Sunday, January 6, 2013

T. Dennis Barney Memorial Green Chile Burro Tournament

This year, some good friends invited me to participate in their first annual Green Chile Burro Tournament.  It seems they have all been arguing about which Valley restaurant has the best Green Chile Burro.  Everybody has their favorite and the competition was on.

Eight restaurants were chosen and will go through three rounds, bracket style, to crown the champion.  We start with eight, then four, then two and then the Champion.  March Madness only with Mexican food.

Each burro is rated using three criteria on a scale of 1-10:  Green Chile Sauce itself (20%); Tortilla (10%) and Overall Taste (70%).

Here are the chosen restaurants in our competition in order of seeding:

1.  Rito's (Phoenix)
2.  El Charro (Mesa)
3.  La Fonda (Tempe)
4.  Carolinas (Phoenix)
5.  Matta's (Mesa)
6.  Lulu's (Gilbert)
7.  Burrito Express/Bad Burrito (Gilbert)
8.  Burrito Shack (Gilbert)

This blog constitutes my official ratings and scores for round one....  I think I am five pounds heavier after this competition!




I had heard about Ritos for several years but hadn't ever tried their food.  They have a great reputation in the valley and they did not disappoint.  This small little 'house' in South Phoenix is right next to a school and at the end of a normal residential block.  Hard to find unless you have GPS or know it is there.

Think "Soup Nazi" Seinfeld episode while you order, only in Mexico.  Very small inside.  Cash only and three or four lines - one to order - one to pay - and one to pick up your food.  Only they really have no coordination to them.  It adds to the experience!

You eat outside on some makeshift picnic tables with a swarm of bees accosting you.  Again, great ambiance for this type of competition.

Cutting to the chase, their GCB was INCREDIBLE!  Spicier than the rest.  Wonderful tortilla.  Excellent salsa.  Really a perfect entry.  Chunky meat.  Something I could eat every day.

Green Chile Sauce:  10
Tortilla:  10
Overall Taste:  10


I admit, I am biased.  Carolina's is by far, my favorite Mexican Food in the valley.  Perhaps in the world.  When we recently did our estate planning with our attorney (Aaron Huber, Esq.) I stipulated that Carolina's Salsa be served at my funeral - I am hooked and it is that good!  Homemade tortillas are the best I have ever eaten.  Incredible tamales and tacos, too.  This place is a DIVE in S. Phoenix, by the way.  Stray dogs always hovering nearby.  Bathrooms you have to take a picture of to believe.  Still, every day, Mercedes, BMW, Police Cars, Fireman, etc. flock from Downtown Phoenix to eat here.  It is the Barrio but you feel very safe, surprisingly.

I had never had tried their GCB but I was looking forward to it.  Again, no disappointment.  It was incredible!  Not as messy as Rito's but every bit as good.  Not quite as spicy but with the salsa included (I could drink that through an IV) it puts this one over the top!  Delicious.

Green Chile Sauce:  10
Tortilla:  10
Overall Taste:  10


Burrito Express (Bad Burrito)

This was a surprise on the list, for me.  Right down the road from my house.  A small shack next to a gas station.  It took me 15 minutes to find it as I was expecting some sort of a real restaurant.  Anyway, I understand this was a late entry onto the original 8 list so I hoped for the best.

I was very surprised!  Excellent burro.  I tried it with the red salsa they gave me and it was very tasty.  The green salsa, however, really surprised me - it came in a neon green color that looked scary but it was incredible!  I brought some home to my wife (she is from Tucson and has great taste in Mexican food) and she also enjoyed it.

While not as good as the others, this is a place I will return to.  The burro was very good and a real surprise.

Green Chile Sauce:  8
Tortilla:  7
Overall Taste:  7

Burrito Shack

I drive by this place almost daily.  Close to my house and on a main thoroughfare.  It always looks closed and the road is under construction so I have never stopped to investigate.  By the way, The Burrito Shack is literally a shack.  It looks like something you would find in the back of some ranch or farm where the seasonal workers come to get lunch.  The eating chairs and seats are outside, dusty and with no air conditioning.  Still, as you can imagine, all of this is very positive for this competition!  The more strange and divey the place, the better the food seems to be.

Burrito Shack delivered a great GCB.  I was surprised.  It was quite large - bigger than the others.  So big I cut it in half and ate the rest the next day.  The meat was shredded and very tasty.  Salsa was OK and tortilla was OK but both worth eating again.  My wife loved this one, by the way.

Green Chile Sauce:  8
Tortilla:  7
Overall Taste:  7


El Charro

Talk about nostalgia and being around forever...  El Charro has been a mainstay Mexican food joint in Mesa for decades.  I think the location and building were built in the 40's.  I think the last time I ate here was in High School.  The inside has been redone (I remember some ugly orange booths) but it is still a dive trying to look respectable...  As police sirens howled down the road, we ordered.  I got a beef GCB.  My wife got an enchilada.  Bottom line was she LOVED her enchilada and I just thought my burrito was OK.  It's hard to describe what was specifically wrong with it.  In the end, all I could say was it just didn't have 'it'.  If I were to refer friends to a restaurant for this one dish, the Green Chile Burrito, it would not be El Charro.

Green Chile Sauce:  6
Tortilla:  4
Overall Taste:  5

La Fonda

La Fonda comes highly recommend from my friend Aaron Huber.  I have eaten here a couple of times with him and, while the food was always good, I never really saw what he did in this place.  A more established restaurant in Tempe, this one feels like a place you would eat Mexican Food at anywhere in the nation.  Not the dive like some of the others, which had my spidey sense going before I ordered.

I must say, I was disappointed with this GCB.  Couple of things made it different.  First, it was beef instead of pork (like most of the others).  It just didn't taste as good.  The salsa was not very good either, although it was deceptively hot, which I like.  The tortilla was the worst of the competition.  I found myself drowning the burro with salsa, some lettuce and anything else to try to make it taste better.  Not the kind of champion GCB we are looking for in this competition...  (Sorry, Aaron).

Green Chile Sauce:  5
Tortilla:  4
Overall Taste:  5

Lulu's Taco Shop

Believe me, I have a lot of love for Lulu's.  This is one great taco shop.  If this were a taco competition, these guys would be serious contenders - Tucson style and been in business for years.  Excellent salsa bar, etc.  Tucked away in a corner in Gilbert, I have eaten here a lot.  But never the GCB.  Thus, I was disappointed when I started to devour this in hopes of something very good.  Alas, it was just OK.  They butter the tortilla, for one, which I thought would be good but I found it distracting to the taste of the overall meal.  Also, the chicken (beef is your other option)  and the sauce were not very spicy and didn't have a lot of taste. I found myself adding all kinds of different salsa to try to get the full flavor of the meal.   Unfortunately, not winner, in my book.

Green Chile Sauce:  5
Tortilla:  5
Overall Taste:  5


Matta's has been around since way before I was born. 1953 to be exact.  I remember going to the downtown Mesa location many times as a youngter.  Usually it was to take our "out of town" guests to go get some Mexican food.  This is key because "out of town" guests were typically not used to hot or real Mexican food!  Matta's has been successful because they have been consistently 'average' with their food, appealing to the masses with food that is 'pretty good.'  Their GCB fit this model to a T.  Tortilla was not very good - felt like it was store bought.  The salsa was the worst of the competition, in my opinion.  The green chile sauce itself was pretty good and so was the pork.  But nothing in this meal jumped out to me as a 'winner.'  This was fun for old time's sake but not a place I will be going back to soon.  Too many other better options.

Green Chile Sauce:  5
Tortilla:  3
Overall Taste:  4



  1. I love this post.
    Ted and I will check out the few that we were completely unaware of. j
    So, Matta's - we actually love it, but know to only order The "Sandy Special" or "The Roberts Taco" nothing else. We do like their chips, though. A lot, actually.

    Haven't been to El Charro in years.
    Carolina's very YUM!

    Can't wait to try Rito's next time we are in town.
    You and Becky must join us1

    btw, Ted makes a pretty mean green chili burro!

  2. I definitely need to try these places when I have the chance. I’ve tried some of the restaurants in the lineup, particularly Carolina’s and El Charro. I agree with the rankings; Carolina’s definitely belongs at the top. Definitely have to try Rito’s next time I visit, though.

    Violet Larson

    20401 S.SOSSOMAN RD.