By Nevin Martell
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
A warm and welcoming soundtrack pervades Chinito’s Burritos: the clang of the tip bell, the chatter of the staff in the open kitchen behind the order counter and the sizzle of meat on the grill.
The space is equally friendly. A couple of chest-high aluminum tables provide a place to stand and eat. Each sports more than two dozen hot sauces, including a spicy and smoky house-made habanero version marked with a skull and crossbones.
Chef-owner Jin Chong, 33, who commutes from his home in Reston, has been working in the hospitality industry for more than a decade and a half. After graduating from the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago and working around the Windy City, the Korean American moved to Washington. There were stints cheffing at California Pizza Kitchen in Tysons Corner, bartending at the now-closed Dream nightclub in the District and consulting on the bar program at the original Dupont Circle location of Mandu. Chinito’s Burritos, which opened in February in Northeast across the street from Gallaudet University, marks his first time behind the burners in nearly 10 years.
He handles the Mexican menu deftly. Custom-built tacos ($2), burritos ($3) and bowls ($3) start with a simple order form. There are always multiple proteins available, including my favorite: pork carnitas cooked with aromatic adobo spices and fresh pineapple cubes ($3). The spicy carne asada ($4) is another blue ribbon earner.
Then there are free add-ons, including a piquant roasted tomato salsa, shredded lettuce and generous dollops of sour cream. You also can boost your creation with pay-as-you-go toppings: creamy guacamole ($2), black beans (50 cents) and pinto beans (50 cents). Even though taco fixings are cradled in doubled corn tortillas, don’t get too many fillings unless you want a rainbow-hued stain on the front of your shirt. Some meats are cooked to order, while everything else is piled on in a Chipotle-style assembly line; meals are ready in about five minutes. The only time you may have to wait longer is during the lunch rush, when the place is inundated with students seeking the popularity contest winning burritos.
The least successful dishes here are the forays into Asian-inspired fare. Sichuan slaw ($3) is a sesame-drenched mess made with cabbage that lacks the required crunch, while Tex-Mex egg rolls ($3) are bursting with a gloopy deluge of cheese, beans and teriyaki chicken.
Wash your meal down with one of the many Latin sodas on hand, including Mexican Coke, various flavors of Jarritos or Inca Kola (each $2).