Pedro & Vinny, Pino & Pino

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Editor’s note: On the same day that this was originally posted, the Arlington Pedro & Vinny’s got shut down for multiple health code violations. Read about it here. 

There are several rules that govern this universe – Newton’s Laws of Motion, Natural Selection, and if you’re rich enough, you can literally get away with murder. But I recently discovered another invisible hand magically pulling the strings behind the scenes of this wayward journey I call life: No city can host two employed Pinos at the same time. Now, I don’t know why this is; maybe it’s because two Pinos with disposable income would end up looking something like the scene in Superman 3 when he gets drunk and fights himself, maybe it’s racism, or maybe it’s just to knock us down a proverbial peg.

Regardless of the reason, when I was living in Boston I worked as a paralegal defending helpless asbestos makers from pesky cancer patients, and Lil Peen did not because he was in school. Then I went back to school, and Lil Peen started his paid internship (close enough to a job). I stayed unemployed until moving to DC (who knew that a financial collapse would decrease the demand for Int’l Relations Master’s degrees?). Flash forward a couple of years and Lil Peen moves down to the Distict o’ Columbia to try “make a difference” and “pursue his passions” or some young pre-cynical shenanigans. Like many other shifty immigrants before him, Lil Peen was forced to work odd jobs and do what we the rightful legal residents of this country refuse to do… work retail.

Lil Peen Microsoft Store

Dance for a better life!

After months of hard work, Lil Peen landed a full time gig in an office doing social media or some made up job (it’s the American way!)… and my company promptly went out of business because of the polar vortex. I’m not kidding, it actually happened. Suddenly, my life is a daily ritual of sweatshorts and burrito blogging, while Lil Peen puts on a shirt and tie (he thinks he’s people!) and goes to an office. Then, right before his 25th birthday. Lil Peen landed the starring role in the new reality show “Mexicans North of the Wall”, where he is now working on a Senatorial campaign in Fairbanks, Alaska. Talk about pescado out of water!

Happy to be far from the border patrol!

Happy to be far from the border patrol!

And, to bring balance to the universe, just a week after Lil Peen left, I got a job offer, and my days of sleeveless freedom and daytime museum visits was behind me. But before he departed to search for the northwest passage, we decided to do an old school Pino2Pino burritoventure. This time to Pedro & Vinny’s burrito cart at 15th & K st. NW. I asked Lil Peen to write his thoughts since I knew he’d have time on his long flight to the great white north. (Lil Peen’s in italics)

I biked to meet up with Mase at the corner of 15th and K St in downtown District expecting to find a typical looking burritoria/restaurant. Instead, what I got was a food cart that seemed way more legit than a food cart, but not quite as legit as a food truck. This surprised me, especially because I googled the name of the establishment for directions and it gave me a firm address exactly where it was located. Legitimacy had been confirmed by the google machine.

I, too, was expecting more of a food truck than a food cart. The thing looked like it should have been selling popcorn at a carnival, and that is definitely not a compliment. At least the guy running it didn’t have small hands and reek of cabbage, at least not that I could tell. I should have known what to expect when the website described it by using the CVS as a landmark. We circled the cart to make sure this was the “place” and to get a sense of what we were getting into.

We got in the unexpectedly long line with some of the regulars and “locals” (translation: sell-out consultants that probably make way more than I’ll make in the next ten years). The homeless woman sitting on the curb next to the stand provided us with a sweet, sweet ambient offbeat and unskilled tapping of a snare drum. It truly felt like home.

I always say a good meal deserves a good soundtrack. Little did I realize the urban chic music would be foreshadowing our eating experience this day. Good thing we scouted the cart, because while Lil Peen and I live in a 21st century economy, Pedro & Vinny’s cart is either stuck in 50s or is a laundering money because it was a cash-only operation. Cash should be reserved exclusively for use in the sex/drugs/bike trade. Sorry guys, this sombrero is not filled with pesos.

Derelicte

The burrista (no word on if it was Pedro or Vinny) kept the long line moving by shouting out ahead to ask what kind of tortilla we wanted (flour, whole wheat, spinach, or tomato) with raucous enthusiasm. There were several sizes and options listed on the side of the cart, but it really seemed like there was only one size: burrito, which honestly is fine by me.

Upon beginning our order, we were asked what kind of tortilla we would like and if we wanted cheese. I chose “flour” and “absolutely.” The only meat option was chicken, so I was stuck with that choice. I also chose to add both kinds of beans, tomato “salsa”, guac, sour cream, and lettuce. I was given a choice of additional hot salsas on a heat scale of 1-10, and since that is a completely arbitrary scale which I have no idea what it is based off of, I chose 5 like a bitch.

I similarly took the only option available in the chicken, and opted for the wheat tortilla. Lil Peen was skeptical because he’s never had a good whole wheat experience, but the slow steaming process was the Obi-wan Kenobi hope to my Princess Leia hunger. I grabbed all the same ingredients as LP except opted for a “7” on the arbitrary hot scale because, unlike LP, I’m not a bitch.

The chef was essentially just throwing shit into a tortilla and didn’t look like he was putting any real care into, but his passion for it actually got me pretty excited about his creation. He seemed to have the unbridled enthusiasm of a 15 year old telling the story of how he got to second base that one time.

Ohhhhhh man! It was great! We were in my friend Lauren’s parents’ basement watching There’s Something About Mary when I slyly slid my hand… oh sorry that wasn’t a story cue?

Game of thrones pete rose 2nd base

 

As the burrista haphazardly threw ingredients into our burritos, I went to pay and the system felt like the equivalent of “take a penny, leave a penny” but with twons, hams, and logs. ($20, $10, $5… try to keep up people). The burrito had a good cost to weight ratio at $7.50

That’s where my enjoyment ended, though. Upon biting into the burrito I was given a mouthful of blandness. The chicken and rice were dry and almost entirely tasteless. The beans were mediocre at best and carried little flavor. The guac, sour cream, and “5” hot sauce were the only remotely redeemable aspects of this burrito.

I found my “7” hot sauce to be pretty good and the guac to be… just ok. Agreed on the low flavor of the beans, and the rice seemed to be undercooked and entirely devoid of flavor. Just cook it in some chicken or pork stock then add some cilantro. It ain’t that hard. Then again, my first job in DC was essentially data entry and somehow there was a non-negligible amount of people who were bad at it. Go figure.

The “fresh salsa” and “corn salsa” were just chopped up tomatoes and corn respectively. But don’t confuse my grammatical clarification for respect for the salsa. Even Rodney Dangerfield would say he gets more respect than this salsa.

It surprisingly held together during both Mase and my defoiling, much to my surprise. The burritos were dripping from when they were handed to us, and there wasn’t a moment during eating it that I didn’t have some of its contents on my hands.

Even through 4 layers of foil, it did in fact drip a lot, but that didn’t justify how much you were smelling your fingers afterwards. AND it got on my shirt. The judges dock you one half sombrero!

I would hope that the brick & mortar of Vinny’s prides itself a little better than the food cart, despite being the newer of the two. The only other redeeming factors of this burrito was that it was only $7.50, and relatively filling. The tastlessness and the messiness of it does not make up for that in the grand scheme of things though, and you could easily (and should) find a better overall value in the city.

I’m going to give it 2 sombreros, but only because I think it just barely is better than a 1.5 and we typically round up. Spend an extra $1.50 and get Chipotle or something.

Pedro & Vinny's is the flop of the week!

Pedro & Vinny’s is the flop of the week!

Absolutely, I agree with you. This thing was a 2 ‘brero experience. Based on the line and things I’ve heard/seen/read on the internet, I had hopes for this “P-n-V” that people seem to hold in high regard. Unfortunately, once I got it in, it definitely did not live up to the hype. If you work in the area, maybe you should think about walking a few more blocks and go find Far East Taco Grill’s truck.

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2pinos

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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

Lime to me, baby!

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When I moved to DC, Chinatown/Gallery Place had already transformed to most of what it is today. Sure, there wasn’t a multi-floored Walgreen’s yet, and the Wizards were a long shot from winning a playoff series, but the stories like the one my former boss, a 6’6″ ex-power forward at Catholic University, told me about breaking beer bottles on the ground to have a weapon on your walk home in the 90s were definitely a thing of the past.

No, Gilbert, not that kind of long shot

No, Gilbert, not that kind of long shot

In most of my travels, I’ve found the local “Chinatowns” to be pretty dirty. This goes for Boston, SF, Sydney, and NYC… where many of us have stood in between fish heads on ice and ducks in a window while waiting for a shoddy but cheap bus back to whatever city we actually live in.  Granted, it’s not as dirty as a literal town in China, but that bar isn’t exactly high. (NSFW)

In our little DC version of Chinatown, we have some big golden Chinese arches to compliment our golden big fat American arches with a variety of Asian cuisine and Chinese letters below store names. But beyond that, I would not say the Irish bar, Hooters, or Legal Seafoods count as Chinese.

And in this Asian-fusion hot pot, there is a small Mexican joint. Oh wait, make that two… no… three! That’s right, in the shadows of the John Wall’s palace there are three chain Mexican places: Chipotle, California Tortilla (aka Cal Tort to the die-hards), and Lime Fresh Mexican Grill – the subject of today’s post. At some point, someone looked at the burrito density of Chinatown and thought, “You know what this area need? Another burrito place!” taking a page from the Starbucks Business School of Strategic Density. 

Although I have been to Cal Tort before, and I promise to go back there again with my roommate, WAFC significant other, and frequent commenter under the pseudonym “Cal_tort_4_lyfe” Hustle Russell, but today was not the day for the revisit. And despite the constant long lines at the Chipotle in Columbia Heights, the Lime across the street on 14th wasn’t able to get enough spillover business to stay afloat and abruptly closed at the end of December last year, which meant this was my only shot at some Lime in the mouth.

Looking at the menu, I noticed all the real burritos (sorry, I do not count a bean burrito as a real burrito; vegans and vegetarians… I do not approve of your lifestyle choices) were the same price, $7.25, and I narrowed it down to Queso or Big Cali. I was pretty hungry and the description described it as “An XL burrito” and told me I “Better have a spotter ready.”

I also had my shirt unbuttoned

The Big Cali came with my choice of “chicken or ground beef, cilantro-lime rice, guacamole, salsa asada, cilantro, black bean corn salsa, tortilla strips, cheese, and our signature sour cream.” I selected chicken then made my way to the salsa bar to fill up my to-go containers. The selection was not as great as District Taco’s, but still hit most of the biggies – salsa verde, pico de gallo, salsa asada. In the emptiness of the mid-afternoon work day, the friendly staff came up to me to double check what I ordered and asked if I had any questions. The exchange went something like this:

ron swanson i know more than you

I took my burrito to the National Portrait Gallery, one of my favorite museums with a sweet atrium to enjoy this burrito around some culture. Like the Art of Video Games exhibit, the current special American Cool, or some college kids playing arrangements from… video games. I personally love the permanent exhibit on the US Presidents. Although Bill Clinton’s portrait really could go in the American Cool as well.

I sat down and unwrapped my burrito. I was taken by it’s lack of XL-ness. Hell, it was barely even “L.” This thing wasn’t going to stand a chance. I was afraid that I wouldn’t even be able to take notes because I’d get through it so quickly. The pleasant surprise (ie I didn’t read the menu carefully) was that the burrito came with chips! Huzzah! The salsas for the aforementioned chips were all solid, but none blew me away. The cilantro was fresh but hastily chopped with lots of big chunks and stems. Salsa verde was… fine, and salsa asada decent flavor but not hearty enough.

The tortilla was grilled, not steamed, and dry (surprise!). Here’s a lesson for all you young budding burristas out there, you need to do one of two things, either: a) steam your tortilla so it is moist and delicious, or b) grill it with some oil so it is moist and delicious. Straight grilling is a recipe for failure.

When I dug into the burrito itself, the rice immediately jumped out as flavorful. A cilantro-lime rice that actually has flavor? My word! The guacamole on the other hand… not so much. You know how good Whole Foods and Chipotle guacamole is? Well, it was nothing like that. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I think it had too much cumin. There were little hints of cheese here or there, but I guess at Lime if you want real cheese on your burrito you have to order the one with the word in the name. The chicken was plentiful, had above average flavor, and was impressively not dry at all. The salsa asada was nearly undetectable as was the sour cream. The black bean corn salsa provided texture and little else.

After this experience, I can see why people would rather wait 20 minutes for Chipotle than 5 minutes for Lime. A burrito that lacks so much character than repeated trips to the salsa bar is no bueno. And did I mention that despite being billed as “XL”, I felt ready for a few tacos for dessert at the end? Totally could have; too bad it wasn’t Taco Tuesday. If this was a yelp review, it might get 3 stars, but since this is a burritocentric review, they’re getting a big ol’ 2.5 sombreros.

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Lime Fresh Mexican Grill

726 7th St NW
Washington, DC 20001
202-638-4770
@limefreshmex
25pinos

District Taco – Washington, DT

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District Taco sign

“Always fresh! Always Mexican!” -actual motto

“Cancel my afternoon meetings and clear my schedule! I’m going out for the rest of the day!” I shouted aloud… in my house… walking around in nothing but sweatshorts (yes, sweatshorts! They don’t make promises they can’t keep). I figured the principle of Jeopardy watching where I only get the answer right if I say it out loud, even if I’m by myself, applied here. Is it silly to pretend that my living quarters are a “home office” because I’m unemployed? Absolutely. Am I slowly losing my grip on reality? Entirely possible. Have I been watching Pacific Rim too much lately? No way…

A truly groundbreaking film

I could watch this for hours. And by that, I mean I do

But this day was just too gorgeous to spend inside because it was one of the handful of magical days in DC that isn’t winter but the sweltering swamp ass of summer hasn’t settled in yet either. What’s that? There’s a name for this phenomena? Spring? Hmm…

Regardless of what the fancy name for this weird weather pattern was, I figured today was as good as day as any to hop on the old bicicleta and hit up the place that has had the most requests for the Pino de Gallo treatment: District Taco. Started as a food truck in 2009 by two neighbors, “DT” now has three locations in the city near Dupont, Capitol Hill, and Downtown, and one remote location in some far off land of Arlington. I wasn’t prepared to purchase a plane ticket to go to the land of JMU and UVA alums trying to live extensions of their college lives, so I had to stay in the district. This time I ventured to the downtown location – 1309 F St NW. I had heard that the lunch rush was big, so I went mid-afternoon to avoid being reminded how much I hate people.

The big menu was a bit intimidating at first, but when I cleared out all the clutter (aka non-burrito related items), I was able to find my jam. I appreciate a menu that makes it like a “choose your own adventure” young adult novel, which makes it so that the simple uptight suit wearing “employed” people of downtown DC can easily select a burrito and toppings quickly, while a burrito connoisseur like myself can really get into the nuances of the Mexican craft.

I stepped up and ordered an al pastor burrito (carved rotisserie pork, marinated with guajillo and served with chopped pineapple) with garlic-lime rice, grilled vegetables (green peppers & onions), pico de gallo, lettuce, cilantro, jalapeños, and cheese. Total cost with tax: $7.70. Not bad, even though I’m on a fixed income and if I wanted a “premium topping” (bacon, chorizo, or guacamole) it would have been an additional $1.50. After I was handed the laminated picture of a sombrero that indicated my order number, I strolled around the burritoria, past the colorful array of Mexican beers, and noticed the large wall of post-its.

Post-its claiming to be from all over espoused the greatness of District Taco. “Michigan loves District Taco!” “Rutgers approves!” (like that’s a high bar, New Jersey) “She wanted the ‘DT’” (I get it!), and “I wish it would rain tacos!” Then I saw a post-it for “Penn Class of 2015”, became annoyed at the unexpected reminder of my age and decided to stare at the salsa bar for a while.

I scooped some of each into little to-go containers, and before I knew it, my burrito was ready. Into my backpack it went, and I was off to find a better view to enjoy while eating this burrito. I often take for granted that I live in our nation’s capital and so many people flock here to see the things I see everyday. (Well not all the things, but you can use Bing’s video search for that stuff)

I found a bench on the north side of the Rock Dong, the largest all stone obelisk in the world. As I began the prep work of laying out the salsas along the bench, I noticed tourists coming up and taking the incredibly stereotypical picture with our nation’s Rock Dong. I excitedly snapped a pic, until I realized that even on in the middle of a weekday on a relatively isolated side of it, this would be a regular occurrence every five minutes. Didn’t stop me from giggling to myself though and taking pictures of them.

 

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When I pulled the brown paper bag out of my backpack, I was relieved to not see any notes of grease or salsa leaking through. When I unwrapped the burrito, I was pleased to see that the steamed tortilla and its contents had survived the bike ride. On my first bite, I encountered a large chunk of juicy pineapple. When I found the meat, it was legit. With a light char and guajillo seasoning, it paired well with the pineapple. As I dug through the burrito, I periodically hit up my own mini-salsa bar rotating across the four I had. Generally speaking, and I believe I’ve made this clear before, I greatly prefer my salsas to be on the inside of the burrito (the greatest food delivery mechanism ever Mexcreated), but it is nice to be able to shift flavors while in the burrito.

The tomatillo (verde) salsa was too tangy, almost lemony, and watery. I was not a fan. The roasted tomato (dark) salsa was excellent and definitely my favorite – thick & hearty while delicious. The mestizo salsa was not very good, mostly just heat, and if I’ve learned anything from Frank’s Red Hot it’s that I want “tang and flavor… not just heat!” The Chiltomate salsa (bright red, I think) tasted of chile de arbol, one of my favorite spicy Mexican flavors, had some heat to it, and although a bit chalky, was also damn good.

The flavors blended well in the burrito and with the rotating hits of salsa I didn’t noticed until halfway through the disconcerting absence of some of the ingredients I ordered. I’m not sure if they were forgotten or just negligible, but there was no hint of the jalapeños or cilantro (and I love cilantro, I’d bathe in it if I could), the cheese was damn near undetectable (ibid. cheese), and the lettuce and pico de gallo were sparse. The roasted veggies were crisp and plentiful (although not as good as Far East’s), and while I never tasted any flavor in the rice, it did not take away from the burrito and was well cooked. The tortilla was moist and maintained its structure through the demolishing with almost no drippage.

I enjoyed my trip to District Taco. I wasn’t blown away on this visit, but I liked their options and the main courses in the burrito were enjoyable. While I was comfortably full at the end of the meal, I would have preferred the burrito to be a bit larger for the money and force them to stuff in all the ingredients I ordered. If they’re going to offer all those great ingredients, they should make sure they actually end up in the burrito. 3.5 / 5 Sombreros, would burrito again.

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District Taco
1309 F St NW.
(202) 347-7359
@DistrictTaco

35pinos

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.

2014-04-24 10.52.38

Those flowing locks! The early aughts were a simpler time

2014-04-24 10.53.03

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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