Tuesday, July 11, 2017

California Tortilla Food Review II

Bangkok Shrimp Tacos at California Tortilla

It took me a while to warm up to California Tortilla. After all, they replaced my favorite (at the time) neighborhood eatery Pizzeria Uno, and the thought of swapping Chicago-style pizza for a boring burrito was (again, at the time) akin to treason. I eventually came to my senses, and gave 'em a try. More than a decade later, I still visit once a month. Is it the food? Save for their stellar salsa & chips, no (nearby Chipotle makes a way better burrito.) Is it the customer service? Nope. Once again, Chipotle reigns supreme. Perhaps it's the atmosphere? This particular location hasn't changed one iota, since it opened almost 20 years ago. So why do I keep coming back? Loyalty. They're open every night until 10 PM (no early closings) except for Sunday (9 PM) and it's nice to have some sense of culinary history in a neighborhood painfully void of them. P.S. Every once in a while, they surprise you.

Example #1. Cal Tort's Bangkok Shrimp Tacos, available for a limited time (Street Pick 2 for $7.37.) They're not cheap (almost $4 per taco) but they come packed with fillings. Tops amongst them, a generous amount of small, tender & well-seasoned shrimp, covered in sweet red chili sauce. After that, it's a smörgåsbord of corn, green onions and shredded romaine lettuce, tucked inside a soft tortilla shell. It fell apart at first bite; but I must admit, I didn't mind. This is the kind of taco that's supposed to be messy... and delicious. Great heat (corn, shrimp) and the tortillas are soft & not the least bit chewy. Drop the price a buck or two, and I'd stop by once a week.

Honey Lime Burrito

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for their Honey Lime Burrito ($7.79) which is guaranteed to fill you... without delivering a flavor punch. It features grilled mesquite chicken, rice (lots and lots of rice) salsa, shredded romaine lettuce and an almost sickly-sweet honey lime sauce. The chicken is often overcooked (as on this visit) and dry, and there's way too much rice to notice anything else but... rice. Compared to Chipotle, mediocre at best (and inferior at worst.)

Chips & Salsa

Luckily, Cal Tort has an ace up its sleeve. Their Chips & Salsa (Small, $1.89) is second only to District Taco, and cheaper to boot. Both the chips and salsa are made fresh daily, and it shows in the taste. When I have company over, I almost always buy their salsa, and claim it as my own. To this day, I can think of a few dozen people who swear I make the best salsa in the world. If you happen to be one of those people, I expect you to forget you ever read this review (or no salsa for you.) Needless to say, it's fantastic.

Toss in their Burrito Elito loyalty program (free burritos on your birthday!) and it's no small wonder I'm still a loyal customer. Orders are processed quickly, and there's plenty of room to dine-in, including an outdoor patio with awesome 80s music overhead. I just wish their burritos were better.