POSTED ON MAY 12, 2010:
Tangy But Not Hot
Baja Manny's has great personal family flare and fun but still has room to grow
KENNETH M. RUGGIANO
Situated between Harvard and Yale on 11th street, Baja Manny's is strategically placed to accommodate the college and 11th street business crowd looking for a fast, fresh meal.
They boast Wi-fi, which is, of course, a draw for college and business folks alike. Manny's is actually housed in a former fast food building, and the first thing we noticed was the chain's logo still on the door. (Oops!)
The inside is decorated on a bit of a shoestring budget, and a bit reminiscent of the former inhabitants, but an effort has been made to brighten it up with some trim and festive borders. I have been there several times, and the floor had been recently mopped on both occasions. There were no dirty tables or trash, and I was impressed with how clean and neat it was. The outside is colorfully painted, and there are several colorful flags out front so you can't really miss it.
The good news is that this is a family-owned and run business. Not that there is anything wrong with a chain, but it is nice to see locals compete, (and hopefully succeed) in the market as well. Mom, several daughters, and a young fellow we assumed was a younger brother and dad (Manny) were all working when we stopped in on a sunny afternoon at around 2pm. We were cheerfully greeted by the older of the two girls and found her to be charming and very helpful as we tried to decide what to order. That went a long way toward making up for the OK food. That is to say, it was tasty and fresh but lacking a little pizzazz.
In a departure from normal fast food-type service, fresh chips and salsa were delivered to our table on both occasions by another sister. She was just as cheerful and charming, and we warmed immediately to the feeling of personal care we got. It is obvious that this is a source of pride for the family, and my daughter, wife and I all found ourselves wishing the very best for them.
Our number was called very timidly several times before I heard it on the first visit, and I remarked that a microphone or teenaged brother that likes to yell would solve that problem in short order. One assumes that during busier times, they overcome that issue somehow.
I ordered a burrito filled with rice, beans, pork, cheese and spices, and while tasty, again it lacked the zip I would expect from this type of food. The beans were tasty but a bit soupy for a burrito. A bit of masa flour, (a south American corn flour) or just less moisture in the beans before mashing would have fixed that easily. It was not rolled particularly tight and made for "bale-o-napkin" style dining.
My daughter ordered a taco plate and said the food was tasty, but the homemade shell was stale. In the type of humidity we have around here, they almost need to be made daily to avoid this common pitfall. Her plate contained the same beans I had in my burrito topped with melted cheese and nicely flavored and visually attractive rice as well.
On a subsequent occasion, my wife ordered an enchilada plate, and some of you may already be familiar with my pet name for her, "macaroni mouth" for her decided lack of tolerance of anything hot or spicy. The point of all this is to say that even she was yearning for more seasoning and zip to her food.
It's not enough these days to make salt, pepper and hot condiments available. Those should be offered as an opportunity for the folks who like extra seasoning to add spice beyond the point that most people enjoy. And yes I fall into that category. (Hey, I have a friend that carries a bottle of hot sauce in her purse. I'm not that bad.)
There is a nice selection of items on the menu, and typical of Mexican fast food, eight or nine basic items allow the diner to create his or her own dish into almost unlimited combinations. I was tempted to order the Manny's Garbage Burrito, which boasts that it has, "everything you can imagine in it", and almost did, but I knew I couldn't handle a huge lunch that late in the day and all indications were it was a whopper. Sounded like perfect college kid or hungry guy fare though.
I have had the Potato Burrito though, and it was good, but not reminiscent of south of the border food, I'm sorry to say. A combination of steamed diced potatoes, lots of cheddar and your choice of meat. For my meat option (you get to choose between pork, chicken, Carne Asada, and a taco type meat), I selected a Pork Verde. Slow cooked, pulled pork in a green sauce which normally would be quite spicy by definition.
This version was tasty, but not spicy or overtly flavorful at all. I ordered sides of rice and beans, and again was reminded of how soupy and bland the beans were. It's OK, Manny; we're in the heart of "spicyfoodcountry." Do your thing.
The prices are cheap, cheap, cheap! The two of us ate till full, both had soft drinks, and got out of there for a little under $11. Can't beat a deal like that.
The overall picture is Manny's is worth the price. It's a very pleasant place to eat in terms of customer service, the food is obviously made in-house with fresh ingredients, and in time hopefully will become a successful locally owned business. We wish them the best.
Baja Manny's Fresh Mexican Food
4003 E. 11th St.
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