The next time you crave Chipotle try Chilito’s instead. I recently made a lunch hour visit to my nearest Chipotle. This popular burrito joint (doesn’t have the same ring to it does it?) has filled the massive appetites of busy students, businesspersons, or poor bloggers on a cheap date (yes we consider splitting tacos anywhere a date) for many years now and I will gladly claim to be a devoted follower of their lime-salt dusted chips. This recent visit was the first one since our taco blog start up. D will tell you that my taste buds lack discernment. Just sit me down with a coke, bucket of fries, and some frosted cookies and I couldn’t be happier with this well balanced meal. You can see why I was shocked to find that when I bit into my taco I found that Chipotle was too salty for me. Over salting food (along with adding a dash of MSG) has long been the easiest way to snag faithful fast food followers who fawn over the tastiness of a particular mass produced menu item. This is a shame because Chipotle really seems to care about serving quality food. Its too bad that their naturally raised pork, chicken, and beef end up hidden beneath thick sodium crust. Maybe it was just an off day. Or maybe tasting the purity of a family recipe for slow cooked barbacoa, perfectly seasoned, juicy and tender, has refined my palate to the finer things in south of the border dining. While I still love to scarf down the aforementioned soda, fries, and sweets, when it comes to tacos I now crave simplicity over a full belly and I’m grateful.
Chilitos delivered this tasty simplicity on a recent visit. Located in the economic heart of the .6 square miles that is Cockrell Hill, Chilito’s sits on a busy corner of the new Plaza de Oro shopping center at the southwest corner of Jefferson Blvd and Cockrell Hill Rd. The region dubbed ‘Oak Cliff’ includes a huge area of south Dallas county. Included in this large swath of land are two municipalities, Cockrell Hill and Dallas. Dominated by newly erected beer, wine, and liquor stores Jefferson Blvd remains ridden with pot holes big enough to swallow a Smart Car or two. Where the tax money goes is anyone’s guess (or perhaps you know- let us, won’t you) but its obvious that little is being done to improve the city’s roads. For now, Cockrell Hill seems content playing the part of the loser old dude, invited to the party just to supply drinks to the cool kids. Maybe we’re being too harsh on this neighbor of ours. We wish the town and its residents success, but fear an eroded infastructure may not be able to sustain such quick economic growth and development.
That said, Cockrell Hill has a few things going for it. The primary, most endearing and enduring of its appealing traits is Tia Dora’s Bakery. This place has been baking up some of Oak Cliff’s best pan dulce for decades and show no signs of stopping. They better not because we have plans for our little one to grow up enjoying the occasional sweet treat from Tia Dora’s.
Chilito’s is also a great asset. The restaurant has created a unique space in the taco serving world. The neon boasts burgers and beer, tacos and burritos, a perfect mix of cultures and tastes. The burgers, mixed with some Foo Fighters blasting out of the house P.A. told us this was not the typical taqueria. The atmosphere is a mixture of worn in dive bar and newly minted sandwich shop (think a slightly edgier Potbelly’s). We arrived at dinner time one Saturday evening to find the 40 seater restaurant with only a dozen or so customers seated at the inviting booths. The patrons included a couple of regulars who chatted up the owner and a family with 3 young girls who gained the attention of our baby girl (she’s ready to be a big girl!). This night, the long narrow eating area restricted a feeling of communal dining and enhanced a bar like atmosphere (minus the bar) though a night with more patrons might have evoked a different vibe. I’m guessing come March Madness or NBA playoffs, this place will find itself packed. Full height windows flank two sides of the eatery so we imagine during the day it is bright and airy.
We came for the tacos (this is a taco blog right) but OH the burgers looked so delicious. While I could have gone for a burger smothered in queso with slices of avacado (one of many options) we settled for the 3 taco plate ($4.99 with rice and beans) and 2 gorditas ($1.75 each). We owe you a review of the burgers because any place with authentic tacos and a decent burger would be unprecedented and worth at least a weekly visit if not more. Check back for an addendum.
The simple menu made ordering easy but also offered plenty of variety, including burritos, tortas, and even breakfast (including tacos and pancakes). We decided on a sampling of fajita, barbacoa, and carnitas tacos as well as gorditas (thick corn masa tortillas, puffed to make a pocket for the filling) stuffed with picadillo (ground beef with chunks of potato) and pollo. While we craved a mexican coke, the place was out and offered a $1.50 Bud Light as an impromptu Saturday night drink special. Not ever our first choice of beverage (hardly qualifies) but we accepted the offer, more for the building of good will than our own enjoyment. Dinner arrived soon after. This was our first time ordering gorditas and the newness of the dish quickly gained our attention. What a great idea, probably created by accident. The flavors of the carnitas taco and both gorditas were mild in flavor, the ubiquitous salsas verde and roja adding brightness and spice. We have had some great barbacoa lately and Chilito’s kept this streak going. I love the way shredded barbacoa comes together to make a soft but satisfying bite that quickly falls apart in the mouth, evenly distributing the flavor of the meat while never tiring the jaw like steak can. The salsas paired perfectly with the tacos and I found myself applying a fresh dab on each and every bite. I can hardly remember the fajita taco, possibly because I was really hungry, but probably because it was not memorable. The beans and rice were surprisingly good. As we finished our meal we kicked ourselves for not ordering a burger as one was taken out to another table, piled high with french fries. Even if you’d prefer a Chipotle burrito, you’ve gotta wish more places like Chilito’s were in existence, serving two classic fast food staples from two very different cuisines under one laid back roof.
P.S. If you live in and love Cockrell Hill please tell us about it! We’d love for our opinion to be challenged and changed!