California Tortilla: A Strong Challenger in State College’s Burrito Rivalry
The saga continues as burrito crafters and enthusiasts fight to win over the taste buds and hunger of every burrito-craving student in Happy Valley. California Tortilla enters the field with a unique twist that deviates from the standard burrito craftmanship. It separates itself from its formidable opponents such as Chipotle and Qdoba as it offers “Chef-Inspired” Burritos along with a wide range of salads and fish tacos alike. It’s very likely that the loyal Chipotle crowd will not be moving far away from its favored burrito joint, but for those on West College, it’s a refreshing restaurant that saves you the extra block you must walk if you usually head to Qdoba.
Full disclosure: California Tortilla wanted us to try their burritos and write about it so badly, that they gave us free burritos and drinks, which we took full advantage of. We had two burritos each, we regret nothing.
Walking into California Tortilla, it’s natural to immediately compare it to the other burrito-based establishments in town, of which Chipotle reigns king. The system is similar (if not horribly flawed in this setup, which Deasy will get to later) to every single one. There’s glass where you can see your burrito child hand-crafted from ingredients right in front of your eyes, like a conveyor belt of hunger desire. The options here are plentiful, or so it would seem.
Ranging from Korean BBQ to original to steak-fueled carnivorous madness, the flavors here are extremely diverse, and likely a product of the company’s attempt to build its own niche in the tough burrito market. But the flavors come off too strong. Instead of having a few well crafted burritos, it has an onslaught of mediocre burritos that should have been more thoroughly taste tested. Flavors like the aforementioned Korean BBQ come off as an attack on your palate, assaulting you with too much flavor for such a sparsely decked burrito.
These burritos are light on content, with more rice than meat. The ratio is a serious disappointment. I believe this also causes my second problem, which is that the burritos were awfully bland. To contrast that, California Tortilla has one of the most impressive displays of hot sauces I have ever seen. A wall of varying sauces, all with their own unique brand of flavor, more than makes up for the lack of taste in the burritos themselves.
Overall, California Tortilla is a nice place, with very pleasant staff (but I can’t imagine that lasting too long, places like that sort of suck the happiness from you and use it in the sauce for the burritos), moderately priced food that is guaranteed to leave you full, and enough sauces to keep you entertained for a good while. California Tortilla has beat out Qdoba as the West side of Downtown’s answer to the burrito hunger.
On a daily basis, I walk past Qdoba and quickly glance inside as I lick my chops and hunger for a burrito that I know I cannot afford. Unfortunately, now have to walk past two places and painfully walk away with an empty feeling in my stomach as I make the long journey home from campus.
California Tortilla enters the stage as a potential opponent capable of dethroning Qdoba as the premier burrito outlet on the West side. However, California Tortilla may have a different, more complex plan in mind that moves away from your typical burrito style assembly line. In my opinion, California Tortilla mimics a Five Guys ordering process. You walk up to one of the two registers and ask for either a custom made burrito or one of the “Chef-Inspired” creations. Unfortunately, you never move down the line and are left only to glance through bystanders to get a glimpse of what may look good and may look like it’s been sitting for quite some time. As Jack hinted, I wasn’t a fan of this process. I attempted to order my “go-to” burrito that contains chicken along with a surplus of sides such as guacamole, sour cream, veggies, cheese, corn, and lettuce. Unfortunately, I’m not as quick off the top of my head as I used to be and upon ordering my burrito I forgot the side of corn and sour cream. A mistake like this would not have occurred had these sides been present in front of my drooling face.
It seemed that the restaurant aims to put emphasis on its “Chef-Inspired” creations such as the Korean BBQ or the Bacon Chicken Club. Upon ordering one of these creations, you are able to customize it any way you want and add whatever sides you may feel necessary. In fact, I didn’t really order a custom made burrito, but instead a No-Meato burrito with Chicken. Sounds a little counter intuitive right? Nonetheless, my No-Meato burrito with chicken did not disappoint.
It housed an abundance of peppers and onions, but the real kicker was the sauces that were added. With the choice of 75 different hot sauces, it looks a little intimidating, but luckily I was directed to try a habanero-infused sauce that was fairly mild and contained a lot of flavor. It was the true difference in separating a bland burrito to a burrito with a unique flavor. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the sauce named the Colon Cleaner until later. Lastly, the guacamole was better than Chipotle’s. California Tortilla’s guac was very fresh and was not overpowering in avocado flavor, it had an excellent balance.
California Tortilla is different than the traditional burrito eateries in town, but for those looking to try something new, it’s the place to be. I only wish I had more time to try its Fish Tacos or other menu items, but I am more than positive I will be back to place my burrito order right next time.
When the news broke that another burrito chain was coming to State College, I didn’t think much of it. There are already numerous establishments that offer similar menu items and are located closer to my apartment than California Tortilla. Like the rest of the students here, I’m currently in a love affair with Chipotle, so when I stepped inside California Tortilla, it felt a little like cheating. That sensation seemed to go away quickly as a crowd of friendly employees immediately greeted me
When I looked over the menu I was a bit overwhelmed at first. This isn’t your typical ‘build-your-own-burrito’ place; there are an assortment of burritos, bowls, salads, tacos, fajitas, soups, and chilies to choose from. I went with the Korean BBQ burrito that comes with chicken, pork, or steak, rice, fajita veggies, sweet and spicy Korean BBQ sauce, crisp slaw, Siracha chili sauce and cilantro.
Once I got my order, I made my way to a table when something beautiful caught my eye. On the far wall of the restaurant lies the ‘Wall of Flame’: a collection of 75 different hot sauces. I thought I was overwhelmed when I looked at the menu, but this was by far the hardest decision I made all night – which hot sauce do I choose?! Do I go with Pyro-Mania? Maybe Blair’s Original Death Sauce? Nope, I wimped out and got the Jim Beam hot sauce.
After giving my (absolutely massive) burrito a hot sauce bath, I bit into it and it immediately became clear why the ‘Wall of Flame’ exists – the burrito needed more flavor. Don’t get me wrong, it would be good without anything else on it, but why settle for just good? I wish I had the time, money, and insatiable appetite to try other things on the menu because it all looked delicious.
There are a few things California Tortilla has going for it that Chipotle and Qdoba can’t offer – like its own parking lot. It’s pretty rare for a restaurant on College Avenue to have one and it will definitely come in handy for people that aren’t within walking distance.
Another advantage California Tortilla has is its location. I live a stone’s throw away from Chipotle, so personally it’s a bit out of the way. But for anyone living west of Atherton Street, Tortilla is a perfect location. I’m looking forward to making my way there again – and exploring more hot sauces.