Saturday, May 21, 2011

Red Habanero

When walking into Red Habanero, you could easily mistake it for a Qdoba or Chipotle. And on it's face, the menu does nothing to distinguish it. Sure, there are a few items you won't find at the "fast casual" TexMex chains, but Red Habanero's bread & butter (tortilla & salsa?) are the same tacos, burritos, quesadillas & enchiladas. But where the chains have moved to dumb down the flavor for the mass-market audience, Red Habanero has turned up the heat.

After approaching the counter, we noticed there were several menu items labeled "Hot!". As most places take that to mean there might be a jalapeno or two thrown in, we paid that no mind continued to scan the menu. We decided on a pair of quesadillas for the kids -- one with chicken for Stella and a plain cheese for Oz. Libby ordered one of the "Hot!" items, the Jalepeno Lime Chicken burrito, while Fred chose his usual TexMex baseline dish, the Chile Colorado (this time in burrito form). On each burrito, we had our choice of 4 toppings including the usual cilantro, pico de gallo, sour cream & cheese, but also tomatoes, guacamole, black olives, onion & mushrooms, to name a few.

As each entree came with tortilla chips, we sauntered over to the salsa bar to check out the options. Wow! Not just the usual 2 choices (hot & mild) but 5-6 solid ones. There was the house, tomatillo, ranchero, habanero, chipotle, & pico. We happily scooped out a bit of each for tasting. We were pleasantly surprised at the freshness & flavor of each. Per their menu, they make each one fresh daily. It's the little things that really make a place stand out from the crowd, and this was it for Red Habanero. Shockingly, the house salsa was the spiciest of the bunch, well ahead of even the habanero. Stella snuck a taste of it after watching Mom & Dad sample each one. She quickly got an aggrieved look and decided to dip in her beans instead.

The burritos are grilled in a sandwich press which Fred found a little odd, but not displeasing. His Chile Colorado was superb. The flavor of the beef was head and shoulders above anything you get at the chains. The ranchero sauce it'd been simmered in had crept deep into the meat. No need for a salsa to add flavor here. Overall, a great crunch and just enough heat to bring a little sweat to your brow. Perfect.

Libby's burrito was a pleasant surprise on many fronts. First of all, during preparation a large pre-marinated and grilled breast was chopped fresh right before her eyes! Impressive. The jalepeno lime sauce was applied liberally and had a lovely bright green hue. The real test was in the taste and after one bite "fresh" was really the best way to put it. The sauce wasn't really apparent until the third or fourth bite, Holy C***!!!, this was hot! Sure, there was the usual, discomfort in the mouth, a little bit of sweat forming on the upper cheeks, but it was the actual stomach cramps that got her attention. How can something taste so fresh and amazing and give you insta-ulcer?!!! It did cause a slow down in eating when you had to wait for the cramping to subside to have another bite. Yes, it hurt so good. Note to self; next time, heed the "hot" warning.

The kids simply demolished the meal. Other than Ozzy's beans, it was clean plates all around, with Stella wanting to dip her chips in Mommy's burrito. We tried Stella's chicken quesadilla and were surprised at the flavor even in the kid's version. Well seasoned meat and multiple cheeses. Either of us would have been happy to finish it for her!

As we were about to leave, an employee came out and offered free small cups of ice cream for the kids as well as a tiny 3" diameter sombrero. Totally unexpected at an order-at-the-counter joint! We could feel real pride and honesty in his voice and actions. When a chain does something like that, it's not even close to the same feeling.

Wrap Up
Price-$, Basically the same prices as the competition. Love it when you can support your local mom & pop without spending a dime more!
Atmosphere-**, You honestly could have been in any burrito joint---except for the stocked bar! Margarita with your burrito anyone!?
Service-****, No dead-behind-the-eyes minimum wage slaves here. If everyone who worked there wasn't family or friend of the family, we'd be shocked.

Fred- A- , I actually had to go back a few days later to try the tacos! (also awesome -- try the Three Amigos pictured at the top!). My only complaint is the grill on the burrito. I really think it'd be better without. It's a nit-pick though. Next I have to try the shrimp tacos. Yum!
Libby-A, Other than the intense pain, this was a fabulous experience. Great food with real attention to freshness. It's nice when hot means hot.
Ozzy- A+, Lets see, carbs, cheese & more carbs. Oh, then free ice-cream out of the blue! Ozzy heaven!
Estelle- A+, I'm sure we've shared her bean love in the past. But when you add chips & ice cream to the deal, you've got her dead to rights.

Red Habanero on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

I have been to the one considered ther Fishers location, also on 96th st which is why I was confused when I read that you thought they looked like any q'doba and the like. The one considered the Fishers location has a large bar and great wait staff which make it seem like a regular restaurant.

shauna said...

Sounds delicious, I can't wait to try it!