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When it comes to getting tacos and burritos on the go, we’ll take those authentic taquerias on wheels any day over the fast-food chain variety or even the “fresh-Mex” Subway-ordering-and-eating-style places springing up. But, since the last traveling taco stand to hang around our River Market district vanished with the untimely demise of the Taco King a few years back, we’ve happily taken a flyer on the new Flying Burrito Co. — several times in fact, even though it only opened on May 26.
First, some trivia that will help explain the name. The Flying Burrito Brothers were a quirky country band born in the late 1960s that performed into the 1990s.
The Flying Burrito Co. is a quirky burrito bar, the city cousin of the original in Fayetteville. But whether it will stay aloft as long as the Brothers is a big question.
What Flying Burrito, the latest in “flying” food in the River Market, needs is some spice. Some hot stuff. And bigger cheese.
What it has is a cool storefront, with huge windows to let in the breeze on cooler days, a la its partners in flight down the street, the Flying Saucer and Flying Fish. (There’s no connection between the burrito place and the restaurants other than adverbial.) And it has a neat-looking full bar, with the gamut of hard liquor offerings, not just margaritas.
Here’s the deal: You get in line and order, cafeteria style, a custom burrito, taco, quesadilla, taco salad or rice basket. You can get carnitas (pork, which taste a lot like your typical smoked pulled pork shoulder, sans sauce, from a barbecue joint) and fresh fish tacos (not the fried pieces you will find elsewhere, but a grilled fish mashed up with a special concoction). Ground beef, steak and chicken are also available.
You can get a M.O.A.B. (“Mother of All Burritos”), beef or chicken and beans, lettuce, cabbage, corn, jalapenos and peppers stuffed inside two 12-inch tortillas. You can get a pile of guacamole and salsa, and/or queso (white or yellow) as appetizer combos ($6.99 for two, $7.99 for three), and you can get all three as tiny sides for less than a buck each. You can get a margarita, including an oversized one with three high-end tequilas blended for almost $9.
So far, so good.
But our quesadilla, in which we requested everything but the moon, was just OK. Granted, we went basic and chose the flour tortilla, though we could have had a spinach or tomato-basil or a jalapeno-cheese tortilla, and we had them pile it high with beans and peppers and guacamole and cheese and pico de gallo and some other stuff we’ve forgotten about. Our partners in dining brought the beef burrito and fish tacos to the board.
Now, here are the strong points. All the ingredients were fresh and we were in charge of them. The fish tacos took a little while, and had to be brought to the table, but that’s OK. The complimentary chips were fine, of the light variety, though a few had become translucent with grease. The food was fine.
But we missed the big old cheese sauce you get at Tex-Mex joints, and we wanted a little more fire in the food. The pico de gallo, don’t get us wrong, was just right. Maybe we just drowned it out; our quesadilla, overall, was bland. Now a week later, though, we were back having steak tacos, and with the fresh jalapenos and stewed peppers we were able to get a cranked-up Mex taste out of them.
Also, the way these Subway-style Tex-Mex joints usually go, there is a salsa bar away from the ordering side, with plenty of variety, but not one here. You only find salsa, four versions of it, in the ordering line.
Because we weren’t distracted by the food too awfully much, we noticed bothersome things we might have otherwise overlooked. Like the furnishings. The well-worn booth-type seats appeared to have been ripped out of another restaurant and installed without any polishing or other surface improvements. Usually, we don’t care about that, when the food has our attention. And maybe the younger clientele the Flying Burrito is aiming for won’t care either.
Now to be fair, we think that with practice we could find the Flying Burrito’s strengths. The rush of the cafeteria line, which requires quick decisions about what to eat, left us without time to contemplate our meal. The chalkboard of offerings was a little confusing the first time, not just to us, but to the new staff as well (we’re told some changes are forthcoming to make it easier to understand). The line behind us was long, and our choices numerous. We were a little distracted by the fact that we weren’t sure there would be a free table for us — there aren’t many, and the noon hour is NOT the time for impatient sorts to arrive.
No doubt we’ll be back in the cockpit soon, looking for a good spot to land. Fresh-Mex is a good thing; you just have to know how to navigate.
Flying Burrito Co.
300 President Clinton Ave.
Watch the add-ons. While three tacos with steak may be listed as costing $5.79, when you get guac and queso on the side, or if the server puts it on the tacos for you, and get a drink at $1.59, your bill with tax is suddenly $9.69.
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. dining, bar open until midnight Thu.-Sat.
Inexpensive to moderate prices. Credit cards accepted. Full bar.