Go Go Burrito
1902 W. Francis Ave. * 326-5758
Go Go's been going for just more than two years now in its little strip-mall location at Five Mile, and the reason for this success seems clear. They make the kinds of build-your-own burritos (ours cost between $7-$8) that people flock to Ionic and Slick Rock for (even throwing in toppings you don't find much elsewhere, like carrots). They also offer enchiladas and tacos and the omnipresent Thai burrito, they retail in hot sauce, and they're really, really nice. (Owner Paul Nance calls you by your first name when he reads it on your credit card.) With a slick, hip design motif inside, it feels decidedly urban. (JS)
Until recently burritos have, to me, meant a little bit of hamburger and/or refried beans in a tortilla that's fried until crispy in hot oil. But at Go Go Burrito you choose from among six varieties of tortilla, three kinds of beans, three types of meat and your choice of vegetative embellishments. I chose a tomato tortilla (with an orange hue), black beans and shredded beef, topped with a cheddar/Monterey jack mixture, diced tomatoes, olives and red and green peppers. Then, because I don't like a lot of heat, I chose a pesto ranch dressing to finish. The result was a gooey delight that I held in my hand with the foil on, pulling back the aluminum in little bits to keep it from dripping all over. I ate half and saved the rest for another meal.
It's a small restaurant with only four tables, but the build-your-own burritos are big. By the time my rice, black beans, carnitas, lettuce, cheese and chipotle sauce were bundled and wrapped inside the large garlic and herb tortilla, my burrito was like a regulation-size football. And to think I actually declined some options. Some of the more responsible members of my party saved portions of their burritos for another meal, but not me. I ate the whole thing as breakfast, lunch and dinner in one convenient and savory meal. A thoughtful poster on the wall pictorially instructs the novice on "How to Eat a Burrito." And for us capsaicin addicts, there's fresh salsa and a good selection of bottled hot sauces.
The problem with these build-your-own-meal places is that if your meal's no good, you're the only one to blame. Not that my burrito was a disaster. In fact, it was pretty delicious. And huge. And probably more cleanly, tightly rolled than any I've ever seen. I stuffed it with carnitas, bell peppers, carrots, pinto beans and rice. Problem is, I threw in some chipotle sauce at the last minute -- an impulse -- forgetting that I generally abhor any kind of creaminess in my burritos (cools everything down too much), and I paid for it. The rest of the burrito was highly satisfying (did I mention it was huge?) -- and the chipotle sauce was actually pretty toothsome -- but I had to place my bites pretty strategically to maximize my spicy carnitas intake.
Moon's Mongolian Grill
6429 N. Division * 467-1043
The drill is simple at Moon's Mongolian Grill: You pay your money ($8 at lunch), you grab a bowl, you fill it with food and hand it to a guy who cooks it on a big round grill. Some believe the best part of the process is watching the dude with the spatula and spoon turn your raw ingredients into a finished meal. I disagree. The best part is figuring out which combinations of meats, vegetables and sauces will best satisfy your palate. Invariably you'll say to yourself, "Too much garlic" or "Add some oyster sauce next time." That's the cool part: If you buy the all-you-can-eat, you can experiment until they have to cart you out in a wheelbarrow. (DN)
The real trick at the dish-it-up-yourself food line at Moon's Mongolian Grill is to get the sauces right. When you start through the line you get to the meat first, and that's fine because I'm a carnivore at heart. Herbivores can plug their noses and head straight for the vegetables. I piled on liberal amounts of chicken, beef and pork and daintily placed a few veggies (onions, green onions, bok choy) around the side. Finally, I got to the glue that ties it all together. I ladled on liquid doses of ginger, garlic, lime and oyster, followed by a scoop of sesame oil. If you have a sweet tooth, add pineapple juice. If you have a craving for heat, add chili oil. I could eat there a thousand consecutive days and never have the same dish. And I like that.
A big part of the Moon's experience is the spectacle. The cooks violently stir-fry your creation on a big round grill in front of you, utensils clanging rapidly amid the billowing steam. (It's ready fast.) The other part is choosing your own ingredients. Chicken, beef and pork -- as much as you want -- is sliced frozen into thin scrolls, and there's an assortment of vegetables and noodles. Finally, you get creative with the seasonings. My plate of pork, noodles, bamboo shoots and green onions with garlic, ginger, sesame and chili oil was quite the success. I counted nine piles of food on the grill at once, and it's like a fast moving shell game, so the patron needs to keep an eye on what's whose.
I stuck to a small-but-frequent buffet strategy here, starting with a stir-fry of beef, onion, green pepper and broccoli. Problem is, I added too much lime sauce and too little spicy sauce. Round Two, I tried to crank the spice on a chicken citrus concoction. A little hoisin, a little ginger sauce. I thought I'd get a good balance, but no. My only consolation was a little added salt (!) and explosive sweetness of some grilled pineapple chunks. Round Three, I upped the spice ante, with a bowl of pork, carrot, bean sprouts and bamboo shoots, absolutely drowning it in soy sauce, ginger, some (supposedly) hot chili oil and a blob of peanut sauce, compliments of the grill master. Perfect combo. Just enough spice, no need for salt, and a deep, sweet flavor.