Monday, July 9, 2012

Chico's Fat California-Style Burritos and Tacos

With a sign reading "Chico's Fat," it's no wonder many are hesitant to try this High Street restaurant. Situated near the top, the unassuming restaurant's name is actually "Chico's Fat California Burritos & Tacos." This Cali-style Tacqueria's specialty is their fat burrito, but they also serve traditional Mexican fare.

I had tried this once a few years ago, but it somehow got lost in the shuffle. Recently, when I went to the Arts on the River festival, I discovered a love for their fish taco. Panko-encrusted tilapia with baja slaw and spicy jalepeno crème fresh. Unique and tasty, that taco lured me into checking out the restaurant.

As soon as I walked in, I first noticed the colors. Bright blues and greens and reds - reminiscent of southern Cali decor. Only one other couple was in the restaurant, which already makes me happy. I'll gladly skip the crowds. It's an order-at-the-counter, assembly line type of place, much like Qdoba. But the vibe here isn't "HEY, we're MEXICAN." It's more like, "this is a cool, chill place to relax and get a huge burrito."

I walked up to the counter to look over the menu options. Soups (like chicken enchilada), salads (like avocado salad), burritos, burrito bowls, nachos, quesadillas, tortas (a Mexican sandwich), combination plates (you can choose two or three: taco, tamale, enchilada, tostada, chimichanga), and tacos are all here. I feel like I had to try their signature burrito. They have a few different types:
  • Basic Rice - Choice of beans, pico de gallo, cheese and salsa
  • Regular Rice - Choice of beans, choice of meat, pico de gallo, cheese and salsa
  • Vegetarian Rice - Choice of beans, tofu, pico de gallo, cheese and salsa
  • Super Rice - Choice of beans, choice of meat, pico de gallo, sour cream, guacamole, cheese and salsa
  • and a Mojado - Choice of red or green sauce and cheese broiled

I chose the Super Rice because I wanted everything! So, here's how it works. You pick the general item you want, whether it's a burrito, a taco, a quesadilla, etc. Then, you choose your beans:
  • Black
  • Refried
  • Pinto

Then you choose your meat, which is awesome:
  • Carne Asada - Marinated grilled steak
  • Chili Colorado - Steak & poratoes simmered in red sauce
  • Barbacoa - Mexican BBQ shredded beef
  • Carnitas - Slow roasted pork
  • Al Pastor -  Marinated roast pork
  • Chili Verde - Stewed pork in green sauce
  • Pollo Asado - Marinated grilled chicken
  • Pollo En Salsa Roja - Spicy stewed chicken

Seriously, who gives that many meat options? And they all look pretty killer. I decided on the Barbacoa - Mexican BBQ shredded beef.

Then, you choose your salsa:
  • Mild
  • Medium
  • Hot
  • Verde
So far, I was super happy at how easy this all was. It's not like reading some fancy dish name, then reading the description to figure out if you like every component. Instead, you get to build a burrito the way you want it with tons of options. When I was finished, I ended up with a Super Rice Burrito, with black beans, Barbacoa, pico de gallo, sour cream, guacamole, cheese and mild salsa. It was all made right in front of my by a very friendly guy. I added on a fountain soda for a total of around $11.

Apparently the owner, a WVU grad, originally wanted to open up a BBQ restaurant, but the current location was too small. Maybe that's how the Barbacoa was formulated.

I took my basket containing the foil-wrapped burrito and side of chips and salsa to a booth that lined the slender dining way. The fountain soda dispenser was a bit different. Instead of pressing your cup against a button, essentially, you manually pull a level which pours the beverage into your drink. Rather than the gushing of a typical fountain soda, this instead slowly pours it in. It just struck me as odd.

At our table was a candle of the Virgin Mary, or Virgin de Guadalupe. Interesting. On the walls were some framed art, maybe posters of musical groups.

I took a quick bite of my salsa and chips - nothing too mind-blowing here. It was basic. But it's free and on the side, so I can't complain. I unwrapped the behemoth of burrito and began prodding it with my fork. Some of the burrito had began to rip from the sheer enormity of the thing, so I thought fork would be the best way to go. Everything was fresh and flavorful. The meat was well-seasoned and had a smokey flavor. The cool sour cream rounds out my trifecta of tastiness. Creamy guacamole and generous portions of slightly spicy rice and beans made this lip-smacking burrito marvelous.

Everything tasted as if it was made that day - the salsas, sauces and meats. I have an appreciation for that freshness and attention to the smallest details. I had a hard time finishing the entire thing, but I'll be damned if I didn't. With awesome ingredients, tremendous variety, huge portions and great service, what's not to like?

Besides, it was pretty cool to see them wrap up a huge burrito in a near-artistic fashion. What they do is truly an artform. Check it out. And you must try the fish taco if you get the chance.

Summer Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday. 456 High Street, Morgantown, W.Va. 26505 (304-241-4712)

Grade: A
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