Late-night Mexican joints are the God-given antidote to all that is awesome and evil about drinking a lot. Just as a first date can rarely withstand the unveiling of a fantasy football addiction, intoxicant-induced cottonmouth typically falls to the courageous might of an oniony guacamole and chewy carne asada squashed into a tightly wrapped burrito. Tangy tomatillo salsa — three cups, please — only clarifies things further, and Univision soaps offer reprieve from the echoes of loud music and louder conversation.
In the same spirit of Taco Express and Taco Star comes Big Burrito, an Arizona-based, family-owned chain. The eight-month-old ex-Arby's juts up against the southwest corner of North Academy Boulevard and Austin Bluffs Parkway, joining neighbors Village Inn and Waffle House as restaurants whose existence is most ostensibly justified by the need for post-midnight grub. But open late though it is, there's more to be found at Big Burrito than just an unlocked door and a hot stove.
The walls are red and cream, while the typical huge menu greets diners: Tortas, tostadas, burritos, enchiladas, tacos, sides and combinations are all available to budget eaters for roughly $2 to $7.50. A wide sampling yields consistently strong flavors, some pleasant surprises and one warning: Don't get the chicken items to-go, unless you're particularly enamored with soggy tacos, clothes and car seats.
Otherwise, the chicken taco ($1.75) is large, packed full of flavorful, shredded dark-meat chicken, lettuce and an American cheese mix; one is almost a meal, three is almost a food coma. Equally tasty, though singular in focus, is the chicken burrito ($3.30) of red-chili-marinated chicken, juice and not much else. True to name, the burritos here are bigger than at any Taco-titled counterpart, and cheap to boot.
The king burrito, and best-seller, is the aforementioned carne asada ($4.30). Big Burrito does it much like others, with guac and steak, but the creamy green stuff is full of chunky onions and tomatoes, made daily in five-gallon tubs. And the carne is tender, with just enough pushback on the teeth.
Sampling elsewhere, the adobada torta ($4.30) is a little heavy on the chewy bread, but is stacked with great, chopped, marinated pork sporting a nice, easy burn. The breakfast burrito of bacon, potatoes, eggs and cheese ($3.30) can (and should) be had all day, as it tastes like bacon, egg and cheese nirvana. The shredded beef tostada ($3.40) is filling, with a refried bean layer over standard veggies, plus a surprising green bell pepper kick. The chicken enchiladas ($3.60) come as a duo, covered in cheese and a red chili sauce with actual dimension and spice; it's definitely one of the better reds out there.
Which brings us to the carne asada fries ($6.70), a monstrosity of chopped asada, green peppers, onions, cheese and guacamole on starch sticks. It's twice as awesome as it sounds, reminding me of nothing so much as a Mexican poutine.
As bleary-eyed bowlers and bar closers have always known, late-night dining is a total crapshoot, with an emphasis on "crap." But talking to you poker types, I'll see your Waffle House, Village Inn or Taco Star, and raise you the flavor, selection and size of artery-clogging throat-kickers found at Big Burrito.