October 18, 1996 in Features, Seven

Wrap Your Taste Buds Around A Custom Burrito

Leslie Kelly Staff Writer

Burritos are such an ingenious idea. Wrap a tortilla around a bunch of tasty ingredients and you’ve got a meal. It’s nothing fancy, but certainly filling.

These days, the custom burrito business is booming. With the opening of the second Slickrock location at Liberty Lake, there are now at least five places specializing in these hefty snacks. Sonic Burrito’s two locations and Big Mamu are the other contenders.

I recently munched my way through a hill of beans to find out which spot would come out on top in a battle of the burritos. Here’s what I discovered:

All of the eateries do a swell job of redefining the burrito by offering unusual fillings.

At Sonic Burrito, they offer such offbeat selections as a Thai burrito (a spinach tortilla loaded with brown rice, black beans, chicken, shredded carrots, red cabbage, sprouts and a special peanut sauce), a fish burrito featuring pieces of marinated cod and a teriyaki wrap featuring chicken, rice, jack cheese and spinach together with broccoli and onions that have been sauteed in the slightly sweet-soy sauce.

I’ve been to Sonic often since it opened last year and like all the choices (you can create your own burrito with crunchy veggies such as jicama and red cabbage.)

The menu proudly proclaims to offer a healthy alternative to fast food and I feel good about them only offering brown rice. However, the problem I’ve had at Sonic is that the end result is frequently bland. So, I’ve started requesting that they salt my stuffing or add extra salsa.

I recently sampled the fish burrito and was disappointed that the fish was chewy, not tender, as if it had been held in the warming tray for too long. (When Sonic first opened, they would nuke the fish in the microwave and it tasted much fresher.)

I had better luck with the Thai burrito. The peanut sauce added some heat, but the whole thing could have been more flavorful had the chicken been seasoned.

I really appreciate how quickly the line moves at Sonic. Another plus: the people working behind the counter wear plastic gloves while putting your burrito together, then take then off and discard them when they get to the cash register. (That practice should be de rigueur when people are handling food and then money, but it’s not always the case.)

Both locations of Sonic Burrito have a hip, funky feel that invites hanging out. I only wish they offered non-alcoholic beer along with the pop and juice.

Slickrock introduced a fajita burrito when it opened last spring on the South Hill. That concoction gets its wonderful savory flavor from grilled onions and peppers. The chicken and beef were also nicely seasoned and grilled, giving them a smoky quality.

At both Sonic and Slickrock, customers can choose from several different flavors of tortilla including whole wheat, spinach and tomato. But as far as I can taste, the different “flavors” of tortilla are purely pretty colors and don’t add a lot of taste.

Other choices at Slickrock include black beans or pinto, as well as a non-fat alternative to cheese and sour cream. But the most mouthwatering decision you’re going to have to make is between the five different salsas which range from a mild fresh tomato to a fiery habernero hotty.

Slickrock gets high marks for seasoning its rice with citrus and cilantro (though I know people who can’t stand the taste of that Mexican parsley, so they avoid Slickrock altogether.)

At the new Liberty Lake location, Slickrock has launched some exciting wraps - the absence of beans is what separates a wrap from a burrito - that draw on traditional dishes from around the world.

The new recipes have been developed by Dale Yates, the chef at Birkebeiner Brewery. (Birkebeiner and Slickrock are both owned by James Gimurtu.) And the new hand-held meals reflect Yates’ creativity.

The Greek, for instance, has bite-sized pieces of braised leg of lamb, couscous, tzaziki (a cucumber and yogurt salad) and an unusual “salsa” made with minced grape leaves, mint and kalamata olives that added a tangy note.

This was my favorite alternative-type burrito. The meat was wellseasoned and the other ingredients were harmonious complements to the lamb.

Other world wraps included a Thai chicken, a Lebanese with falafel (crunchy nuggets made from chickpeas) and a Cajun-style concoction with jambalaya, which I sampled. The spicy stew with chunks of chicken and sausage was top-notch, but the flour tortilla didn’t click. A big soft corn tortilla would be a better match, but I don’t think there is such an animal.

While Slickrock and Sonic cover a lot of territory, Spokane’s first burrito shop sticks with the basics.

Big Mamu offers a short menu of chicken or beef burritos with either black beans or pinto, cheese, rice, sour cream and salsa. They can be ordered in small and large sizes. The signature burrito - the Big Mamu - comes by its name honestly, weighing in 3-1/2 pounds. The Little Mamu is smaller, but still hefty.

The offerings at Big Mamu are pretty straightforward, but what sets these loaded tortillas apart is that they are so flavorful. The beans are cooked in special spices and the meats are shredded and smothered in sauce. The only innocuous element is the plain white rice.

On Mondays, try one of the specials, a rotating selection of either a Thai chicken or a Jamaican jerk chicken burrito studded with fresh mangos.

One of the things I like best about Big Mamu is the chance to add different degrees of heat with the salsas and a variety of bottled sauces to sample. The vibrant red salsa made on premises is plenty hot. For something a little tamer, search the tables for Brother Bru Bru’s African hot sauce, the slightly sweet Tiger Sauce or the Pickapeppa.

I think all the burrito joints have their strengths - I like the world wraps at Slickrock, the wide variety of veggie options at Sonic and the flavorful beans at Big Mamu.

One problem I have with all these places is that the burritos are so huge, that they are impossible to eat while holding them in your hand. (And isn’t that the idea?)

It seems to depend on the skill of the person filling the tortilla whether you’re going to end up with a tightly wound burrito or a sloppy mess. I’ve had some that are bursting at the seams.

Sonic recently added an option that gets away from that problem, offering a burrito in a bowl, or as they call it on the menu - BYOB (build your own in a bowl). Slickrock plans to add a similar item.

Of course, beans in a bowl are a whole different ballgame. Then they could market it as upscale chili.

So, who makes the best burritos in Spokane?

My top picks are split: the Greek wrap at Slickrock is the best alternative-type burrito and the flavorful Little Mamu with chicken and black beans comes out ahead in the traditional category.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Burrito spots Sonic Burritos 2622 E. 29th, 536-1170 1209 Hamilton, 484-4158 Slickrock Burrito 2926 S. Grand Blvd., 747-6041 1332 Liberty Lake Road, 892-1678 Big Mamu 8 N. Howard, 624-9395

This sidebar appeared with the story: Burrito spots Sonic Burritos 2622 E. 29th, 536-1170 1209 Hamilton, 484-4158 Slickrock Burrito 2926 S. Grand Blvd., 747-6041 1332 Liberty Lake Road, 892-1678 Big Mamu 8 N. Howard, 624-9395

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