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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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

Clickhole style internet dump

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It’s been a wild week on the internet. The world caught fire when it turned out that an old racist man is still racist and the world was shocked when an old white dude that doesn’t recognize the federal government also turned out to be racist. The girl that was given a fat lip by America’s sweetheart in Superbad, Emma Stone, took it to Jimmy Fallon at this own game in a lip sync battle. After all that, it seemed there was no room on the internet for anything else… the tubes were at capacity!

Or so we thought. And with a nod to The Onion’s upcoming new website Clickhole.com, (and with scorn to the websites it’s parodying, let’s call them Buzzworthy and UpFeed), I’ll give you a few quick clicks from the burrito corner of the internet (which I envision as a green pixelated food truck). So get your pointers ready to fill your clickhole!

Despite all that’s going on in the world, this man had the brilliant idea to miniaturize something we love and throw it up on youtube.

 

I like the look of this burrito. Well crafted, light on the ingredients, but they’re hand selected and I understand it’s a small venue. Tortilla isn’t steamed, but I’ll let that one slide. But that hamster… he’s a fiend! Barely chews, inhales not one but two burritos… I’ve never felt this kind of connection to an animal before. It’s like we were cut from the same tortilla. I also have to give the chef credit on the ambiance of his tiny establishment. (Thank you to the many people who sent me this by the way)

And finally, I’ve enjoyed a good Matthew McConaughey rom-com in my day, although I’m not quite the aficionado that my roommate Hustle Russell is, but I think that most roms and rom-coms could be easily upgraded (and shortened) if they looked more like this. (I refuse to give credit to the source, but let’s just say it rhymes with “Smuzzfeed”)

That’s all for now. I should be back with a review next week.

But speaking of internets, clickholes, and social media type things, did you know that Pino de Gallo has both a Facebook page and a Twitter account? They really exist. That’s how dedicated to this blog I am; I threw down the money to set up those pages, the least you can do is like/follow them. Be the first to know when a new post is up!

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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!

2014-04-02 13.22.04

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

 

3pinos

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.

2014-03-27 19.24.46

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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3pinos

Atlas has Sol

Standard

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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