Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Blue Coast and the big burrito blues

Posted By on Tue, Dec 11, 2012 at 10:41 AM

Some people are predicting that burritos will be the "next big thing" in 2013. Burritos are almost universally loved, familiar to the dining public, and often allow for a relatively large amount of food for a small price. When Chipotle opened in Little Rock in 2011, it was understandably a big deal. Little Rock is relatively deficient in good burrito joints. I'm not the biggest Chipotle fanboy, but I like their burritos (and even more, their burrito bowls) for the most part. But there aren't many places offering plump, hefty, two-hands-required burritos in central Arkansas, so it makes sense that they would flourish here. While in college, I basically lived on carne asada burritos...giant, soft flour tortillas stuffed full with freshly grilled steak, onions, and guacamole, with a side of fiery red hot sauce...a simple concoction, but some of the finest dining you'll find on the planet when done right. I know that fellow contributor, Michael Roberts, has sung the praises of Baja Grill for some time now, but I've yet to make the mini-trip to Benton to investigate myself. Recently however, in my search for a beautiful burrito in central Arkansas, I determined to visit North Little Rock to sample the offerings of Blue Coast Burrito, a mini-franchise out of Tennessee that harbors two locations here in Arkansas (the other being in Jonesboro).

It's difficult to eat at Blue Coast without drawing comparisons to Chipotle. The ordering system, the assembly-line style burrito construction, and the menu in general are very similar indeed. Burritos start with a choice of protein (chicken, steak, or pork), get a dose of rice and beans, and the diner pretty much takes it from there, letting their gluttonous imaginations run wild with a smattering of other offered ingredients: cheese, salsa, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, guacamole...you know the drill. They'll also do tacos, taco salads, nachos, quesadillas and a few side items as well. On our visit we sampled a steak burrito and the fish tacos.

My burrito was sizable, mostly due to my heavy-handed topping selection, but it made for a substantial meal when the finished product was completed. Overall however, I had some issues with freshness and flavor. I didn't expect everything to be made to-order, in busy establishments this may not be feasible. Perhaps I arrived too early in the dinner hour (around 6 PM), business was rather slow at the time, but much of my burrito tasted like it had been sitting around all day waiting for me to order it. The rice was fairly stale, the cubes of beef, once scooped out of their pool of watery marinade, were rather chewy and bland. The beans were more undercooked than I would have liked, and again lacked much seasoning. With the mix of cheese, sour cream and vegetables, with a generous addition of salsa, the burrito was not terrible, and I finished the entire meal without much complaining, but I'm not convinced these burritos can even compete with Chipotle.

The fish tacos suffered some of the same freshness issues. The fish appeared to simply be reheated and thrown together too quickly. I'd hoped for crispy, batter-dipped fried fish, served piping hot on a bed of fresh cabbage. Instead the fish came out slightly soggy with a mushy crust in some areas. The tortillas suffered a similar problem and tasted as if the entire thing had just paid a short visit to the microwave. The cabbage was fresh and the tartar-like dressing was rather tasty, creamy and tangy and helped redeem the tacos to a certain degree. But overall, this is not something I'd order again. I did, however, enjoy their salsa bar offered to all patrons. They don't include free chips with your order, so unless you enjoy eating salsa alone by the spoonful, you'll need something to put it on, but they were flavorful and helped improve the overall experience.

Personally, I'd love to see the uprising of the humble burrito. Whether the more "authentic" Mexican-style burritos or the West Coast-style build-your-own-burrito joints, I'd be happy to see more in our fair city. But based on my visit, Blue Coast Burrito needs to tweak a few things before I'll be getting my fix at their restaurant again.

Blue Coast Burrito has two locations in Arkansas: 1320 Stadium Blvd, Jonesboro and 4613 E. McCain, North Little Rock.

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