I assume two things when I travel to the northeast: the weather will be cold and the Mexican food will be deplorable. But, by some twist of fate and abandonment of California-born snobbery, I decided to traverse the Elm City’s uncharted mounds of rice and beans.
Upon entering Burrito King, which resides at 177 Park St. a few blocks outside of the Yale bubble, one is immediately struck by the interior’s bizarre decor. The usual kitsch-factor is decidedly absent. There are no brightly colored woven rugs, no Christmas lights, no hanging peppers or Diego Rivera-inspired murals. The only remnant of such style is a glistening wall-hung sun sculpture with surprisingly alert, and decidedly creepy eyes.
Dubious interior designers discarded conventional charm and substituted a cold, grid-like layout that only Mies van der Rohe could love. Complete with absinthe-hued neon lights and a grotesque orange trim, the color palette is equally ambitious. Perched on a lime green wall plane, a glowing flat screen television dispenses scandalous Spanish telenovelas. Yet Lynchian death traps aside, the Mexican comfort food trumps the digital sterility to create a gastronomic sanctuary.
The Burrito King serves Mexican food the way it was intended to be — cheap, greasy, and enormous. The magnanimous King is generous indeed. The food is satisfying much like Thanksgiving dinner — it’s consumed at a voracious rate and in unreasonable quantities, inevitably imparting a desire for self-restraint.
The first dish sampled was the chicken ranchero quesadilla. For a mere $5.50, Burrito King served up a tortilla monstrosity that could have fed Theta for an entire week. The King uses not one, but two massive tortillas to sandwich together a delicious blend of cheese, chicken and roasted peppers. Accompanying the dish were free servings of sour cream, salsa and guacamole, which would have easily cost an additional $2 at Claire’s.
The vegetarian guacamole lover’s burrito, the quesadilla’s successor, was surprisingly flavorful. Crunchy lettuce layered with rich black beans, spicy Mexican rice, generous cheese and sour cream with a heaping supply of fresh guacamole spelled a texturally diverse salvation for the palate.
By far the best deal on the extensive menu is the tortilla soup. At $2.95, it is something to be coveted, if not ravenously consumed. The soup is served in an enormous bowl filled to the brim with a viscous conglomeration of cheese, tortilla strips and bits of avocado. Like all of the dishes sampled, the spices were just right. The fare at Burrito King is sufficiently and appropriately seasoned, unlike Claire’s, which serves insipid marinara sauce that masquerades as salsa,
The final samplings consisted of shredded chicken crispy tacos and tacos al pastor (spicy pork and pineapple soft tacos). Both were fabulously delicious. The chicken tacos were served in fresh crunchy tortillas rife with lettuce, cheese and piquant salsa. In the al pastor tacos, the bite-sized pieces of pork were adequately spicy, served atop a bed of crystalline lettuce and garnished with salsa and cheese. The chicken tacos were $5.50 for two, including rice and beans, and the pork tacos were $2.50 each.
In addition to the usual comida, the Burrito King also serves nachos, wraps, tortas (Mexican sandwiches), salads and their own daily specials. They also have a breadth of Mexican beverages including sangria and tamarind flavored sodas.
Tragically, the Burrito King does not serve up an overabundance of complementary chips and salsa, but given their gargantuan-size portions, there is no need for filler food. And noticeable shortcoming aside, Burrito King offers excellent customer service, including free delivery.
Just when it seemed as though quality, inexpensive (Mexican) food was nowhere to be found in the Elm City, the Burrito King — a veritable deus ex machina — is a welcome relief to both the palate and the wallet of any Yale student.