Lotsa pluck

Chita’s Mexican Grill

2019 Q St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 930-0951

I drove by Chita’s Mexican Grill on Q Street a few times before I ever went in, and I always wondered a little bit about it. With its brave “Now Open” sign (though it’s been open for several months) facing an unlikely location blocks from most other businesses, it struck me as a plucky little enterprise.

Finding myself in the neighborhood and hungry one day, I dropped by to find that my impression from the outside still seemed accurate within. The friendly workers aimed to please, and the food was for the most part prepared to order. There had been a game attempt made to enliven the unpromising space—which is essentially a big kitchen cut off from the public area by a tall counter, and a narrow strip of seating space housing a few cramped tables—with plants, a strip of track lighting, Mexican-themed knickknacks on the walls, and a peachy, sand-colored paint job.

Alas, pluck is not necessarily a guarantee of quality, and in the end I wanted to like Chita’s better than I did. The food quality is distinctly uneven, and since there’s not a whole lot of atmosphere to compensate, that’s quite a problem. On our first visit we tried a carnitas plate, some chile-verde enchiladas and—for my daughter—chicken flautas, suggested by the server, who also seems to be the cook and (I think) the owner. (There’s a cadre of helpers hanging around behind the counter, too, but they didn’t seem to be accomplishing half of what she was.)

The carnitas were made in the moist style, so essentially it was a large heap of shredded pork—not bad, by any means, but hardly exciting and not terribly flavorful. The refried beans and rice were thoroughly average. It also came with nicely toasted, hot flour tortillas. I liked my enchiladas, but they weren’t quite what I expected; instead of a helping of chile-verde pork stew inside, they enclosed what I am pretty sure was the same pork as the carnitas, with a zingy, fresh-tasting emerald-green sauce over the top. The green sauce had an unexpected but welcome kick, so that was a boon.

The flautas we ordered for our daughter were freshly fried and tasty enough, with the flour tortilla turning flaky and crisp but not greasy, and with mild chicken meat inside. She liked the beans and rice quite a lot, too. We also had some chips and salsa, including a very mild green salsa that was just lightly tart, which my daughter liked, and a much hotter, though thin, red variety. There’s a cart to one side of the restaurant’s long, narrow space that holds a salsa bar, but the choices are few.

The menu comprises a number of other options, including your standard burritos, tacos (soft and crispy), tostadas, tortas, tamales and so on. I went back for a combo plate, where you can get any three from a long list of items, plus rice and beans, for $7.99. (Some of the items, like the tacos, even come in pairs already.) It’s a good deal, and I ended up with a pair of soft tacos with lengua, a sope (a thick, curved corn-masa disk topped with beans, meat, cheese, lettuce and salsa) with beef adobada, and a pair of chicken taquitos. The latter, freshly fried to a nice crunch and topped with a modest amount of cheese, sour cream and a winter-pallid pico de gallo, were quite tasty. The chicken had a touch of chili spicing and the flavors were well balanced.

The chubby little lengua tacos looked very promising, stuffed with meat and simply dusted with onions and cilantro. Sadly, however, the beefy, tender tongue was oversalted to the point of near inedibility—a sad fate for such a generally tasty meat. The beans that accompanied this plate were also far saltier than they needed to be—and I am, generally speaking, something of a salt fiend.

The shredded beef adobada, which topped my sope, had a nice hint of spice to it and a long-cooked savoriness, as well. It was my favorite of the meats I tried, but I would have liked the sope itself much better if the fried-masa base had been a little less tough. Though the taquitos clearly were rolled and fried to order, I suspected the sope of having sat around for a while, waiting for a likely consumer. Even so, fried masa is pretty tasty, and I liked the earthy corn flavor.

All told, I wanted to like the food at Chita’s, but although the restaurant has its heart in the right place and clearly is trying, there’s a level of disorganization at work that means things just aren’t quite there. If you’re in the mood for adobada or find yourself in lower Midtown with $5 and a yawningly empty stomach, you can fill it at Chita’s, but there are better options in town.