Fresh and lively – [restaurant review]

Mi Burrito’s Abigail Guerra and Miguel Diaz at their newly opened Redondo Riviera Village restaurant. Photo by JPCordero

Mi Burrito is an unlikely standard bearer for authentic Mexican flavors

One of the most frequent questions I get from readers is where to find great, traditional Mexican food. They want the real thing that makes you feel like you’re in Guadalajara, East LA, or somewhere else where locals savor authentically powerful, yet subtle flavors. Unfortunately, I don’t have many options for them. The Beach Cities have a few shining stars, a lot of passable to mediocre places, and a couple of real dogs. The usual problem is bland, one-dimensional sauces, which may be an unfortunate reflection of local tastes. Places that open with vigorous flavors but get complaints about overly spicy food may throttle back the heat, and they eventually start turning out a marketable but lifeless approximation instead.

I first heard about the opening of Mi Burrito in Riviera Village from a reader whose skepticism mirrored my own. It sounded like another Americanized fast-food joint, and a glance at the somewhat generic menu of tacos, burritos, and combo plates gave few reasons for optimism. I didn’t go there with high expectations.

The first hint that something interesting might be going on was that they offered pozole, the stew of pork and hominy in a red chile sauce. It’s not a popular dish outside the Mexican community, and when I ordered it, I was asked, “Pata or no pata?” It took a moment to realize that I was being asked whether I wanted a pig’s foot in my stew, and it raised my hopes because that’s how they make it in Mexico. (The gringo version uses pork leg instead of the almost jellylike meat from the shank and foot.) We got the pozole and some more standard items, and the scent in the car on the way home was so alluring that I think I might have set a local land speed record.

I have visited a few times now and can report that Mi Burrito is an anomaly in the local scene, a place that makes classic dishes with no compromises. The sauces are the key. The green has a punch from chile peppers and a citrusy tang from tomatillos, and the brick-colored red chile sauce, while milder, packs a slightly smoky punch. Both have layers of flavor from cumin, oregano, garlic, and an arsenal of other herbs and seasonings. Comparing these to the sauces at many other places around town is like putting monochrome and color images alongside each other.

The sauces are atop the burritos mentioned in the name, of course, and the ones here are substantial. They’re offered in two sizes, the “Junior” that is a full meal for most people and the full size that is immense. I haven’t tried all the proteins but can report that the shredded beef is particularly good, moist with just a slight chewiness and flavors of bell pepper and onion. The carnitas is the soft style rather than crisp and has concentrated porkiness with just a little seasoning. The chicken and shrimp were about standard, the al pastor the only disappointment. I like al pastor with a tang from the pineapple juice and achiote marinade and some caramelization from the grill or spit, but this was only slightly more seasoned than the carnitas. It wasn’t bad, but not up to the standard of the other meats.

There is more on the menu than burritos, and most other items were up to the same high standard. The taquitos were crisp but not greasy even after a car ride, and they arrived with good guacamole, a zingy salsa, and sour cream. A chicken tamale had soft, moist, and flavorful masa and a medium-spicy filling, though next time I’ll probably order it dry instead of topped with sauce and cheese, as is standard. The only item we did not find pleasing was the antonija botana, a mixed appetizer plate, and that was because some items on it were not suitable to being packed to go. The mini chimichangas and wings were probably both crispy and delicious when they went into the take-out box but steamed and became soggy on the ride home with the quesadilla, cheese and chips, and taquitos. I’d happily try this again when dining in and would suggest that the restaurant dissuade people from ordering it when not eating it immediately.

If they could be convinced to order the pozole instead, that would be the wisest course – but only if they enjoy full power Mexican seasonings. That stew was based on a rich bone broth laden with multiple types of chillies, the corn flavor of the hominy adding an extra dimension alongside the meat. Chopped onions, shredded cabbage, sliced radishes, and cilantro are included on the side so you can add fresh, sharp vegetable flavors to taste, as are limes for squeezing in a bit of tart citrus. This is one of the best versions of this soup I’ve had anywhere and finding it in Riviera Village was quite a surprise.

Though four desserts are listed on the menu, the only one they seem to have regularly is churros, which are served with a semi-sweet chocolate dipping sauce and ice cream. They make them fresh to order, and you can tell – the exterior of this Iberian doughnut is crisp and dusted with a cinnamon-sugar mix, while the interior has a bit of moist cakiness to it. I look forward to the day when they will offer their flan and tres leches cake, but until then I’ll happily eat more churros.

A meal from Mi Burrito won’t break the bank – they’re priced competitively with other local casual Mexican restaurants and given the difference in quality, that’s a bargain. If you enjoy the real flavors of Mexico, this is the new hot spot for the South Bay, and I hope they never slack on the south of the border goodness.

Mi Burrito is at 1700 S. Catalina, Suite 101 (entrance on Avenue I), Redondo Beach.

Mon. — Thurs. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fri. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sat. 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sun. 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.  Beer, wine, and low alcohol cocktails available. Patio dining. Street parking only. (424) 383-5805. Miburritomexicangrillca.com. ER  

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Written by: Richard Foss

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