El Cortijo (Burlington, VT)

Sometimes one door close and another one opens…

So recently, I decided to apply for a Nexus card, the trusted traveler program between the US and Canada, giving you fast access through customs and immigration. While I do go to Montreal fairly often, that’s only one reason I got the card: it also gives you (for no additional cost or paperwork) access to Global Entry (expedited immigration at US airports), Sentri (the Mexican-US program), and TSA Precheck (which is like a time machine whisking you back to 2001, where you no longer need to remove your shoes, and can leave liquids and the like in your bag). But it required me to do a Canada Border Services Agency interview as well, which meant driving up to Champlain, NY for an interview. I decided to take a day off of work and make a fun trip out of it.

Ideally, there was one spot I wanted to visit in Burlington, VT, called Sadie Katz, that several people told me produced a seriously good NY-style pastrami sandwich. Unfortunately, our one attempted trip to Sadie Katz found the place intractably busy, and we vowed to come back a different day. Well, about two months after that, in late 2011, Sadie Katz closed, so we never got to try it out.

But that bad news turned out to have a bright side: the location (which is actually a diner, long ago it was opened as the Oasis Diner), was then leased by the Farmhouse Group (the folks that run the Farmhouse Tap and Grill down the street), who opened it on New Years Eve 2011 as El Cortijo Taqueria Y Cantina, a Mexican restaurant featuring local meats and produce. They’ve got a basic menu of tacos, burritos, soups, salads, and a handful of Mexican-style entrees prepared with local ingredients.

So stop number one on my last minute trip through Burlington was El Cortijo.

Looking over the menu, I realized it had been a while since I’d been able to have a good, honest Mexican-style taco, so I ended opting for a pair of tacos (one carnitas, one pollo) and sides of a salad and Spanish rice. Overall, these were good tacos, with really tender and flavorful meat (although the chicken was shredded and served a little on the wet side), good fresh toppings (including some great radish), and some quality tortillas (although I’d prefer if they served them up in doubled-up tortillas like some places do, since I had blowout with the pollo taco). The Spanish rice was also a treat: done well, it’s one of my favorite sides. Alas, most places it’s just kind of, well, rice. Here it was rice, spicy, and flavorful.

While it’s a bit on the pricey side, that’s to be expected with the local vendors they are using (for example, my chicken came from Adam’s Farm), since local quality can cost a bit. The execution of the dishes was good, and they had some good beer to go with things. Seeing that Vermont doesn’t have a lot of good Mexican options, El Cortijo is a particularly good addition to the area’s dining options.

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