always, my notes are in italics. You can find his first review here

Enter here for pleasure

So here I am, back for my second (and I’m sure long-awaited) review on Pino De Gallo. I’m back in Boston now, finally back from where Ma$e had carried me on his back as a young child over the Rio Grande (Large River for all of you who don’t “habla espanol”) in Texas. Unfortunately, it took me a while to get back to the Northeast because a certain Pase Mino spent our life savings on a block of ice to send down to our family in Mexico to keep them cool during the summer. I wonder how that worked out… regardless, it caused for a certain delay in my return to Boston.

Anyway, back to burritos. While there is not quite the vibrant Mejicano environment in Boston as there is in Houston, there are still some quality burrito joints (as demonstrated by The Pelon). The marijuana cigarette I went to is called Viva! Burrito, and is located very close to where I work (in the MA State House), right by Suffolk University. I also went with my co-workers John, Juli (yes spelled that way), and Jaime, which we can call ThreeJ (all of their names start with J…see what I did there?).

It was your typical Mexican restaurant, although a bit different from your typical burritoria. The menu was pretty big and rather intimidating. Not Vince Wilfork intimidating, but more like Jared Allen with a mullet intimidating. It wasn’t to the point where you feared for your life, but it’s still pretty daunting, but still inviting. Orders were placed at the register, and it was made in the pseudo-kitchen just to the left. You did not get to see your food being made or get to pick which things you wanted in it during assembly; you simply had to know what you wanted in it when you ordered. While they had all the normal things to put in a burrito, not being able to see what I wanted in front of me was a bit of a letdown. However, the price came out to be pretty cheap, and was only $7.44. I kept up my optimism, as did ThreeJ, because we had heard that this place had the “Best Burrito in Boston” [citation needed].

The best way to transport 4 sombreros in aluminum foil

I ordered a chicken burrito with black beans, brown rice, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, salsa (seemed to be pico de gallo) and guacamole. It took them a little while to make my food, about 5 minutes, but I was okay with it. I wanted my burrito to have the tender love and care a “Mama Grizzly has for her Cubs“. ThreeJ and I got our food and started hammerin’ away as quickly as “The Situation” plows through ugly chicks. ThreeJ ordered a chicken burrito (like me!), a salad with chicken (lame), and a taco salad (slutty). As I bit into the burrito, I immediately loved it. Everything was distributed nicely, unlike some burritos that are layered and you get bites of just rice or salsa. The chicken was unbelievably juicy, tender, and well-seasoned, and was far and away the best part of the burrito. The steamed tortilla helped keep the burrito’s structural integrity intact, which is a bonus every time. The brown rice I got in the burrito was also quite delicious and tasted as if it and the chicken were perfect for each other, just like Levi Johnston and Bristol Palin. This was a theme for ThreeJ as well, and they all agreed that both the rice and chicken were the best parts of their respective meals (for the TwoJ that had rice, at least). (I think we hit our Palin joke quota again)

The only flaws I could find in this burrito were that the guac and pico were mediocre and a bit runny, causing for a bit of a mess on my hands, and not the Tobias Funke kind. And although they were sliding downwards faster than Lindsey Lohan’s career, I still found them tasty. ThreeJ pointed out that the avocados tasted particularly fresh, but unfortunately the lettuce was moderately less fresh (pictured right).

Being that the flaws in the Viva! Burrito burrito were marginal, its overall quality was fantastic. I really can’t say enough about the chicken and the rice. They were simply delicious. ThreeJ reassured me that the sensation in my mouth was normal and indeed, quite enjoyable. And to top it all off, it’s in a great location and will look especially nice when the renovations to the sidewalk outside of it are done.

All in all, the quality of the burrito was superb, and at the price and setting there is no way you can go wrong with a Viva! Burrito burrito. While I feel it was not quite as good as El Pelon, it’s certainly nippin’ at its heels and also gets some cheap points for actually being in Boston (unlike a certain ‘Chestnut Hill College’ of Eagles) and being close to my work. Viva! Burrito gets a very respectable 4 sombreros. (Thankfully there is no limit to allowed number of cheap shots at BC)

And maybe now that I have a second review under my belt, Mase can call me “Slightly-below-average Peen,” or he can just come up with a better nickname all together. (Not happening.)


Viva! Burrito
66 Staniford Street
Boston, MA 02114-2525
(617) 523-6390

El Pelón: A New Addiction

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I need to start off this post by apologizing for not reviewing anything recently. I have a backlog of reviews that are forthcoming, but it has been difficult because of work (hiding from INS), La Copa Mundial (actually the NBA Finals… go Celtics!), and my strict workout regimen (drinking bottles of scotch alone). But I am back and I am focused!

My kind of addiction

El Pelón (loosely translates to “the Pelón”) is known in Boston for two things: 1) Making fantastic burritos, specifically El Guapo; and 2) for burning down not once, but twice. When it burned down the second time, I was disappointed because I had never made it to the Fenway location before I fled Boston for DC. Well, it has been rebuilt in the yuppie W.A.S.P.-y college neighborhood of Chestnut Hill near Boston College (the “Boston” institute of higher learning…. not actually located in Boston). It’s located at the end of the B-line on the Green line. On the upside, it’s accessible by public transportation, but on the downside, you have to take Boston public transportation, which is relatively as enjoyable as being a college girl at a bar with Ben Roethlisberger.

On day 2 of Pinothon weekend, a group of us make our way to the picturesque area near BC (read: inordinately Caucasian) to finally try the infamous El Pelon Taqueria. Being the genius that I am, I suggest to my brother (Little Peen) that we each get separate burritos and share them to cover more ground. Of course he complies (he has no other choice), and we put in the following order:

1) El Guapo (the handsome!): Grilled Steak, Mexican Rice, Black Beans, Fried Plantains, Jack Cheese, Fire Roasted Salsa, Romaine Lettuce, and Crema ($6.50)

2) Pollo Burrito: Grilled chicken, Mexican rice, Jack Cheese, Romaine Lettuce, Salsa Fresca, crema, hot sauce, and guacamole (+$.75 extra) ($4.95 before guac)

A guapo holds EL GUAPO!

First off, El Guapo! This is the trademark burrito of El Pelón. They add a unique twist to a standard burrito; the not-so secret ingredient: fried plantains (which can also be ordered as a side for $3.95).  The fried plantains provide a sweetness that contrasts superbly with the saltiness of the burrito. I have to admit that I was skeptical going into it, but Little Peen was optimistic.  The rest of the burrito’s ingredients were very good, but not amazing. The grilled steak was not overcooked, but not super flavorful; the rice was traditional Mexican rice that I really enjoyed, and the “fire-roasted salsa” must have referred to the way the salsa was made, not the actual heat content of it because it lacked real kick. The burrito itself was very well put together. Steamed flour tortilla and the right balance of each of the ingredients.

Secondly, the standard burrito. Gotta love the low price. Less than $6 for a delicious burrito including guacamole and sour cream? Sign. Me. Up. Or in the words of Pete Carroll, “I am so uh…. fired up.” The ingredients were fresh and, unlike many places, the chicken was not dry. Hooray! The burrito was a slightly scaled down version of El Guapo, so most of those points carry over here. Other options for the standard burrito include Bean and Cheese ($4.50), Calabacitas (veggie $4.95), Carnitas ($4.95), Carne Asada (steak $5.25), and Pescado (fish, $6.25).

A few minor knocks: 1) Salsa and guac were very good, but not great. 2) The brothers Pino were still a bit hungry at the of the burritos. That being said, it would probably satisfy most mere mortals, but it is not a massive burrito (Little Peen just has a small head).

Those few issues aside, I highly recommend El Pelón if you’re in Chestnut Hill yuppie watching. And unlike everything else on BC’s campus, El Pelón’s sense of superiority is well deserved (and not given to them by their parents). I give it an emphatic and strong 4 sombreros. ¡Olé!

What? Rehab? You're fiiiiiine.

El Pelón Taqueria
2197 Commonwealth Avenue
Brighton, MA
http://www.elpelon.com
617-779-9090