New taco joint (with burritos, too) a budding Chico fave
Chico, CA 95928
“Chronic” refers to something that is habitual. I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word the first thought I have is something with a strong odor that gives me the munchies. I suspect the pun was intentional since the founders of Chronic Tacos—Daniel Biello and Randall Wyner—first cooked up the idea for the restaurant after what they refer to on their Web site as a night of revelry.
The first Chronic Tacos opened in 2002 in Newport Beach, and the eatery has since expanded to 20 restaurants, all owned by friends and family. The Chico restaurant opened in June in the old downtown Grilla Bites space, and is owned by Andrew Bourdelais, who claims to have been in the room at 2 a.m. when the concept of Chronic first took flight.
Catering to the surfer and skateboarding crowd, Chronic Tacos puts a spin on the classic Mexican taco joint. Although the recipes used are from a third-generation Mexican family, there is no attempt to appear South of the Border in the restaurant’s choice of decor. Stickers of surf and skate companies are plastered on sheet-metal walls next to surf-motif paintings and Marley and Hendrix posters. Several silent TVs simultaneously broadcast Xtreme sports while hip radio hits play in the background.
As with tattoo parlors, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a taco truck or Mexican restaurant in Chico. So what makes Chronic Tacos special? The meat! Chronic Tacos has some killer recipes that produce flavorful and tender meats that could pose a serious threat to the competition.
However, the restaurant does offer all of its items sans meat at prices usually $1 less. Both the whole black and pinto beans, including the pressed refried pinto beans, are made without lard or animal products. The white lime rice is vegetarian as well.
I was impressed with my first lunch, an al pastor Fatty Taco (a Chronic signature, at $2.99), brimming with flavorful pork, seasoned mildly with a hint of pineapple, and loaded with a choice of fresh toppings—cabbage, lime juice, guacamole (an extra $1.35), cheese and verde sauce.
My second visit, I ordered two Fatty Tacos and watched as my server heaped on the items. The shrimp taco was delicious, with generous portions of shrimp grilled in a delicious seasoning, and not overcooked. The chicken taco was great, too (a generous portion of tender white meat delicately seasoned). I also tried the taquitos ($4.49 for three, beef or chicken), with white-meat chicken packed into hand-rolled corn tortillas and fried. Those taquitos could be the restaurant’s prime seller as a destination food—crispy without dripping grease and full of tender meat.
I was beginning to get hooked.
The next day I didn’t make it in time for the breakfast burritos (served until 11:30 a.m. daily), which come with potato and egg and can include chorizo ($5.29), machaca with shredded beef and onion ($5.89), gringo with bacon ($5.29) or veggie with cheese ($4.25).
It was lunchtime, so I hopped in line for the burrito lunch special ($6.99). My server told me the Chico restaurant is Chronic Tacos’ only Northern California location. He seemed to smile with genuine pride as he rolled one of the biggest burritos I have ever seen. My carne asada burrito ($5.79) was stuffed with marinated and grilled steak, refried beans, rice and all the toppings.
If not for the chicken and shredded meat the enchiladas (two for $5.19) would be fairly boring compared to the tacos. The enchilada was microwaved and bland. The torta was also less than exciting, as it was mostly bread, even though the Talera bread used in the sandwich is made in-house.
Feeling addicted, I soon made a phone order for an al pastor burrito and chicken taquitos. But this time the food disappointed me. The burrito was dominated by rice and the filling in the taquitos was meager threads of chicken.
What happened? I have to ding the restaurant a little on consistency, but I’ll chock it up to training a new staff in a newly opened enterprise. If the restaurant continues to serve up large portions using its current fine recipes, I’d say Chronic Tacos is going to build up a steady clientele here. Could become habitual.