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

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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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Atlas has Sol

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Sol Cantina Sign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014-03-20 15.21.06

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

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

Verdict: 3.5 Sombreros

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

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