Burro Grill

Tex-Mex
$$$$ ($14 and under)
'

Editorial Review

"I had the burrito here yesterday. It was awesome!" announced a customer near the front of the line.

Good news. But which burrito? There are four to choose from in this narrow storefront in North Arlington's Lyon Village Shopping Center. All are worthy -- and hefty.

At the Burro Grill, the Tex-Mex specialties are prepared fresh daily, says owner S.K. Lee, with no cans involved and no microwave reheating. The menu is spare and includes burgers (from $3.20 for a small burger to $5.50 for a bacon cheeseburger) for those more heavily into Tex than Mex. But Lee advises loading those up with jalapeos and guacamole (add $1), in the spirit of the place.

Lee and his wife, Leah, are the ultimate in loyal restaurant patrons. When their favorite place downtown went up for sale 16 years ago, they bought it. They've kept the Burro, at 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, going all this time, pondering expansion. This year they opened two suburban spinoffs, the Arlington one in March and a Chantilly location in May.

Weighing in at more than 1 1/4 pounds, the Burro Grill's burritos bulge with fillings: the featured ingredient plus beans, rice, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, tomato and salsa. They're big enough to share and inexpensive at $5.90, which is also the price of the fajita wraps, burrito bowls, quesadillas, tacos and salad bowls that fill out the menu.

Among the four burrito varieties -- chicken, steak, carnitas, grilled vegetables -- the zesty carnitas is the winner. Here the slow-cooked pork comes mostly in chunks, not the usual shreds. But there's no point in quibbling: It tastes good. For the chicken burrito, white meat is marinated, then grilled; it can stand on its own against its slew of accompaniments inside the tortilla. The steak burrito seems the least assertive of the three; the meat is good, but its flavor gets a little lost.

The fajita wraps are basically burritos without beans; they include grilled vegetables and are sheathed in bright pink tomato tortillas.

Soft tacos offer the same three burrito meat choices, plus grilled Baja fish. It's healthful to keep the fish out of the deep-fryer, as is done here, but the chunks of mahi-mahi seem dry despite the presence of a lime-cilantro slaw and pico de gallo.

The raw tomatoes, alas, are wan. But the house-made beans are worth mentioning, especially the pintos: Simmered with jalapeo peppers, garlic and spices, they're delicious and they bite back. The black beans are pleasant and milder. The menu says both are low-fat.

The guacamole ($1.80; $2.80 with chips) is creamy-chunky and packs a little heat. There's also a trio of estimable salsas: a mild red, a smoky, medium-hot verde and a fiery habanero ($1; $2 with chips).

Missing here is any form of dessert or sweet -- there's not so much as a packaged cookie -- to wrap up lunch. But two doors down is the excellent Italian Store, for those who demand a sugar fix.

-- Jane Touzalin (Good to Go, June 24, 2009)