Quandaries I often face at Mexican restaurants, and how I solved them by eating the Burrito in a Bowl at Tio Rodrigo’s Mexican Grill, which opened this summer on Bank Street in New London:
1) Order something with a crunchy tortilla or something with a soft, chewy shell?
Solution: Neither. The Burrito in a Bowl has no tortilla at all. It eats more like a salad, with all the fixings piled into a fathoms-deep bowl.
2) Order an entrée with steak or chicken?
Solution: Neither. The Burrito in a Bowl is available with either of those meats ($10 to $11) or roasted vegetables ($9), if that’s what you want, but I hit the jackpot by ordering mine with salmon ($13).
Qualities I appreciate in Mexican food, and how the Burrito in a Bowl measured up:
1) Huge portions.
Verdict: It probably would have been wiser to eat the Burrito in a Bowl in two sittings. There’s certainly enough there for dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow. But if you like to stretch your stomach to the point of feeling pregnant, you can go ahead and finish it now. You’ll get your money’s worth.
2) Lots of flavors, textures, colors, and temperatures all on one plate.
Verdict: The Burrito in a Bowl contains your choice of meat or fish over hot rice and pinto beans with melting cheese, loads of shredded lettuce, cool corn salsa and chunky tomato salsa, and large dollops of guacamole and sour cream. Each ingredient tasted fresh, and the kitchen had plated them like a work of art.
The bartender sold me on the salmon when she described it as crispy on the outside, sort of Cajun-style, and tender on the inside. It lived up to this billing. The kitchen had rubbed and blackened the fillet, which was only slightly spicy, and the flesh inside was still pink, moist, and beautifully flaky.
3) Crunchy, salty tortilla chips with salsa—for free.
Verdict: Tio Rodrigo’s serves its chips and salsa complimentary with any entrée. The salsa is rather watery and borders on bland, but the chips are fresh, thick, and addictively crunchy. Best of all, they are salted unevenly and with a touch of lime (is it?), so you never quite know which bites will burst with the most flavor.
The menu hypes the Burrito in a Bowl as a low(er)-carb version of a traditional wrapped burrito, which I guess is nice, and I did eat much of the dish like a salad. But I succumbed to the carb-craving and plowed through most of it by scooping up bites with the tortilla chips.
Sometimes I smeared sour cream and guac onto a chip and then layered on the corn salsa and a chunk of salmon. Other times I forked on rice and then the salmon and topped it with beans and lettuce. Occasionally I drizzled a bite with the house habanero salsa ($1.50), which, be warned, is hot enough to cause such side effects as death. The possibilities are endless for building your own bites. This is how all Tex-Mex dishes ought to be eaten.
Tio Rodrigo’s opened just this summer, the latest venture of local restaurateur Rod Cornish. Cornish also owns Hot Rod Café, a popular spot for wings and beer down the street in downtown. If the Burrito in a Bowl is any indication, “Uncle Rod’s” newest restaurant will likewise become a “Can’t Miss” destination in the Whaling City.
Burrito in a Bowl, with salmon $12.95
Tio Rodrigo’s Mexican Grill
419 Bank Street, New London, CT 06320