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Burrito Beach

Chicago IL (O'Hare Airport)

5600 n mannheim rd, chicago IL 60666 - terminal 3-h/k food court
daily 5am-10pm

Burrito Beach (Chicago IL) - taco review

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Rating: 86
Price: $$$$

On a trip from the surprisingly taco-diverse Midwest back to the taco stronghold of the Pacific Northwest, I had a layover of a few hours in Chicago's delightful O'Hare Airport. On this particular day (26 August 2011), Hurricane Irene was rapidly approaching the US' East Coast, and predictions were mostly dire, and there was talk of ordering evacuations of low-lying coastal communities around New York and Long Island. Naturally, my thoughts turned to New York's hippest li'l taco stand, Rockaway Taco. How would they 'weather' this 'storm'? Could their delicious guacamole make it through the winds? Would the storm surge inundate their fish-frying operation?

Confused, concerned, and above all extremely bored, I walked rapidly around O'Hare, attempting to get placed on an earlier flight and failing in every respect. However, near gate K3, a twinkling' beacon of hope caught my eye: 'Burrito Beach,' it said, 'Mexican Grill & More', in a delightfully casual font. Even more intriguing, the lines here were significantly longer than Reggio's Pizza to the right or B-Smooth to the left. People were filing through and Burrito Beach's highly trained staff was whipping together tacos, burritos, and quesadillas at an extremely high rate. Nobody seemed to be ordering '& More', which I took to mean the Beach Bowl Salads. Comforted that, at the very least, the tacos would be more cared for than my previous airport-taco experience - the disappointing Que Bueno also, coincidentally, on a connection out of Madison).

I stepped into line behind a pleasant family and ordered myself two Baja Chicken tacos. What is a Baja Chicken, you may ask? A quick Google image search reveals this delicious-looking sandwich. But, based on my vague memories of Baja Blast Mountain Dew and Baja-style Gorditas (Chalupas?) at Taco Bell, I generally interpret Baja to mean a slightly spicy flavoring blend with creamy overtones. My tacos were whipped together rapidly by two men, and the options flew at me, and I followed my standard taco-reviewing style of 'take what they offer you as standard': Salsa? (yes). Lettuce? (yes). Cheese? (yes). This strategy has the added bonus of typically providing you with the most calories available for your chosen price, which I was pleased by. Burrito Beach did disappoint me, though - there were clearly 2 distinct salsa options, 1 red and 1 green (this was reinforced by the menu, which offered me 'Mild' or 'Medium' salsa). Unfortunately, when I said nodded vigorously and screamed 'Yes!' to salsa, I received no follow up question asking for my salsa preference. I received the red. Furthermore, I was not questioned as to my preference for corn or flour tortillas, another choice the menu stated I would have. Flour seemed to be standard.

My tacos were carefully and rapidly wrapped individually in aluminum foil, handed to me by a 3rd staff member, and I went on my way to a sit around at gate K4 while I dined. So far, Burrito Beach should have served as inspiration to Que Bueno! While made rapidly, the service was skilled and friendly; the taco-juices were isolated from each other; and the cheese went under the lettuce, and important step for partial melting purposes.

When I unwrapped the first taco, things were looking good. The tortilla had that pasty flour tortillas consistency but was not overly soggy. The chicken was cubed and the seasoning was visible. The cheese was getting melty, but was able to remain a firm layer on top of the chicken. The lettuce was sparse enough to not really be noticeable, but thickly cut to provide the illusion of artisanally-made food product. As I picked it up, a thin stream of mixed chicken and salsa juiced poured out onto the foil wrapper (it eventually ended up on my leg), but things held together well, and there was noticeably terrain beneath the tortillas.

The first bite was surprisingly good. The chicken was juicy, tender, and non-squeaky, with a 'medium' level of spice aftertaste. The cheese was a bit unevenly distributed so that some bites packed more of a kick than others, but it was a mild cheese that only enhanced the flavor when it was noticeable and did not detract while hiding in the background. The lettuce was just kind of there, as lettuce is wont to do. Throughout the rest of the taco, the same general impression was maintained: this was reasonable-quality chicken with mild, inoffensive ingredients combined on a flour tortilla. However, it was clear that the staff at Burrito Beach did the best they could to transform these lackluster ingredients into a taco approaching the 'good' levels. I happily ate my way through the rest of the first and all of the second taco rather quickly, then performed the 'walk' test, wherein I walked back to my gate. When I arrived about 8 minutes later, I still had a nice spicy flavor in my mouth, and my stomach was pleasantly full.

Clearly, airport tacos have the odds stacked against them. Prices are high; ingredients are mass-produced; stands are typically crowded, and tacos must be made quickly. Despite these many disadvantages, Burrito Beach turned out a decent product, and I happily accepted my Beach Club Membership card. On my next trip through the K and L terminals, I wouldn't be surprised if I stopped by Burrito Beach again, assuming I lack the foresight to pack a lunch of my own.

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