First Look: Oaxaca Mexican Grill (A More Americanized Chipotle!?)
Oaxaca (Wa Ha Ka) Grill (on 47th btw. Park+Lex) opened its doors yesterday and as the official Mexican food correspondent I was right there in line with all you munchers, I mean lunchers ready to sink my teeth into a hot chubby burrito. Are my standards for a burrito high? Por supuesto. Are my standards for “NYC burrito” high? No senor. I know burritos in NY are never going to compare with abuelita’s cooking. I try to avoid being that obnoxious person that always says ad nauseam, “Mexican food is so much better in California.” I’ll leave all that gloating to Zach now that he’s on the west coast. I went to Oaxaca Grill simply to find out if they had a good burrito at a good price that any typical ML luncher would enjoy. So what did I think? Well, I think Zach might have been somewhat right when he said, “Another day… another Chipotle knock off.”
Take a look after the jump….
The ordering style is the same: choose your type of meat, beans, toppings and condiments (AKA salsa goodness). They also have those ridiculously deceiving calorie assessments. It’s all assembly line style, which is good because the crowds were through the door and the system made for a short wait. The staff and managers were more prepared then most new venture openings. Two helpers in Oaxaca t-shirts held the doors and distributed menus so people would have their order ready. The line moved with shocking efficiency and the chef was out double-checking on the line servers and orders. Pretty damn good for first day. Well played Oaxaca.
Now let’s get down to the brass tacks. The flavor is very Americanized. White rice is the only choice and for those of you that are members of the “people against cilantro” movement you’ll be happy to find that unlike Chipotle, there was none of your foul herb present. I went for the filet mignon with pinto beans, shredded cheese, tomatillo salsa and guacamole. It all came in a tightly packed steamed white tortilla for about $11. I picked the priciest meat, plus the addition of guac, so I had a feeling I’d cross the ML limit. That was a chance I was willing to take to try the best they had to offer.
Then there was the unveiling, with your typical office pen set down for size comparison.
Then what I call, biting the head off.
It tasted good. The meat was really tender with a smokiness was reminiscent being fire grilled (not sure if it was or wasn’t cooked that way), but I didn’t think it was $11 dollars worth of good. I’m usually like my white tortillas toasted on the comal or flat top, but these were still steamy warm and tender, better then you get at fast food joints. The beans lacked enough flavor, the guacamole was fresh but unseasoned, the cheddar cheese seemed cheap and prepackaged, and the tomatillo salsa was basically just blended tomatillos. It probably didn’t help that the plain white rice diluted many of the nuances of the meal.
The burrito itself seemed smaller then Chipotle’s, but the redeeming quality was definitely the help-yourself squeeze bottles of salsa. I’m a salsa fiend! I make it at home every week and I love to smother my food in it, the spicier the better. I topped the burrito with a good squirt of their hottest habanero salsa to counter the mild tanginess of the tomatillo. It was more medium/mild but had a nice peppery habanero flavor, some parsley, and a creamy richness to it that was worth taking a few containers to go. That completely did the trick and I devoured my burrito.
It comes down to this: if you like Chipotle, you’ll like Oaxaca. The prices are similar, so if you have the dough and like Americanized Mexican then this will be right up your alley. The one thing that sets them above and apart for me is the habanero salsa, tender meat and the service. Give them some time, they just opened, maybe they’ll boost the flavor content and throw in some perks to make the price worth it, let’s say add a second rice selection, sharper cheddar and offer free chips?
Oaxaca Grill, 245 Park Ave. (on 47th btw. Park+Lex), 212-818-9500