Garlic N Lemons

Garlic N Lemons, your shawafel is endearing, particularly because I am the absolute worst at making decisions. Why would I ever pick between falafel and shawarma again when I could have both rolled up together between a thin layer of saj? Oh yeah, maybe because there’s better mediterranean food out there.

The first few times I had it, I was in love. I’d have up to four in a week. It was a phase. An addiction, if you may. I came in this afternoon with eager taste buds, since I hadn’t had it in about three weeks, and my expectations were not met. I realized that the first …embarrassing number of times, I was blinded by the sauce.

I get two sauces on my shawafel: tahini and spicy garlic. It’s a beautiful collision of mexican and mediterranean. Well, pseudo mexican, chipotle mayo isn’t even really mexican. And neither is this sauce. But it reminds me of one of my favorite elements of a good burrito, so my worlds collide for a minute. Anyway, tahini and falafel go together like kraft singles and white Wonder bread (don’t hate, you know you love the gooey goodness that is american fat-assery). As good as a falafel could ever be on its own, tahini adds that necessary pizazz. And man, is it good. Picture this: falafel and tahini (with whatever respective deliciousness that surrounds it – i’ll get to that) and then..what’s that…spicy beef…and..spiCY GARLIC SAUCE!? It’s perfect. What more could you ask for?

Well I’ll tell you what. The mesh of sauces pretty much hid the falafel. Since there was a lack of sauce, I was curious as to what the falafel ball tasted like so I tried a pinch. Falafel lovers, you’re in for a disappointment. It was dry and crummy – in both senses of the word. They mash it up when they put it on the saj. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to hide the flakiness of it, but they’re not fooling anyone (unless they put the right amount of sauce). And then I thought back to all those times I’d had the shawafel before and it all made sense. I saw falafel there, so naturally I was excited about it, but it didn’t contribute to the taste much overall. Just a filler, yet much too light to be as filling as any other falafel I’ve ever had. It just kind of falls apart without enough sauce. At least tahini sauce gives it the illusion that it can keep its shit together.

The spicy beef is the real filler here (I’ve also tried the spicy chicken; it’s fairly dry and doesn’t complement the rest of the ingredients as well as the spicy beef does, but it’s alright). I was a little alarmed first time I got it, seeing that it was red, but it was like biting into a good burger, and there’s a lot of it. Plus it’s the right amount of spicy. It’s spicy enough to give you a dash of flavor, but not so much that you need water after every bite. It’s definitely the focus of the shawafel and everything around it serves to complement it.

Now for “the other stuff.” I rarely find that lettuce contributes much to dishes like burritos or falafels, but it worked well here. It actually moistened things up a bit. It was fresh and a nice touch to the otherwise dry bases. Something I always note in a falafel or shawarma is pickled stuff, and this had a good variety of it. There were pickled onions, turnips, and, well, pickles. When I see these ingredients fall into place behind the glass, I anticipate this party of flavor, where the pickled things are the hookers and the sauces, cocaine (because you know how it goes: strippers and coke are inseparable). The party guests are fun and all, but I didn’t fall in love with any of them separately. Okay, I’m going to stop analogizing my shawafel to a party, but actually, as good as all the pickled things were, they all kind of overlapped. It tasted good, but it had a sort of illusion of having variety, while all it was is pickled.

The sauce is what brings me back for more. (Also, the discount making it $3.85 that they had during the first week of June). I’m sorry to say that without the sauce, I’m just not feeling the shawafel all that much. With the right amount of sauce, however, your tastebuds are in for a treat.

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Taqueria El Carrizal

As a burrito master, I was pretty sure that there was only one burrito place that’s something like a 5 minute walk from my house, but it was brought to my attention that there’s another place a couple blocks down on Brighton Ave. And it’s like, a legitimate restaurant. I didn’t know that until I got there and I wasn’t about to have a one man fiesta, so I took it to go, but this Mexican, Guatemalan, Salvadorian restaurant won my tastebuds over.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a lover of all things flavorful and this burrito was just BURSTING with flavor from all sides. Tangy, spice-y, and full – I didn’t even know what flavor to focus on, there was literally a fiesta in my mouth. I felt rice, beans, guac, and steak dancing around my oral cavity and my taste buds couldn’t help but join in.

What really got me was the authenticity. Clearly, I’m no Latin food guru, but I’ve had a solid amount of home-cooked Latin food. This burrito was far from Americanized. Rice and beans is a staple in Latin cuisine and this burrito nailed it. Instead of the traditional brown or white rice and black, pinto, or refried bean base, there was a rice and beans toss-up that lined the circumference of the tortilla. This perfect distribution enveloped a generous amount of steak and guac. Seriously, some places really cheap out on the guac, but this was not one of them. It was the perfect creamy neutralizer and went hand in hand with the steak, which they also were not stingy about.

The steak was something like what you’d envision regular steak to be. Well, at least my image of “regular” steak. It was hearty and chewy. Prominently chewy, but not overwhelmingly so. Tender enough to have flavor that contributes to the burrito. The guac enhances it with a great intensity. With every bite, you get some steak. When you take a bite from the center, you get a mouthful of steak drowned in creamy, flavor-blasted guac and a distribution of rice from one or more of the sides.

The rice lines the tortilla in a way that ensures that you will get a dash of flavor-enhancing rice with every bite. And it’s not just the spice-y staple we know and love in Latin cuisine. This rice and bean mashup is decorated with more anticipated flavors including melted, shredded cheese and fresh salsa. These ingredients are scattered throughout the rice, modestly contributing to the flavor while letting the rice and beans, guac, and steak take charge.

If I were to suggest any modifications, I’d say slap on another spoon of sour cream and, as I am forced to ask about way too many burritos, WHERE ARE THE JALEPENOS?! Also, I believe that it could’ve used another scoop of salsa. While salsa isn’t meant to be the primary focus of this burrito, it could have remained a modest ingredient even if there were a little more of it. It was just so good, I found myself wanting more.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the hot sauce. It had a distinct, potent flavor of various spices, but it tasted a little too fishy for me. Not like mystery sauce, a literal off-taste of fish. But I think that was just my perception of the combination of spices. I could see people diggin’ it, I just wasn’t. There was enough spices and flavor to go around, though, so it’s alright. I didn’t need to drown it in hot sauce to get my insatiable flavor fix; it succeeded in  satisfying the craving as it was.

Qdoba

Ah, Qdoba. I gave you three consecutive shots to prove to me that you’re something special. You’re alright, but I think it’d be best if we were just friends.

On Friday, July 6, my friend, Shauna, gave me this coupon for a $5 entree that I could use as much as I wanted until Sunday, July 8. Naturally, I got a queso steak burrito on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Friday, I was just tipsy enough not to have any significant feedback aside from, “burrito burrito burrito.” Saturday, I got it to go and ate it on a crowded T. I was more focused on not spilling rice and things all over peoples’ laps than savoring the contents within. I successfully devoured the entire thing without dropping a single grain of rice. Am I a burrito master or what? Sunday -the final day my coupon was valid- it was time to stop bullshitting. Judgment day has come.

In the first full bite, I got a mouthful of rice. There’s a lot of that, two scoops to be exact. It has a lime zest to it with some cilantro dancing around there. Then, there’s them beans. A decent amount of those that act as a cuddle buddy for the rice and solid neutralizer for the rest of the salty bonanza that is a Qdoba burrito.

We could probably add the steak to the neutral list. It’s a kind of chewy steak that melts in your mouth, but there’s a flavor lapse somewhere in between. It was something like, “mmm, steak *chew chew chew* wait, wh-where’d it go? What juST HAPPENED?” Perhaps not so dramatic, I don’t take my burritos that seriously. Wait, just kidding, I write letters to them. Anyway, I’m not sure what that says about the steak. Like, it’s cool that it melts in your mouth, but I was kind of hoping for some more flavor. It was like tofu, but meatier.

I don’t know if we could put the salsa on any list, it just wasn’t doing it for me. I thought it might’ve been the reason behind the zest in the rice, but no. A few solid bites of blatantly plain rice confirmed that the zest came from within. Maybe there wasn’t enough salsa…any of the three times. But I’m not going to complain about it. It clearly wasn’t the primary focus of this particular burrito and I understand.

I don’t think Qdoba’s very good at sauce in general. I’ve tried both of the hot sauces they leave out for you to bring to your table and, personally, I wasn’t blown away by either of them. One was a green jalepeno tabasco and the other, original Cholula hot sauce. I like my jalepenos fresh and my sauces fiery. The jalepeno tabasco resembled a jalepeno flavor, but it only reminded me of the jalepenos that could have been. How many burrito places do I have to begrudge because of their lack of jalepenos? As for the Cholula hot sauce, eh. It had an off-hot taste with an array of unique spices. It would be good on a more elaborate dish, perhaps. Burrito wise, it just wasn’t the sauce for me.

Every so often you feel a familiar crunch between your molars and you’re like, “oh yeah, lettuce is a thing.” It just doesn’t always fit in the burrito formula, sometimes it just lingers there, kind of like that boring friend you invite to tag along. This is one of those times. I’d suggest cabbage over lettuce if that’s an option at any burrito place. If not, whether or not you get the lettuce probably won’t make or break your burrito experience. I mean, I guess you can get it to pretend you’re healthy or something. While we’re on that healthy flow, the (new) whole wheat tortilla option at Qdoba gives your burrito the healthy demeanor it doesn’t deserves.

If it wasn’t the sauce or the veggies, where did all the flavor come from? Queso, oh, queso. Oh, what you do to me. You make my heart sing. Or scream because my arteries are clogging up. I can’t tell the difference, I’m only 19. Salty, cheesy goodness penetrates the rice, leaving little cheesy globs to surprise you in select places. I’m bloating and getting heartburn just thinking about it. It’s like a bad movie, you can’t turn away. It pumps the flavor you’re looking for into the burrito. It is the signature taste of a Qdoba burrito.

When queso is absent, you recognize the sour cream that has disguised itself in your rice. You can tell the difference between the plain, zesty mouthfuls of rice and those that father sour cream had swept through. The latter encompass a salty twang, otherwise absent in the citrus coated filler. Although mostly, it sinks to the bottom. A bit too watery for my liking (a revelation near the end of the burrito experience upon finding a pool of sour cream), but it does contribute that twang throughout, making it an honorary player in the formula.

Qdoba doesn’t hold a special place in my heart, but it’s alright. It’s that fling you had sometime between Labor Day and Columbus Day with..what’s his name? If sodium is your thing, though, you might find your place here. If you find yourself biting into a sour-cream-queso-filled remorse, just rotate your burrito and I can almost guarantee that you’ll get a mouthful of cilantro and lime-soaked goodness to stall your sorrows.

Boston Kabob

There are only so many Mediterranean eateries in Allston, and while I usually go to Garlic N Lemons or Azama for my shawafel/falafel fix, I’ve been passing by another place on the way to the only place I can get a quick burrito around here, Habanero’s (we gotta work on that, Allston). My friend, Shauna, is as much of a falafel connoisseur as I am a burrito one, so we gave this place a shot.

The first time I devoured Boston Kabob’s falafel pita, it was but a mere drunk munchie. I downed a Steel Reserve 40, the strongest 40 known to man, before 4 o clock and as a ‘fuck you’ to America for not allowing me to legally participate in fun fourth of July festivities, I turned to Mediterranean food. Just kidding, that’s not why, I really like falafels. But seriously, fuck you, America. I am an adult.

So we get there and order our food. As I’m eating it, I’m thinking “finally, a falafel in a pita, I missed this” and “mmm falafel om nom nom.” More so the latter. Well, two days later, I returned for a more accurate taste.

I like the traditional fact that it’s in a pita. I haven’t tried Garlic N Lemons’ pita because I’m married to the shawafel, but it looks similar to the saj, so I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume Boston Kabob’s is better by default. Saj is great, but when I want pita, I want quality pita: thick and soft with a mild crisp to it. Azama has a falafel rollup vs. falafel plate. The plate comes with pita, but I’m not really a ‘make it yourself’ kinda girl. There’s a reason I eat out nearly every day… Anyway, Boston Kabob’s pita wins. It’s a good size, holds its ingredients together well, it’s warm and soft with a mild crisp.

Biting into the pita, you get a mouthful of falafel balls that resemble the texture of the best mashed potatoes you’ve ever had. Mended together with a flavor enhancing hummus and topped with creamy tahini sauce that works as your gravy. Like, if Mediterranean food had a comfort/soul-food equivalent, it is this falafel. Hummus is a staple in a falafel…you would think. I’ve had more falafels than I’d like to admit that did not come with hummus.  This one did and it was glorious. They’re doing it right.

While comforting and delicious, the ‘extras’ weren’t as striking as I would’ve liked. There were some shreds of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and a scarce amount of pickle chips, but it wasn’t anything spectacularly flavorful. The tahini sauce is what really gave it the dash of flavor I was looking for, but I wouldn’t have minded some more pickle presence. That’s just me though, I like my food bursting with flavor from all sides. This was more of a comfort food for me, but it was still finger lickin’ good.

Chiptole

You know, Chipotle, I had my doubts about you. I could count on one hand how many times I’d given you a chance and I hadn’t been very fond of you the first three. I don’t know if it was something in the air, my mood, or the immense hunger that had penetrated my alcohol-flushed stomach, but today, you won my heart. Today, as I sunk my teeth into your rice, black bean, grilled veggie, cheese, hot and mild salsa, sour cream, lettuce-filled double wrap topped with my dose of chipotle tabasco, you lit up my world. Quite a treat after five and a half hours of history and math lectures. In that moment, something just felt right.
Maybe it was your perfectly tender steak. You still aren’t my favorite, but your steak certainly is. The way your shredded cheese melted into the white rice was close to utopic. The sour cream got lost somewhere in the mix, but I could taste the hint of flavor it added and it was just right. The mild salsa worked well, adding the flavor of fresh vegetables, which was enhanced by the grilled peppers and onions. Quiet a mouthful, double wrapped to perfection. The tender, flavorful blast in every bite made extra sauce almost unnecessary, espcially with the hot salsa. I added a hint of chipotle tabasco every three bites or so because I’m a saucy kinda girl, but it worked perfectly fine without it.
I’m glad I gave you another chance, Chipotle. I do still have two standing requests: jalepenos and (real) chipotle sauce. You have hot sauce, and that’s cool, but your name is Chipotle. Are you really going to let Subway, Boloco, and Moe’s chipotle sauces blow yours out of the water? Besides that, sorry I doubted you. You go, Chipotle.

Boca Grande

Boca Grande, you beat Chipotle out of the last spot on my burrito list. Your first impression wasn’t a good one. What can I say, you rubbed me wrong. Partially my fault, because I thought that ranchero chicken meant spicy, but it’s actually just dark meat, but a good burrito isn’t about the meat. There was some rice, some beans, and, well, that’s pretty much it. That’s all I tasted, anyway. There just wasn’t any chemistry. Not even the cheese to smush it all together, no, that was too busy being melted together at the very bottom of the burrito. I’m not a fan of melted slices on the tortilla as it is, and this only reinforces my contempt.
You didn’t even give me the option of real veggies. Not even jalepenos? There was a pinch of lettuce and a pretty decent salsa that might’ve spiced things up if there was any more than two slices of diced, cilantro-topped tomatoes.  Perhaps guac would’ve helped, but $6.37 was enough of a dig into my burrito budget. I did ask for some (free) hot sauce, but considering I tasted nothing but a slippery combination of rice, beans, and dark meat chicken, I don’t think it did much. You let me down, Boca Grande. You wear your spanish name in shame. My boca grande was mucho decepcionado.

Nameless perfection

Ah, I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name, but I’ll never forget you. I didn’t mean for it to be a one time thing. If you’re still around, I will definitely come by next time I’m in the area, even if it’s just a quickie. You given me something I’d never tasted before. And it was incredible. Since WHEN do your kind come with FALAFELS?! You’re amazing! I can’t stop telling my friends about you. My vegetarian friends want to try you. I just want you again. Oh and your hot sauce. Perfection. It’s just like Habanero’s. Don’t worry about him, he’s just conveniently located down the street. You’re both quality though. But seriously, that hot sauce you have, unf. Just when I thought you couldn’t BE more perfect. AND tahini sauce? Wow. You’re incredible. Don’t change.

Beantown Tacqueria

Beantown Tacqueria,
My favorite accident. I’m so glad I found you. I gotta thank professor Nolan for sending us out to do last minute photojournalism in our respective beats. Who knew you’d be waiting for me just between Kendall and Central square. With you 12″ tortilla, top notch ground beef, and so hot. So perfectly hot, ah. And you’re certainly the biggest I’ve been with.
I’ll be back for you, I promise. I know distance is not an excuse. I know I could see you in 20 minutes if I tried. But you’re out of the way and I’ve been busy. I’m sorry I haven’t seen you since our first date, but I assure you, you will hear from me again. There aren’t many left like you.

Joey Tuesdays

Oh, Moe, It’s been too long. I still love you, Moe; I hope you know that. I know it’s almost been a year, but I’ve been busy. And I never got to see you on our special day. I miss our Tuesdays together.
Who am I kidding, I gotta be honest with you, Moe. It’s your son, Joey, that actually has my heart. I still love you, Moe, for fathering the best damn burrito I’ve ever known, but Joey has my heart and he always will. Joey, you raised your price on me and for that I am unnerved, but I’ll never forget our weekly dates. Those afternoons with perfect, tender steak, jalepenos, and the best chipotle sauce I’ll ever know. You were perfect for me, Joey, but the timing is just off. I’ve been really busy with school and I’m sorry, but why can’t you come to Boston? It’s been a while, and my feelings for you are quite rusty, but we’ll meet again, Joey. You were my first love, and for that, I’ll never forget you.

Olecito!

Dearest Olecito, how I’ve missed you on campus. I can’t believe we only met a couple of months ago. How come I’d never heard of your flour tortilla jam-packed with perfection and dozen sauce options. Your cabbage, your hot peppers. And you offer guac and sour cream for no extra charge. All for only $5.50 after tax exemption with the use of convenience points? What a steal! We only went on 6 dates before you left me. It was right at the beginning of summer. I had high hopes for us. I mean, I kind of sensed that something was wrong when you didn’t want to see me over commencement weekend. And you limited our hours from 11am-3pm that week. You hurt me, but I’ll never forget you. You showed me what love is. And I never even got to be a lunchador. Or mayor.