Bulldog’s big house

Searching for a niche for westside Mexican restaurant

Carne asada burrito and beer.

Carne asada burrito and beer.

Photo by Jason Cassidy

Bulldog Taqueria
925 Nord Ave.
Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-3 a.m.

The Mexican restaurant market in Chico is highly competitive. What makes one place stand out from the crowd? As they say in Gypsy, you gotta have a gimmick. Chico’s Bulldog Taqueria (there’s another Bulldog, the original, in Oroville), at the intersection of Nord and West Sacramento avenues, has … ceiling.

This is your place if you find yourself going to Mexican eateries and saying, “Sure, the food is great, but the ceilings are just too low.” Or you’ve just come from the carnival and you want your helium balloons to soar. This place is cavernous. Its former incarnation was a Pizza Factory, which doesn’t explain it. The architects must have specialized in blimp hangars.

There’s an air of impersonality and desolation to the place. The color scheme is near-black green and dark cranberry, and, thanks to the high ceilings, there’s a ton of it. The decor runs to black furniture and corrugated metal. Two of the walls are entirely glass, which could be warming except that the view is of your parked car and the Nord gridlock. The service is basically indifferent. The place is always deserted when I go, at 6 p.m.

The only sign of human activity comes from the TV sets, of which there are five—three in the small side room and two in the public space—screening sports.

The menu is heavy on a la carte items and light on complete meals, which means you can mix and match—order one fish taco, one sope, one enchilada, one taquito, and one tamale if you’re of a mind, all for $14.50. My favorite thing on the menu, however, are sides: rice and beans. Among the few meals are “meals without tortillas,” but this turns out to mean “without tortillas on the side,” so rest assured the enchilada filling will not be running free on the plate.

The menu and preparation have a lot of pros and cons. Among the pros: 15 kinds of meat, including birria and lengua; sopes; a choice of grilled or fried fish; menudo on Saturday and Sunday; agua fresca (a big “Yay!”); free refills on fountain drinks (a very big “Yay!”); and, for the compulsives among us, corn tacos specified as “4 1/2 inches” in size.

Among the cons: chips cost $2 (the napkins are free); items are generally a mite pricey ($3 for a tiny fish taco, $3 for a single taquito); there’s an extra $1 charge for any meat that’s been flavored, which is almost everything; and other than the rice and beans much of the menu I find bland.

If you order food “for here,” it comes in to-go containers. There are no desserts. The entirely satisfactory paper frequent-flier punch card has been replaced by an electronic equivalent that requires you to go home and “register” your name and ID number on a website (yuck). None of these is a deal-breaker, but cumulatively they weigh on my spirit.

There is plenty of space, however, for college students to spread out and for families, and there are all those TVs to accommodate large groups on game days. And it’s open late, with Friday and Saturday hours going until 3 a.m.

There are two kinds of Chico restaurants—those with the occasional half-off coupon and those without. Bulldog is the former.