Quick Bites: Guasaca (Raleigh, NC)


image courtesy of flickr

Everybody’s been going here and writing about it, and I’d say it lived up to the hype.  The comparisons to Chipotle are apt, if inevitable, but the food here is fresher and more vibrant.  My wife liked the pork with beans arepa, while my favorite, surprisingly, was the steak with caramelized onions (not always a fan of the steak in these kinds of dishes).  The fish/plantains special was my least favorite.  Next time I’ll create my own arepa.  I loved the arepas themselves – think thick, moist corn tortillas.  The sauce for each is served on the side, which is nice but a little confusing: do you pour it on?  dip it?.  The house “guasaca” sauce (somewhat like a chunky guacamole/pico de gallo hybrid) is delicious.  The place is super clean and the staff is friendly.  I’m eager to go back for more.

Review: Tijauna Flats (Cary, NC)

Another chain, another terrible culinary experience.  You can easily get sucked into these kinds of misadventures with your work colleagues.  That’s one of the reasons that I pack my own lunch about 95% of the time.

You’re greeted at the door of Tijuana Flats in Cary by a friendly staffer who hands you a giant laminated menu and explains the logistics of ordering: tell them what you want and pay at the counter, and it’s full table service from that point on.  The menu features the usual Tex-Mex suspects: burritos, tacos, chimichangas, and the like, with a few twists.  Witness the “bangin’ chicken” burrito, with some kind of buffalo sauce and ranch, or the ceasar or steak-n-cheese burritos.

I wanted to get a baseline experience for the purpose of comparison to Moe’s Southwest Grill or Chipotle, so I ordered the basic burrito with carnitas and added guacamole.  I selected the “Tijuana” size [medium], which I correctly assumed would be way too big for me to finish.  The fillings in the burritos here may not be exactly what you expect.  Standard additions include olives and jalapenos, for example, and exclude rice and beans.  You are offered a choice of either queso, guacamole, or salsa with your chips.  This is a nice, but a little confusing, as one of the claims to fame of the whole place is its huge selection of hot sauces to go with your food.  Not thinking, I chose salsa.  It was unremarkable.  Worse still was my burrito, which was served in one of the worst flour tortillas I’ve ever eaten.  It was just incredibly bland, with mushy mushy meat.  To make my food more flavorful, I experimented with a handful of their hot sauces.  These range from mild and sweet to downright scorching (cartoon faces let you know what’s what: from placid to tearing up to the face of poison death).  Unfortunately, none of them actually tasted good.  The sweet ones in particular had an unpleasant artificial taste to them.

There’s really no reason to visit these types of restaurants considering the abundance of fantastic Mexican food in the area.  So avoid them if you can.  If you can’t, Chipotle heads up the list by a huge margin, followed by Moe’s and then Tijuana Flats.  I haven’t tried Qdoba or Salsarita’s yet, but I’m not really eager to do so.