Habanero

It was love at first burrito.

When walking down Brighton Ave, with a stroke of luck (or my recommendation or a craving for mexican food), you will find this little hub of Mexican culture. If the music isn’t reassuring, look around and you will see at least one person of hispanic descent eating some delicious dish of ethnic Mexican cuisine. This isn’t some taco bell shit; you know they’re not messing around.

Surely, I have my complaints. Sometimes they run out of guacamole and try to pass it off like it’s no big deal (it is). On more occasions than one, they accidentally gave me chicken instead of the steak I ordered and by the time I got home and bit into it, it was just too late. The chicken’s not bad, it’s just not preferred. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a dark meat chicken kinda girl, or really much of a chicken burrito kinda girl. I’m all about the steak and Habanero’s steak is top notch.

The steak is chewy and well done, giving off a smokey flavor, yet remaining very tender. The rice that surrounds it is pretty standard, with a little pizzaz. The cilantro is a good touch to it. The beans are pretty standard as well. Although the rice and meat are responsible for the majority of the composition of this burrito, that’s not what really puts this up there in the realm of prized burritos. There are plenty of goodies inside all clumped together to bring you all the flavor you need.

You’ve got the cheese melted in there, in a way that you can actually taste clumps every so often. Cilantro is sprinkled throughout, not only enhancing the rice, but also the other surrounding ingredients. There are tomatoes, jalepenos, corn, sour cream, guac – the whole shebang. It all just comes together so nicely and leaves room for the smokey steak flavor and hearty, neutralizing rice. It just…works.

The tomatoes are cooked well and have an authentic off-the-grill flavor. The jalepenos have the same consistency of the tomatoes, which I want to say makes them overcooked, but the hot sauce makes up for that. The guac is creamy, the sour cream is faint, but forgivable. Also, your order comes with chips and either salsa or some other fun sauce they give you, which is always a plus.

They’ve got a whole array of hot sauce at the tables (and ranch dressing, which I still haven’t figured out the purpose of yet). They have my absolute favorite one. This hot sauce is incredible. Your tastebuds are in for a trip though, it’s like God and Satan’s love child. Brace your tastebuds, but I’m talking James Brown at the TAMI show in 1964 (below). His performance literally describes my tastebuds’ journey through the saucing and eating experience of a burrito with this hot sauce.

But actually, sprinkle some of that stuff on your burrito if you think you could handle it. Especially on a Habanero burrito: flavor for days.

Tl;dr: Try Habanero.

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Azama

The first time I came here, I was wearing a blue full-body spandex suit, drunk from a party at my house, which was conveniently just around the corner. Some english language student from Dubai took down my number and texted me “good morning sweetie” a couple of mornings after that. He will never know what I look like and still thinks my name is blue.

My friend and I returned to highgate to stuff our faces with falafel rollup and fight over every last crumb of an order of egyptian seasoned fries (highly recommended).

I was surprised to have lived right around the corner from this Mediterranean gem for five whole months before I tried a falafel rollup…or had any Mediterranean food, at that. And for only $5…college kid dream. I craved more. I tried it again, sober, and it was better than I had remembered. I went back for more…more often than I’d like to admit. Then one spring night, it just didn’t feel right anymore.

It was the day I got a shawarma rollup, just to try it. I’d been getting falafel rollups on rollups for months, so I thought I’d try the shawarma out. I like shawarma – a lot actually – and this place was pretty solid, so I expected this rollup to cover a whole new spectrum of awesome. However, it was nothing but a disappointment. It was a bunch of meat rolled up in a saj wrap.

“Do you want hot sauce?” the chef asked as he was about to roll up my shawarma and toss it on the grill.

Hot sauce?!?! Could this be real life? I love hot sauce on everything – please, give me ALL the hot sauce. I enthusiastically accepted the offer.

My friend and I eagerly paid and power-walked back to the porch of highgate to devour our beloved Mediterranean treats. It was a late spring night, where you could almost feel summer in the air. I unwrapped the concoction and bit into a mouthful of lamb with an unfortunate excuse for ethnic hot sauce. I continued through it, as mouthfuls of hope became mouthfuls of disappointment. The lamb was alright, but I ordered a shawarma rollup, not a diced lamb. And the hot sauce, oy. It was very americanized, like a hot ketchup with a buffalo sauce consistency.

Disappointed with my shawarma, I thought it was just a fluke. Could Azama have lost its spark? Nah, it provided months of flawless falafel experiences at all hours of the day, from morning to late night. I was mistaken: the falafel had failed too. Unfortunately, Azama just lost its mojo.

The falafel itself is alright. Rough on the outside, condensed in the filling way on the inside. Solid consistency, not too flakey or anything like that. I feel like the falafel itself lost its touch, but that part could just be an exaggeration.

I feel like they used to decorate it more, with tomatoes and more seasoning. Something about this “Azama salad”  they claim to put in it in the description on the menu used to stand out and I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the falafels have thinned out to say the least. There are some carrot shreds for show, but I don’t even like shredded carrots and I think it’s just for the color, anyway. All you really get out of it now, besides the base falafel and crummy hot sauce, is the lettuce (which adds a nice, fresh crunch) and a couple of cucumbers. Now I’m not sure if cucumbers are supposed to be pickles, or they just lied about pickles on the menu, but I’d like some real pickles, please. It’s the thing that brings the falafel above fresh and filling and adds the flavor. That and the tahini sauce, which is quite watery, but alright, flavor wise. They don’t even include HUMMUS.

Azama is a thing of the past for me. I have since moved and now live about two or three blocks away, and I wouldn’t go out of my way to get it. It was a drunk mistake just a couple of weeks ago, but let’s keep that on the DL. Although I have moved on, I have many friends who still love the place, so if you’re around Harvard Ave, stop in and grab one – it’s only $5.

Monte Cristo

I’m in a monogamous relationship with my bed and it’s serious. Saturday and Sunday are kind of our days, we watch netflix and surf social networks together all day. Foodler has become a weekly tradition, and this weekend, I decided to try out Monte Cristo for the second time. I don’t even know where Monte Cristo is in real life. For all I know, a delivery dude could could gallop out of the clouds on his unicorn with my burrito. That’s fine though, as long as it arrives at my door. I forgot about the 1+ hour wait, but whatever: worth it.

I wasn’t completely elated about my burrito experience, even though I was very hungry, not having eaten all day. The best part about this place is the price, hands down. It’s $5 for a regular sized burrito. First time I tried it, I got the plantain burrito. There’s another plus, you gotta give em’ a thumbs up for variety and originality. They also have french fries and shrimp burritos, check it out. I don’t really like plantains, so I got a chicken burrito this time. The quality was about the same, the base was just different. At least they’re consistant.

The burrito primarily consists of rice, guacamole, and whatever base you choose. I like the guac touch. Not many places emphasize their guac, it’s more of something that they throw in somewhere in the middle for an extra buck or two, so a place that globs it on in your $5 burrito is a winner. And it’s good guac, too – creamy and soft with avocado chunks.

They pack your choice of meat/vegetable well, too. The chicken, for example, was evenly distributed throughout the burrito. The diced chunks were bite sized – not too large and not small enough to fall out before you can catch them. The chicken itself was dark meat chicken, and that was alright, but I’m more of a white meat chicken kinda gal. It was good for dark meat chicken though.

The beans were pinto and occasional, nothing noteworthy there. The wall of rice blanketed the center that brought the burrito together well. The cheese was melted into the rice, reinforcing the wall and contributing sporadic bites filled with cheesy goodness.

The guac and chicken were the focus of the center and they worked together well, the guac enhancing the chicken. There was a scoop of sour cream somewhere that also added a nice salty, sour cream touch of flavor to a bite or two.

My main critique is the lack of pico de gallo and cilantro. The brief run in I had with cilantro turned the whole thing around. It complemented the guac, adding an excellent flavor blast to the whole mix. The chopped tomatoes that scraped the bottom of the burrito, too – they were warm with the proper cooked tomatoey taste. I really would have liked to taste more of both throughout my burrito.

I also tried out the enchilada and rellenitos (stuffed plantain). I think I had the wrong impression of both of those things, but that was my trying fun, new things segment of the day. And meeting the delivery minimum. The enchilada was like an open taco, which was okay, but nothing special. And I just don’t think the rellenitos were for me, I wasn’t really feeling the custard. I was under the impression that it would be filled with a black bean sauce, but they didn’t provide descriptions, so what would I know? Worth a try, I guess.

The overall experience was alright. If you’re a guac lover, you should try this place out. Not my go to burrito joint, but alright for a quick, cheap bite.

(Equal pricing and better quality burritos can be found at Felipe’s in Cambridge. If you are in the Allston/Cambridge area, it is also more local.)