People are always saying there’s no good Mexican food in Rochester. It’s certainly true that we don’t have the variety you’d find in Texas or California, but the general pronouncement might say more about the taste of the speaker. Besides the chains, we also have Maria’s, Salena’s, and Los Amigos, all of which are good at what they do. And if you’re willing to drive to Sodus, El Rincón Mexicano has terrific vittles from Guadalajara.
Many who bemoan the lack of Mexican are really talking about something that isn’t Mexican at all: the California “Mission-style” burrito. The Mission Café served a horribly bland version, and Selena’s Taqueria does something of the sort, but Rochester wants more. Enter Atlanta’s Raging Burrito, which serves big ol’ tortillas, wrapped around beans, rice, and endless combinations of fresh ingredients. So why would a Georgia burrito joint franchise into a beach volleyball business in Rochester?
As it happens, Hot Shots co-owner Pierce Pape lives in Atlanta, where he used to run a bagel shop. He and the other Hot Shots owners --- “visionary” J.B. Shares, Bill Page, and Peter Pape --- felt the need for a change. Pierce, who liked Raging Burrito’s focus on freshness, health, and value, brought the two businesses together.
Chips come out warm with various dips. Freshly made salsa has finely-chopped onion and tomato, peppers, cilantro, and little else. An enormous pile of chips with salsa runs $3 (small for $1.75). The guacamole is chunky and simple, with red onion and mild spices ($3/$5.25 with chips). Sliding farther down the unhealthy slope, you’ll find the veggie chili with cheese dip distressingly irresistible ($2.75/$4.50).
The basic burrito is a flour, wheat, spinach, or sundried tomato tortilla, filled with black or pinto beans (or a mix), brown rice, jack and cheddar, and salsa. It’s enormous --- the staff shirts say “we roll fattys” --- and a bargain ($4). The rice inside is what distinguishes the “Mission-style,” and while I’m not a fan (it’s like having a corn sub), people everywhere love them. The “raging” burrito adds lettuce, cucumber, onion, and sour cream ($5.25).
You can create your own Franken-burrito by adding feta cheese, corn, roasted garlic, pickled jalapenos, shredded carrots, jerk tofu, breaded eggplant, and so on. Even so, some choices were notably missing. You can’t get a corn tortilla (Pape says they might offer one soon), white rice, or refried beans (the cooked black beans were great, but I found the pintos a bit sexless).
I like a chef’s discretion, and was much happier with the chipotle bbq burrito than with the raging monster ($7.75). Chipotle peppers are dried, smoked chilis, and “master raging chef” Ron Manliguis’s sauce is deep and scrumptious. That over stewed black beans and grilled chicken, with caramelized onion and cilantro, was fabulous inside a flour tortilla ($7.50). Brown rice or cucumbers would have compromised the balance (mistakes I made with my forearm-sized raging monster).
Other specialties include the Bangkok burrito (Thai peanut sauce with grilled chicken or tofu, $7.75); Cajun killer (spiced, grilled shrimp, steak, tofu, fish, or chicken, $6.75); and Tokyo Teriyaki (sautéed tofu, steak, or chicken, $6.75). Photographer Kurt Brownell was most pleased with his Jamaican jerk chicken burrito ($6.75).
Raging Burrito is in the cavernous Hot Shots building, but is surprisingly comfortable. Even on a nasty day, it was reasonably cool (the heat goes up), and the oil-drum-based tables are funky and fun. There is also a side room with simpler tables and chairs, which works better for a family. There aren’t any high chairs or sippy cups, but the attitude towards my children was outstanding, and Pape will take care of those omissions. The wait staff was clear, attentive, and friendly, obviously trained by somebody with a vision.
Raging Burrito is somewhat hidden, but that shouldn’t be a problem. It has a built-in clientele and plentiful parking, and Rochester has been crying out for this type of food. It’s a restaurant that takes lessons from chains, but maintains a single-location feel. Pape might pull strings in absentia, but he stressed how good a job local manager Scott Miller is doing. The formula should make the place a raging success for years to come.
Raging Burrito, 1046B University Avenue, 461-1799. Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday through Sun day.
One of Rochester's busiest restaurants has moved, but not very far. The King & I is now across Alliance Drive at 1455 East Henrietta. I’ll miss the garden next to the old location, but the sparkling new restaurant has 100 more seats. My favorite dish is #47, kang phet chicken, with maybe a little beef satay to start.
--- Michael Warren Thomas
Michael Warren Thomas can be heard on WYSL 1040. Tune in on Saturdays for gardening, restaurants, and travel from 9 to noon, and on Sundays for antiques and wine from 10 to noon. Listen live on the web at www.SavorLife.com.