Last week my best friends took a springtime vacation in Puebla, Mexico. While they wandered the sunny, earthy streets of Puebla, I took refuge from Halifax's gray, rainy days in their Facebook picture albums. Every day I was treated to photos of chalupas, cemitas, tacos arabes and deep-fried quesadillas. So I was excited when, suddenly, fate tapped me on the shoulder and added burritos to my to do list.
Burrito Jax is small, a take-out counter more than a restaurant. There are a few seats lining a bar at the wall, but nobody is sitting when two friends and I head in for lunch. A handful of customers mill about, placing orders, picking toppings or waiting for their burrito.
Music is blaring, filling the small space. It's hard to hear what the person next to you is saying---harder still to hear the people behind the counter. We take turns shouting our orders for small jax chicken, steak and vegetarian burritos, with one of the servers eventually turning down the music a smidge when my exasperated friend lets them know she can't hear anything across the counter.
All three burritos cost the same ($5.25), so we're left to wonder if Burrito Jax considers guacamole the "other white meat," since it turns out not to be included as a topping for the meat burritos. There are lots of other fresh ingredients to add to our wraps, starting with "smashed" beans---black beans and basmati rice---leading into shredded cheese and vegetables like lettuce, tomato, green onion, green peppers, jalapenos and sweet potato puree. There are four salsas and additional hot sauces, including spicy mole and adobo. We load up, leaving out beans here and green pepper there.
The music is loudly chugging along, making it hard to communicate with the folks behind the counter. Their measured approach to burrito building doesn't feel as negotiable as it does at, say, Subway. Trying to talk around the music is still frustrating, so none of us ask for more of the sweet potato puree or sauces, neither of which are applied generously.
After digging our burritos out of the paper bags, we sit on the stony wall on Grafton Street and eat our lunch. The gentle grilling of the burritos has left them all warm, without resulting in soggy lettuce or tomato.
There is no explanation as to what puts the jax in jax chicken, but whatever the seasoning is, it's lost in the mix of mole and picante salsa, both of which have enough heat to give the burrito a nice punch. The steak, however, is tender and has a bit of a tang that stands out with the spicy combination of picante salsa and adobo sauce.
The vegetable burrito is disappointingly light on the guacamole. While piled with all of the available toppings and the mild pico jax salsa, there was nothing that really makes it sing. In fact, while each burrito is fresh and tastes good, they all lack a certain complexity that keeps them from being more than a cursory lunch.
Between bites we find ourselves wishing for the bright tang of fresh cilantro, the sweet char of roasted peppers or the layer of flavour a switch from plain basmati rice to Mexican rice would give. It seems like there are a lot of easy, missing options that would make them more memorable.
If Taco Bell is a restaurant that says they are at least making a run for the border, Burrito Jax seems happy to just look at it on Google Maps. There is nothing Mexican about the Burrito Jax approach; the food here is strictly US cuisine. But if you don't expect authentic Mexican food and just want a cheap, tasty lunch, you'll be happy.