Choices, chivalry, churros and chimichangas
Don Quixote’s Mexican Grill
Although its tagline boasts it’s “Authentic Mexican cuisine served fresh [and] fast,” the food Don Quixote’s Mexican Grill creates actually tastes more like a combination of traditional Mexican food, Mexican-American cooking and Southwest cuisine. And despite being named after the classic 17th-century novel by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, the restaurant doesn’t offer any Spanish food. Nevertheless, the eatery, nestled in a corner of a shopping center on Watt Avenue in the Arden Arcade area of Sacramento, serves up a cheap meal that’s both quick and flavorful.
The restaurant shares a few similarities with Chipotle, the international burrito chain: Here, an employee waits behind a glass pane and assembles large burritos according to each customer’s preference. A tortilla is warmed up with a tortilla press, and then filled with a choice of meat, beans, rice, lettuce, onions, cilantro, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, etc. And, just like at Chipotle, customers can also order this same set of ingredients in taco shells or in a burrito bowl.
But that’s just about where any resemblance ends.
Chipotle’s limited menu and flavors are totally eclipsed by this local chain that first opened in 2006 (there’s another location at 2164 Sunset Boulevard in Rocklin). Don Quixote’s also makes chimichangas, salads, soups, enchiladas, nachos, quesadillas, tamales, tortas and “chili” rellenos—in other words, way too much to order in just a handful of visits. Accordingly, I attempt to diversify my selection: an adobada torta, steak quesadilla, a salad, “chili” verde chimichangas and several different types of burritos. After a half-dozen visits, I have yet to to sample the tacos, chili relleno, enchiladas, nachos, soup and tamales.
Just shy of trying “one of everything,” I nonetheless conclude that adobada is the best meat option. It’s a slow-cooked pulled-porklike dish marinated in a guajillo chili sauce, which adds copious spice and saltiness.
The steak and chicken, however—despite featuring a hint of lime—fall flat, requiring tons of extra salsa (thankfully, there’s a full salsa bar here offering salsa verde, salsa roja, pico de gallo and chipotle salsa, plus complimentary chips). The chimichangas are also not worth worth reordering. Despite being filled with tasty and moist chile verde pork, the tortilla shells are submerged in the deep fryer for far too long.
The best burrito is the Chipotle Ranch, which includes a choice of meat (I wisely chose adobada), plus beans, rice, lettuce, cheese and a chipotle-ranch dressing. The Rocinate’s salad—named after Don Quixote’s horse in the Cervantes novel—also features this dressing, and both are highly recommended. Another standout dish is the torta, a Mexican sandwich with meat, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise, all served on a roll of telera bread, which resembles a round, flat brioche.
Dessert options include churros or flan. There’s also a narrow selection of beer, which could use a lot of expansion, and a house margarita. A couple aguas frescas, including a Mexican hibiscus tea, or jamaica, and the cinnamon-rice flavored horchata, add a nice flair of authenticity (the jamaica in particular hits a nice balance of tart and sweet).
After a handful of visits, it’s clear that while the majority of dishes at Don Quixote’s are enjoyable, none really stand out above the others. Still, most are consistently impressive. Don Quixote’s staff is always friendly, offers good suggestions and waits patiently for customers (including myself) who try—often in vain—to decide what they want.