POSTED ON MAY 23, 2012:
The Baja Bomb
Build-Your-Own burrito shack goes big with Californian take on Mexican
We are the architect of our own dreams, they say. Sometimes my goals aren't so lofty and the best I can do is build my own burrito. A huge fan of customization, I love throwing caution to the wind and combining flavors and textures in the sacred confines of a hot tortilla. There are several places in town that I forever compare to the dearly departed Atomic Burrito, but none have really blown me away. So when I hear of a new upstart expanding into the world of self-centered Mexican fare, if they build it, I will come.
Baja Jack's Burrito Shack is a Californian take on Mexican street food favorites. It's authentic Mexican in the sense that it was heavily influenced Mexican cuisine, but adds its own flavor and flair that appeal to the American palate. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, people!) Baja Jack's caught the wave of fans in Owasso and has even found a beach break in south Tulsa.
The inside of this "shack" was pretty sweet. Bright colors, surfboard menus, cozy seating and a little Jack Johnson make this place a nice oasis in the corporate haze of its strip-mall location. They offer a selection of beers from Bud Light to Modelo in addition to soft drinks. Sure, a cerveza was in order, but my fellow burrito bandito and I were here to find out if these burritos were bodacious or totally bogus.
First, I can say without shame that I've never met a bar I didn't like. That's especially true when it's a salsa bar. With vats of tongue-tingling varieties -- chipotle or mango salsa, tomatillo or the house salsa, black bean or "the fire eater" -- Baja Jack's was a wanderlust of complementary condiments. You can tell a lot about a Mexican joint by their salsa. It's like the thumbprint that matches the other flavor profiles found in their cuisine. Baja Jack's house salsa was like the perfect fiesta in my mouth -- smoky tomatoes, a slight sweetness, a small dash of heat and a nice, taut finish. I couldn't wait to pour this stuff all over everything I ordered.
It was a tough choice between the white queso or the Holy Guacamole! but we let providence be our guide and opted for the blessed guac. By the time we pillaged the salsa bar, a bowl of fresh and green guacamole arrived to our table. A chip bound for salsa was redirected into the mound of avocado awesomeness. Definitely fresh, perfect texture, and with a wee bit of salt, definitely the cool, creamy topper a taco begs for.
Speaking of tacos, out my street tacos came, one fish and one carnitas. You can get two for $5 and three for $7. Fish taco components vary, and Jack's had a small filet of whitefish, lightly battered and fried, topped with pico de gallo, shredded cabbage, a creamy lime sauce AND guacamole, barely contained by a white corn tortilla. Now I've had the opportunity to sample actual "street tacos." Typically it's the filling and maybe some pico and a lime, no other trimmings. Because you don't need them -- but we'll get to that. The fish taco had a fresh flavor and was almost overpowered by all the bells and whistles. Still, it was definitely a "win" against many fish tacos I've sampled.
So we change up a bit with carnitas, which is described as "shredded pork, pico de gallo and Holy Guacamole! -- just like from a roadside stand, but with tables and chairs." OK, so a little poetic license here I realize. But Jack's carnitas was not shredded pork, which is usually packed full of flavor and has a texture like no other. This was a bastardized version of carnitas, which, hey, that's what we do in the great Melting Pot of America. But the meat was not shredded; it was cubes of maybe a slow-cooked cut of pork. I could've gotten over the texture if it had some actual flavor, which, unfortunately it had very little. But with all the "trimmings" the meat part of the equation was lost ... and so was my enthusiasm to finish this one little taco.
OK, so street tacos, perhaps not, so let's stick to Baja's traditional dishes, like a simple bean and cheese burrito ($4) or snazz it up with a San Francisco Burrito ($5) with choice of carne asada steak, carnitas, shredded chicken, or up the ante with shrimp with crab, black beans and cilantro rice. On this menu they also have a Tijuana Torta ($6) which is all your favorite taco toppings on Mexican artisan bread, two kinds of quesadillas ($4.50 cheese or meat $6.50), or the Nachos Platter for only $6. Their Signature Items, however, lured me with their Carne Asada Burrito ($5) which comes with the tagline "people from all over the world travel to Baja California for this burrito." Question is, was it worth traveling to South Tulsa?
To be honest, this burrito was a beast, filled to the brim with hot and yummy carne asada, their hallowed guacamole and pico de gallo. I picked it up with my mitt and took the first bite. I found a huge serving of their carne asada steak on one side with the guacamole and pico lining the inside of the warm, luscious tortilla. I will make one slight comment, though, that will echo the summation of the carnitas. This carne asada, when isolated as its own bite, tasted a lot like an overcooked, flavorless steak. That being said, I can see how accouterments like various salsas and ingredients could blend with this selection. Or, in fact, it could be left out altogether.
The "build-your-own" concept is truly a winner. It's especially true for vegetarians or those on a restricted diet, and at Baja Jack's you're sure to get a filling, delicious meal for not a lot of dinero. If it's authenticity you are looking for, then perhaps you are best served by dining at one of the many authentic Mexican restaurants speckled throughout town. But if you are looking for something fresh, delicious and an environment that the whole family will enjoy, Baja Jack's has what you're craving.
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