I used to think all Mexican food was pretty much the same: meat, beans and cheese loaded with calories in a crispy or soft tortilla. The only difference being quality, quantity and price.
Some places, like the Mexicana Grille in Allentown, claim to be more authentic, adding the herb cilantro to its tacos and salads. Taco Bell offers Mexican fast food at fast-food prices; On the Border, a Mexican grill.
So count me surprised by our first dinner at Cali Burrito, 3104 Hamilton
Blvd., South Whitehall. I’d heard others rave about the burritos there but figured they just like to eat a lot for a little money. It’s true you get a lot of food there, but my husband and I enjoyed the fresh ingredients and taste as well.
Calling itself a “California-style burrito and taco joint,” this little restaurant
packs in the customers like it packs the fillings in its tortillas. On a busy Friday before Memorial Day, Bruce and I got one of the last parking spaces in the lot and waited in a fast-moving line to order from menus on chalk boards.
Bruce chose “The Mendocino” ($6.99), a Cali Burrito specialty with ground beef, pinto beans, rice, cheese and pico de gallo. I ordered “The Cambria,” ($7.49) which contained grilled zucchini and sweet peppers, black beans, brown rice, guacamole and cheese. I never would have guessed I could get brown rice in a burrito!
Waitresses so pretty they could be models took our order, handed us a receipt and told us our order would be #6. No sooner did we find a seat, it seemed, our order was ready. Each burrito came in a plastic basket with deep-fried tortilla chips that were thick and flaky.
“Kinda like you,” my jokester hubby said. He found the chips a bit bland but I thought they were great even without the self-serve salsas on a condiment table.
Our sandwiches were hot, fresh and tasty. They were also so big that we could not finish. I would definitely go back again to sample some tacos or quesadillas.
Consider “The Cortez” ($7.49) with sautéed shrimp, zesty pepper sauce, white rice, pinto beans and cabbage; or "The Nepenthe" ($7.49) with falafel, pickles and tahini sauce. Or how about “The Arcata” ($6.69) which contains curried tofu scramble, potatoes, homemade ranchero sauce, black beans and cheese. Organic tofu in a burrito!
A menu for “grommets” (children under age 10) includes a cheese quesadilla, bean and cheese burrito and ground beef taco, $3.99 each.
It's a pity the restaurant does not serve margaritas or desserts, but then again we wouldn’t have had room for them. Also, the eatery seemed to be doing quite well without alcohol and dessert. (Take-out menus encourage BYOB.)
Cali Burrito founders Shawn McHugh of Mertztown and Nick Sorrentino of South Whitehall describe their mission as providing “the healthiest, best tasting food possible in a minimum amount of time.” The idea for the restaurant, they said, was born of numerous surfing trips up and down the coast of California, where they lived for 10 years.
McHugh said he honed his skills in the sunshine state working as a bartender, waiter, dishwasher before learning more from two great restaurants in Monterey. He said he also helped open Mangos before selling his interest and opening Cali Burrito six years ago.
With burritos served in bowls to reduce carbs, lots of vegetarian selections and foods prepared without transfat oils, lard or MSG, Cali Burrito proves that "healthy Mexican" does not have to be an oxymoron.
3104 Hamilton Blvd.
Hours: Monday - Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.;
Thursday - Saturday , 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.;
Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.