Pros: Clean, tasty, fresh with a friendly staff
Cons: A little more in price than Taco Bell
I, normally, avoid fast food unless I am in a strange area and don't have the time to look for a decent place to grab a bite to eat. But, I'd heard good things about Baja Fresh and we received a coupon in our local paper that was good for $5 off on any order over $10! That's a pretty good deal so I decided to do it the next time I was in a hurry for a quick meal. This week, I had my opportunity and I must say, I was pleasantly surprised.
Upon entry, I was impressed with the bright, modern, black & white motif, clean, physical property. On one side wall is the counter and kitchen area. The main dining area is populated with tables and chairs that can easily moved to various arrangements to accommodate large or small groups. In the center of the dining area is a round serving kiosk with half of it devoted to bowls or trays of salsa and Pico de Gallo salsa and two kinds of pickled hot peppers. The other half is stocked with black, plastic forks, spoons and knives, along with a healthy supply of paper napkins. More of this in the details, later.
The menu is posted up on a large menu above the ordering counter. There are also multi-paged, folded, vest-pocket sized printed menus stocked in special holders mounted on the posts of the movable nylon-web railings used to form the lanes to direct people to one of the three order-taking/payment registers. Good, brief descriptions do a good job of describing what the customer should expect for each item ordered.
Their menu is fairly extensive and feature burritos, salads, quesadillas, taquitos, tacos and fajitas. There is a small selection for kids. Side orders include quacamole, side salad, rice, black or pinto beans and chips w/salsa bar. The menu is easy to read, understand and is organized sensibly.
The customer flow is based on entering of your order at the cash register counter and waiting until your name is called to pick up your order in an area just off to the right of the ordering area. Seating is totally open it is totally self-service, including the beverage bar with soft drinks, iced tea and water.
Because I had entered at a non-peak hour, I was able to order immediately. I chose a BURRITO ULTIMO "Melted jack and cheddar cheese, gilled peppers, chilies, onions, rice, Salsa Baja and sour cream." A picture accompanied the description. A choice of steak, chicken or carnitas (pork) are offered with slights different prices: steak/carnitas @ $6.20; chicken @ $5.75. "Enchilado Style" is an upgrade on any burrito, quesadillas, or taquitos for an additonal $1.49. This consists of chips, smothered with cheese and fresh salsa, sour cream and fresh Pico de Gallo, on the side. I chose the Carnitas and the upgrade along with a small soft drink ($1.29). My total cost was $9.72.
My name was called in just a few minutes. I had barely filled several small plastic cups of the various salsas and gotten my plastic eating utensils. My order was on a black plastic plate that is heavier than most paper plates and was sufficiently stiff to be able to pick up the plate and handle it without fear of it folding or collapsing from the mere weight of the food portions.
The burrito was fairly good sized and there was plenty of lean carnitas (pork) along with the other ingredients. I was impressed that it was not mostly rice and other filler foods to make you think you were getting your money's worth. This was the real deal. The upgrade of chips with cheese and the quacamole and sour cream really rounded out the dish.
The burrito was good - nice texture, not to dry with plenty of meat and flavor. The 3 kinds of salsa and the Pico de Gallo salsa available from the salsa bar in unlimited quantities really made it possible to flavor the burrito in various ways to suit your taste. I thought the mild (dark) salsa was far too bland and even the medium one (green) was lacking in hotness so I used the red (hot) salsa mixed with the fresh Pico de Gallo (diced tomato, a little chopped onion and cilantro) was the right mix of flavors. I finished the whole thing along with my diet Pepsi. I enjoyed it and thought it was a reasonable lunch for just under $10. It was a fair deal, not a great deal but tastier and more healthy than a burger from one of the big chains.
What I particularly liked was some of the details they went to. For instance, the soft drink bar had both Diet Pepsi and caffeine-free Diet Pepsi, along with regular Pepsi. And, even more surprising, they had both caffeine-free Mug Root Beer and the regular version. They also offered iced tea and flavored ice tea (raspberry).
The salsa bar the 3 cooked salsas and one fresh Pico de Gallo salsa, plus the hot peppers. And, there was bottled hot sauce (2 brands), to spice up the food if the hot salsa wasn't hot enough. This was available in unlimited quantities, unlike my previous visit to a competitor of theirs, Chipotle.
And, the plastic utensils were heavy-duty - not the flexible, frail, cheap kind you find at KFC. The black plastic matched the black plastic plate used for the food orders. And, the plastic knife actually had a top stiffener molded into the top of the blade to make it very stiff and strong. If you were to look at in cross-section, it has the shape of a "T" beam - another impressive detail!
And, they stress that no orders are made in advance. Everything is FRESH and made from scratch. There are no microwave ovens in use.
The food was not outstanding but decent. The staff was helpful and cordial. All things considered, it is a good step above most fast food franchise places. It is not nearly as good as a good, local, independent tacqueria or Mexican restaurant. What I am saying it is better than the fast food chains - Taco Bell, Del Taco, McDonalds, Burger King, etc. And, it is better for you.
I enjoyed it enough that I might come back. I think I'd like to try their grilled Mahi Mahi Tacos or Fish Tacos.
My wife saw me write the review and was curious. So, we went back, today, for lunch. She had the Mahi Mahi taco and I had their "Tres Tacos" (3 baja style tacos).
Her Mahi Mahi was chuncks of grilled fish on two small soft tortillas with shredded cabbage and some fresh Pico de Gallo. She thought it was just OK. On my 3 tacos, I had one fish, one steak and one carnitas (pork). I liked the steak and fish one. The carnitas was rather bland and the meat was a bit gummy - a weird texture. The steak was a little tough but tasty. The fish was the best - breaded, deep fried fish chunks. Chips came with both tacos and quacamole came with my Tres Tacos.
It was a cheap lunch - with 2 small soft drinks, it came to $10.99.