Wrap It Up! In a Tortilla Please

2006.Jul.21 Friday · 3 comments

in Restaurants

Buenos Aires – Mexican food is not a big thing in Argentina. In fact, it lays claim to the foundation of a much used ethnic slur here. Serve something with a bit too much spice to many an Argentine and the response is, “What do I look like, a Mexican?” I’ve hear it more times than I can count over the last year (well, if I’d been counting, I’m sure I could have kept track). I attended a lecture and slide presentation at the Central Cultural Ricardo Rojas a couple of months ago on Mexican food, and the woman giving the talk, who actually runs a local website devoted to Mexican food, repeatedly emphasized how spicy the food is. Not to mention the bug-eating. I’ve tried a couple of Mexican places here, and they’ve been pretty lackluster – part of it is, indeed, the damping down of the spice level for the local palate, and part of it has just been lack of quality. So when I heard about a new “burrito joint”, I didn’t give it a lot of thought. But then I kept hearing about, and from friends who like Mexican food.

So the other day, we trooped off to the Centro district and the California Burrito Co at Lavalle 441. First, I should note, it’s unrelated to the California Burrito Co “chain” in New York (which I believe has four or five locations in Manhattan). Second, we’re not really talking about Mexican food, unsurprisingly given the name – we’re talking about Cal-Mex food – more or less fast food, but freshly made. Burritos and tacos (soft wrap… I was so looking forward to a nice, crunchy, corn tortilla type, but one can’t have everything). Third, well hey, a trio of landsmen as we might have said in Yiddish – some nice Jewish boys from San Francisco (actually, I’m not sure all three of them are either Jewish or from S.F., but at least one of the owners we chatted with is, and it sounds good).

California Burrito Co - burritoIt’s a long, narrow space, set up more or less like a trendy cafeteria. You get in line, you pick burrito or taco, you pick the fillings, it all gets wrapped up in foil, placed in a basket, and you check out at the cash register. It’s about as easy as you can get – the staff are friendly and efficient, and eager to make suggestions about combinations. The ingredients are fresh, seasonal, and made on premise – in fact, on the menu was a tomatillo sauce, but since they’re not in season, there’s none available, but the young lady helping me assured me I’d love the fire-roasted red pepper sauce – which I did. You make your way to a table or one of the counters around the outside, grab plenty of napkins – these things are juicy! – and eat. Smile. They’re really good burritos and tacos. You can get them spicy or not. They offered me a wedge of lime to put in my Corona. That’s about as Cal-Mex as you can get!

It might be fast food, but it’s the kind of fast food worth checking out.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

dan July 17, 2008 at 19:12

I’ve been back here quite a few times over the last two years, and generally been quite happy with the food, if not the extensive lines that seem to pop up at lunch time in particular. I was back today for my first time in about six months, and was happy to see they’ve added a secondary cooking station at the storefront where they can handle “to go” orders. That seems to keep the line inside to a much more manageable length, though, it does mean they lost a bit of seating in front.

I’ve received a few e-mails over the last couple of months asserting a sudden and unexpected downturn in quality at CBC so I wanted to check it out. Unfortunately, at least based on today’s experience, I’d have to agree to a certain extent – though in only two specific areas. The tortillas were a soggy, doughy mess – not cooked all the way through on the griddle before being popped in the steamer, and they were falling apart as the young ladies behind the counter handled them; and, they’ve cut back on how much filling goes into them – though, I’d say the quality of the filling is as good as ever was – a half dozen little cublets of meat were dropped atop a pile of rice, and when I commented to the server, her return was “no nos permiten a poner mas que eso nada mas” – or, roughly “they won’t let us put more than that anymore”. The menu prices haven’t really gone up, I guess they’ve simply chosen to cut costs by cutting back on the more expensive ingredients. The fuego sauce has improved and is at least mildly spicy, though I still think if you’re going to call it a “fire” sauce, it ought to at least make you sweat a little.

dan February 16, 2011 at 08:02

Just another update, since I don’t think there’s a need for another whole post on CBC. The chain has gone big time corporate after the three American entrepreneurs who started it off sold it to a local fast food chain operator, and there are now franchises in five countries now (Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, Panama) – I have to admit, I’m surprised that they haven’t gotten taken on by someone like Chipotle, given that their concept and design if virtually identical. But I’m glad for them at the same time – nothing like a little entrepreneurial success to keep everyone’s spirits up in these economic times, right?

I do have to standby my last follow-up comment, and also to the end of this post for the thoughts of a local friend on the newish spot in Palermo, at Godoy Cruz 1781. I found myself over there a week or so ago, hungry, and with time to kill before an appointment, so stopped in.

California Burrito Co - surfercombo

I ordered up the “surfer combo” – a “large” burrito with a side of nachos and a drink – coming in these days in the mid-40 pesos range, I think it was $47, which is about double what they were when they opened – for a five year difference, that’s not bad, if their size and quality had remained as good as when they opened, but it hasn’t. The burrito suffered from the same thing I found in my previous notes – anemic in size, it’s certainly not “large” by any stretch of the imagination (take a look at CBC’s photo of the combo from their site, below), and the tortilla is wet, falling apart, stuck to the aluminum foil so that it tears apart on the underside when you try to pick it up, and as you can see, absolutely no browning from griddling it – it’s just steamed. The fillings were good, though not plentiful – they’ve gotten a bit stingy with quantity, which I mentioned as well in the last update – and they were cold – in fact, the counterman made up the burrito, wrapped it in the foil, and then set the packet on a little countertop griddle where he left it for about 2 minutes to “heat it up”, unsuccessfully. The chips were fine, the guacamole could have been fresher and better seasoned – and really, for that price, why not a cup of both the guacamole and the pico de gallo? And maybe some plastic wrap over the guacamole to prevent it from oxidizing to that lovely army green color? The soda was the soda. At that price, it rivals what a similar combo would cost in NYC. It’s really gone downhill under the new ownership, and with there now being some new spots open that offer up burritos and tacos that are pretty decent, it’s not worth setting foot in one of these places.

California Burrito Co - burrito

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