Nestled between the local supermarket and a KMart, Tierra Mexi-Cali Grille is another flower in the recent bloom of fast-casual, cafeteria style burrito joints. Counting Chipotle and Tierra, there’s at least seven just in my area. I’m not complaining, though, as this bloom is accompanied by some of the loveliest of aromas: chopped cilantro, fresh pico de gallo, warm queso, and smoky jalapeños. What a time to be alive.
With this apparent burrito renaissance, it’s fair to worry that all these new establishments are going to feel samey and boring. How, you may wonder, can it be possible to maintain a personal identity among so many other restaurants catering to what seems like a niche market? Chipotle has it made, with locations in five countries and ethical policies to keep the hipsters happy, so what else is there possibly to be done? Well, for starters, Tierra delivers. This didn’t affect my experience all that much, as I discovered it as I was walking up to the front door, but custom burritos delivered to my home or place of work without a GrubHub charge are worth remembering for sure, particularly when I can place that order online.
However, the best reason I can think of to go to Tierra instead of Chipotle is that they taste different, and taste is a purely subjective thing. Opinions aside, though, Tierra’s lineup is a well conceived southwestern smorgasbord—albeit a small one. I got tacos this time around with barbacoa (spicy beef) serving as my protein. This was a small step outside my comfort zone; I’m bothered by taco (or burrito) ingredients that wind up getting pulled out of the tortilla rather than breaking off when I bite down—the piece always brings with it more toppings that ought to stay put. Pulled beef or pork, grilled chicken or steak has a tendency to do this, so whenever possible, I get ground protein like chorizo (spicy Mexican sausage) or good old fashioned ground beef. I was thrilled to discover that not only is Tierra’s barbacoa nothing to be afraid of, it’s absolutely delicious to boot.
My little (yet totally filling) meal consisted of three soft tacos made to order, a fountain drink or any bottle from the cooler, and Tierra chips with a dip of my choice. I chose warm queso, and it was the second best decision I made while ordering my food. It was rich and cheesy with a touch of spiciness and had flavor and textural qualities that point to it having been made in house. What’s better than homemade queso dip? Tierra’s house made smoky jalapeño salsa. They call it salsa, but it’s a sour cream based sauce with spices. Without chunks, I find it difficult to think of it like a salsa, but at this point I’m simply arguing semantics with myself. The smoky jalapeño aspect of my tacos was my favorite part, hands down, and that stuff can only be found at Tierra.
Whoever’s in charge of the flavors at Tierra Mexi-Cali Grille has a delicious and distinct style of food preparation that deserves a chance from anyone who’s already benefited from the custom burrito craze.