It’s 1982, the year of “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, and “Bosom Buddies,” the sitcom that launched the career of the great Tom Hanks.
It’s also the year Chiquita Bonita, a family-owned restaurant, started perfecting the craft of serving delicious, filling dishes that went directly from the grill to your plate.
Unlike many restaurants, Chiquita Bonita doesn’t use a microwave to melt its cheese or make things warm. They have a proper broiler to do all of that. And let me tell you, this makes a world of difference, especially in the melting of cheese. This way, you actually get a nice brownish, crispy, crusty top to your cheese, providing a crunchy texture while you are biting into refried beans, chips and tortillas. It is way better than getting some watery goop that a microwave produces, which I think is a disservice to both the customer and the meal. Luckily, you’ll never have that issue at Chiquita Bonita. But I digress.
When it comes to meals and appetizers, let’s begin with the Carne con Tomatillo ($14.50), sautéed steak strips with tomatillo sauce and onions. It comes served on a very hot plate and is complimented with beans and rice. The steak is cut into two- to three-inch strips and then smothered in the green tomatillo sauce, which is very slight, meaning nothing about the flavor profile is overwhelming. Instead, it’s like a finely mixed album on which you hear all of the instruments together at the same time. The spice is hot, but it doesn’t take away from the flavor of the tomatillos. And it’s perfectly salted. The meat itself is tender, thick and juicy. And, as previously mentioned, the cheese is perfectly melted atop the refried beans, which are not greasy. Imagine that: non-greasy refried beans with crispy melted cheese atop of them … mmm. The rice is fluffy, not sticky, and has a mild spice flavoring that is delightful.
Let us now discuss the chimichanga ($11.95). In short, a chimichanga is a deep-fried burrito. I ordered the chicken chimichanga, which comes stuffed with chicken, beans, and cheese — deep fried to golden, crispy perfection. When you cut into this little piece of heaven, the first thing you’ll notice is the crunch. The tortilla is made from flour, so it gets super crunchy and golden brown. And that crunch is just the beginning of good things to come. Next, the steaming, melted cheese comes oozing out. I mean, it’s like a volcano of cheese! Also plated are the beans and rice, along with a huge side of sour cream and guacamole.
Finally, I ordered the appetizer platter ($14.95), which features nachos, taquitos, flautas and quesadillas. This is a huge plate, and the entire base of the appetizer sampler plate are the nachos, a huge pile of chips covered in beans, shredded beef and cheese. All that is then baked until the cheese is melted to a nice golden brown with to a light crispiness. Atop of the nachos are placed flautas, taquitos and quesadillas. Everyone knows what quesadillas consist of, but do you know the difference between flautas and taquitos? They look almost identical to each other: rolled, deep-fried tortillas filled with choice of meat (chicken or beef), beans or cheese. But there is a difference, and that is in the type of tortilla used to make them. Flautas are assembled with flour tortillas, and taquitos with corn. The easiest way to remember the difference is that flautas and flour both start with the letter “F.”
Let me tell you about the appetizer platter too. It is so huge that I feel three, maybe four people could share this as a meal on its own. And trust me, not a single person would leave hungry or disappointed. The appetizer is that big. I needed both hands to pick up the plate. To me, it felt like it weighed over three pounds. With the platter comes huge side orders of sour cream and guacamole.
Like most Mexican restaurants, you get unlimited chips and salsa as soon as you sit down. But here they make their own chips and salsa and both are excellent. Chips that are warm but not greasy, and the chunky salsa is medium spicy.
Before I forget, there is a free parking lot in the back, but you really don’t need it because street spaces are abundant on the east side of Pasadena. They have a TV on the back wall that usually has sports showing. And as for alcohol and other beverages, they have Mexican and domestic beer, draft beer, wine, horchata (rice water), coffee, and all the other soft drinks commonly available.
If you are a fan of quality Mexican food served in big portions by a friendly staff, Chiquita Bonita is well worth checking out.
3565 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 796-5592, Major Cards/Beer and Wine