[Scroll down to the bottom for an update. I went back to try the fillet mignon]
On North Vasco Road there is a Chevron gas station that seems to have one of the highest gas prices in town. It’s weird because there are three other gas stations within throwing distance (literally) that are 30¢ cheaper per gallon. Since they aren’t competing on price, I wonder what their competitive advantage is. Is it the Chevron brand? Is is the car wash? Heck, maybe it’s something like the car wash in Breaking Bad (I kid!).
One thing they do offer though is food, so maybe that’s it.
It’s been a couple of years, but there used to be a little known taqueria hidden inside. It was authentic Mexican food that was definitely worthy of a lunchtime visit. At one time it was called Las Primos, another El Mariachi Loco. I’m not sure which came first, but it was a certainly a hidden gem in Livermore. Heck, I think it was even open 24 hours – perfect for many-a-crowds.
Fast forward to 2014 and things are quite different.
Instead of authentic Mexican, there are two smaller known chains in its place. First is Fat Burger, which I will surely try later as part of The Great Livermore Restaurant Challenge, the other is Cilantro Fresh Mexican Grill, a smaller Los Angeles chain. Since I was only hungry for a light lunch, I figured I’d give them a try and save my burger craving for later.
Their menu is similar to Chipotle. You choose between a taco, burrito, bowl or quesadilla, then pick your filling and add your toppings. Prices are also similar, floating around $7 for an entree.
I opted for the Soft Tacos with Shredded Carnitas ($7.25) and a Small Iced Tea ($1.50). I kept it simple by adding lettuce, shredded cheese and their creamy avocado salsa.
After paying a total of $9.54 (after tax) I walked to my seat feeling a little disappointed with my value. It looked good but seemed kind of small for almost ten bucks.
First the good. The food was definitely fresh (not at all greasy), the lettuce was vibrantly green and the avocado salsa was great. I’d rate the hotness factor of the salsa a medium+. On the downside the Shredded Carnitas was surprisingly bland. It really lacked flavor. Overall I think I could have done much better at home, and I’m a taco season packet kind of guy.
But based on my one-time experience, for $10 I didn’t feel like I got my bang for my buck, flavor and portions. It is fresh, but with all the other Mexican cuisine offerings in town, it’s a tough sell. The closest offerings are Chipotle and Baja Fresh, and if I was to rank the three, Cilantro would be in 3rd place in my opinion.
Now don’t trust my take on one order of tacos. Yelp reviewers overall rate Cilantro really good and they seem to really love their steak burritos. Cilantro does advertise themselves as “Home of the Fillet Mignon,” so maybe they’re onto something.
The next time I’m getting gas there (ha!) I’ll be sure and give the steak burrito a sample. But it’ll have to wait till after I give Fat Burger to try. There are just so many places to dine in Livermore. Mmmmm.
[UPDATE 9/18/2014] Ok, my curiosity got the best of me. After reading the positive Yelp reviews about their steak burrito and the big banner in their windows that says “Home of the Fillet Mignon,” I just had to go back and give them another chance after my ho-hum carnitas taco experience.
I was in the mood for a taqueria style burrito and this time I ordered me up one with their top-of-the-line meat. I just added some rice, black beans, sour cream, and some cheese. They threw in some chips and my grand total came to $8.99.
My first thought was that the burrito was a little small for nine bucks, but I could barely finish it, and I was pretty hungry.
Let me get right to the point – the beef was awesome. The flavor of the marinade was superb and it was a good cut of meat. Let me just say that is was T-E-N-D-E-R.
At nine bucks it’s a bit pricy, but it is their exclusive item on the menu. While the rice was a little dry and the chips were just ok, I’m really glad I came back to try their specialty.
Is Cilantro Mexican Grill worth a visit? If you want some excellent beef in your burrito, give them a try. The fillet mignon really is pretty darn good.