Cal­i­for­nia Tor­tilla el­e­vates con­ve­nience food Tex-Mex style If you go

Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow - - FRONT PAGE - BY CHRIS ZELK STAFF WRITER

Cal­i­for­nia Tor­tilla is the lat­est lo­cal en­trant of fast-ca­sual eater­ies spe­cial­iz­ing in healthy in­gre­di­ents and a cus­tom­iz­a­ble din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The Mary­land-based chain has dozens of restau­rants along the East Coast, but the Hix­son lo­ca­tion, which opened in late Oc­to­ber, is the com­pany’s first in Ten­nessee. CalTort, as it’s also known, is sim­i­lar to pop­u­lar Mex­i­can-style eater­ies such as Chipo­tle Mex­i­can Grill and Baja Fresh but oc­ca­sion­ally ven­tures into other in­ter­na­tional fla­vors.

THE SPACE

Cal­i­for­nia Tor­tilla is the most re­cent ad­di­tion to the small shop­ping cen­ter on High­way 153 that houses Mike’s Tav­ern, FirstWatch and sev­eral other shops. It fea­tures a well-lighted, open din­ing space with few frills and seat­ing for ap­prox­i­mately 75. The decor leans to­ward av­o­cado green, with chrome and blond-wood ta­bles through­out.

THE MENU

I could eat Mex­i­can food lit­er­ally ev­ery day, so CalTort’s ar­ray of tacos, bur­ri­tos, sal­ads, que­sadil­las, na­chos and bowls had my im­me­di­ate in­ter­est. In ad­di­tion to a half-dozen spe­cial­ties and about as many other choices, one of the things that sets this place apart from oth­ers is a build-your-own bowl with nearly a dozen po­ten­tial in­gre­di­ents from which to choose. Bot­tled and foun­tain bev­er­ages, fresh-brewed iced tea and desserts are also avail­able. With most dishes priced in the $8 range, Cal­i­for­nia Tor­tilla of­fers good value con­sid­er­ing the qual­ity of the in­gre­di­ents.

THE OR­DER

We set­tled on the ba­con chicken club bowl ($8.59), build-your-own bowl ($8.59), an or­der of three street tacos ($10.99) and a small side of tor­tilla chips and gua­camole ($3.09).

The chips and guac were sur­pris­ingly good to be that cheap, with thick chunks of av­o­cado through­out the de­cent­sized por­tion and an am­ple amount of fresh, crunchy tor­tilla chips. › Where: Cal­i­for­nia

Tor­tilla, 5215 High­way 153 › Hours: 10:30 a.m.-8:30

p.m., Mon­day-Sun­day

› Price range: $3.49$10.99

› Al­co­hol: No

› Phone: 423-602-8226

› Web­site:

cal­i­for­ni­a­tor­tilla.com

Grilled mesquite chicken and steak, pork car­ni­tas, black­ened chicken, taco beef, black­ened fish and veg­gies are an­chor choices for the build-your-own bowl that can be com­pleted with sev­eral sauces and quite a se­lec­tion of slaws, veg­eta­bles and grains. We chose black­ened chicken, Mex­i­can quinoa, mango salsa, ro­maine let­tuce, ji­cama slaw, black beans and fa­jita veg­gies for the build-your-own bowl. The fla­vor was ex­cel­lent although the black­ened chicken was a bit dry. The ba­con chicken club bowl is a sim­ple dish but has lots of fla­vor. It comes loaded with grilled mesquite chicken, ranch dress­ing, jack cheese and ba­con tossed with ro­maine and toma­toes. Por­tions for both bowls were about what I would ex­pect for the money.

For the street tacos I opted for va­ri­ety, sam­pling the Car­ni­tas, Cal­i­for­nia Sun­set and Korean BBQ , and I chose soft corn tor­tillas in­stead of flour as the start­ing point for all three. CalTort clearly logged some hours in the kitchen per­fect­ing these tacos. The fla­vor pro­file was re­ally some­thing for each of them.

The Car­ni­tas is made with pork car­ni­tas, fresh av­o­cado, jack cheese, en­chi­lada sauce, an onion-ci­lantro rel­ish and topped with shred­ded let­tuce. I opted for grilled mesquite chicken for the Korean BBQ , which is rounded out with jack cheese, a sweet and spicy Korean bar­be­cue sauce, slaw, fa­jita veg­eta­bles, sriracha and green onions.

The Cal­i­for­nia Sun­set comes with grilled mesquite chicken, av­o­cado, Spicy Sun­set sauce, melted jack cheese and the onion-ci­lantro rel­ish.

All were to my lik­ing, but the Korean BBQ was best; the bar­be­cue sauce, in par­tic­u­lar, re­ally brings ev­ery­thing to­gether to make a great, un­con­ven­tional taco. It’s a tie for the other two — they were both equally good and fill­ing.

THE SER­VICE

CalTort’s food is made to or­der at the counter. There was a small line ahead of us that moved very quickly, and the counter staff got ev­ery­thing right with the or­der.

THE VER­DICT

Be­fore this visit, a friend men­tioned that he re­cently tried Cal­i­for­nia Tor­tilla’s food and found it to be bland, but that was not my ex­pe­ri­ence. The only thing I would change would be for the restau­rant to sell beer, which I con­sider a musthave with Mex­i­can food. For those with a yen for Mex­i­can and not a lot of time to wait for it, CalTort is a step above tra­di­tional fast food.

STAFF PHOTO BY CHRIS ZELK

An or­der of three street tacos from Cal­i­for­nia Tor­tilla. From left, Korean BBQ, Cal­i­for­nia Sun­set and Car­ni­tas.

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