Tonight I stopped by the new California Burrito Express, which opened this past Friday in the old Fazoli's location on East Colonial Drive near the Fashion Square Mall (3922 East Colonial Drive, Orlando, FL 32803). I work pretty close to that sad restaurant graveyard, so I've been looking forward to a new option for my occasional dinner breaks. To be honest, I didn't know what to expect, but I was prepared for a slightly generic chain like Chipotle or Moe's, with bland, overstuffed burritos "as big as your head."
Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find a very authentic, extremely reasonably priced Mexican restaurant with a vast menu. This was no Taco Bell wannabe or Chipotle clone -- they offered tacos, burritos, enchiladas, fajitas, quesadillas, and my personal favorites, tortas (giant sub-like sandwiches on soft, almost sweet Mexican rolls). Options included carne asada, al pastor (pork), chicken, steak, chorizo (spicy crumbled sausage), fish, shrimp, and even lengua (slow-cooked beef tongue, another favorite), plus many others I'm sure I'm forgetting. It was a bit overwhelming, just due to the variety of choices. Oh yeah, they have a small breakfast menu too!
Whenever I visit a new restaurant, I always order a few things, just to sample as much as I can, and also so I can write about it on Chowhound. I really ought to just start my own local food blog! But I digress. I ordered a torta con lengua, where the tongue was a bit chewy, yet tender. It came with lots of shredded lettuce, and a bit of avocado and maybe some mayo, but I felt it could have used some kind of sauce to help the little cubes of meat and all the lettuce stick together better. I added a healthy scoop of the homemade salsa fresca, full of tomatoes and onions and cilantro, which helped. Chilango's in Winter Springs still has the best lengua I've tried in Orlando, but unfortunately I'm never over there anymore.
I also ordered a fish taco, which was easily the best I've had outside of San Diego. Locally, I've tried fish tacos at Baja Burrito Kitchen (overpriced and tiny), Del Taco (bland), Pancho's (not so good), and even Cheesecake Factory and Houlihan's (meh!), but this fish taco blew me away. The soft tortilla melded perfectly with the crunch of the fried fish and shredded cabbage, and the creamy sauce and little bit of salsa fresca completed the package. I think it was something like $2.35, and I could easily see making a meal just out of those... well, three or four of those!
Always a glutton (and not just for punishment), I also ordered a burrito con chorizo, although after my torta and fish taco, I could only eat one bite. It was a good size, and only $3.99. The first bite was delicious, but I'll have to enjoy the rest tomorrow. It looked like there was quite a bit of chorizo, cheese, and some refried beans inside the slightly crisp, grilled tortilla -- they didn't pad it out with fillers like rice or (gasp) lettuce.
I was glad they had horchata to drink, that perfect creamy, cinnamony sweet drink that pairs perfectly with Mexican food. They also have a fountain with your typical Coke products. Up front near the soda fountain, they have a salsa bar with the salsa fresca, red and green hot sauces, lemon and lime wedges, and what I now consider a true staple of authentic Mexican restaurants -- pickled carrot slices, jalapeno peppers, and onions, which go together surprisingly perfectly. I did add some of the carrots and onions to my torta con lengua to give it a kick, now that I think about it.
Anyway, for anyone who lives or works east of downtown Orlando or anywhere along that stretch of Colonial Drive, California Burrito Express is a new oasis in the vast desert of chain restaurants. Of course you're not far from the best Vietnamese food in Florida, but it's nice to have an authentic, cheap, delicious Mexican option right there as well.
162 W State Road 434, Winter Springs, FL 32708
Baja Burrito Kitchen
2716 E Colonial Dr, Orlando, FL 32803
3551 Dovera Dr, Oviedo, FL 32765