Smells Like Bean Spirit

Posted January 21, 2010 in Eats

The poor, misunderstood and maligned burrito, stepchild of the Mexican food world, is often criticized for its lack of originality and authenticity—“burritos,” say the naysayers, are simply not real Mexican food. They are, these critics might argue, a bastardization of the cuisine, a cuisine threatened by American’s fast food fodder served up in roadsides across the land. It’s more likely though that the burrito is a fantastic symbol of California culture—a refried bean-laden tribute to the possibilities when differing cultures clash, meld and change.


Armando’s in Moreno Valley is a Shangri-La of just this type of Mexican fare. Very unassuming to look at, frankly, almost dingy with the one bright spot being a widescreen perpetually showing SportsCenter, you would never know when you walk in that you’re in one of those SoCal gems; a nondescript little joint that just happens to serve up kick-ass tacos, tortas and burritos in copious servings. 


You might get a small hint if you come in during lunch on a weekday, where students from the high schools and the MoVal branch of RCC pour into Armando’s in droves. Seemingly every teenager in the area knows the place, knows that it’s the place. Adults too—I often hit Armando’s for lunch, strategically arriving around 11:30 a.m., just before the waves of young-uns. Armando’s is a prime culprit in me packing on an extra 10 pounds over the past few months. 


It starts with fries and chips. Their normal fries are a monstrous affair that easily can fill an entire table of the famished. Not only that, they’re airy, salty, have just a hint of grease to them and remind me of a guilty pleasure I’ve sworn off, namely McDonald’s fries. Getting regular fries here though is a bit like going to Claim Jumper and sharing a salad. No, better to get the carne asada fries or chips, both essentially the same deal when it comes to what’s being slathered on, with the base either being tortilla chips or French fries. On top sits a verdant lake of guacamole that if a bit ersatz melds well with the carbs below. Next sits a variety of shredded cheeses that also aren’t going to win any artisan awards for cheese making but just fit, you know? Then lording over all, the carne, again not award-worthy in any sense, but well-seasoned and moist and perfectly attuned to the rest of what is essentially hangover food. 


The aforementioned burrito also shines at Armando’s. It starts with quality old-school tortillas, all doughy flour without a trace of olive oil, sun-dried tomato, or any other modern, silly, Trader Joe’sy-type accessory. Burritos here are machos and not in the Del Taco way—they strut their way to the table. One variant is the chili relleno, half bean and cheese, half aggressively delicious chili that attacks the sense with a hard right cross. Another is the shrimp burrito, an abode for rice and shrimp to come together as one in perfect taste and harmony, all while leaving a somewhat leaden lump of joy in your stomach. The other burritos rock as well, making Armando’s worth even the drive into MoVal.


Armando’s Mexican Food, 26150 Iris Ave. Ste. 9, Moreno Valley, (951) 242-0577. MC, V.


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