Friday, October 9, 2009

Cloudy with a Chance of Extra Charges

I posed two possibilities to Stephanie for our lunch date on Thursday. Casa de Linda, a tiny shack of a place on Dort Highway just north of Longway Boulevard. It seats, at most, ten people. Several years ago it was the Mexicali Café, a pretty good restaurant, but in this freaky 1970’s style, free love, key party, partner swapping world of Flint area Mexican restaurants, it too has gotten around. I’m not even sure where Mexicali Café is located anymore.

El Charrito was the second choice. It’s one of three Mexican restaurants in Davison. The other two are Taco Bell and Senor Lucky’s. It was cold and rainy on Thursday, and Stephanie and I were both having crummy days, so we decided to get as far away from downtown as possible. We chose El Charrito.

Did you ever have someone tell you about the greatest movie they ever saw and that you HAVE TO see it, and then you do and you think, ya it’s ok, but it’s a far cry from the greatest flick you’ve ever seen?. In fact, if movies were judged by the Tater Tot Casserole standard, this movie that everyone raved about would be the macaroni and cheese at Old Country Buffet. Granted, there are usually a few really good scenes that keep you hanging around, but overall, the movie is rarely as good as the overly enthusiastic review you were given. And after you blow a days wages on tickets, popcorn and a drink, you feel a little let down by the whole experience.

Well, that’s El Charrito in a mixed metaphor of a nutshell. Don’t take the Old Country Buffet comparison too literally, because Charrito, overall, is clearly better than that, but you get the idea. I’m sure I’m going to irritate those who identify themselves as Charrito loyalists, but I seriously disliked this place.

Unless you’re an in-the-know local, getting to Charrito could be a bit of a challenge. It might have been a little easier had we not missed a turn or two because we were so wrapped up in bitching about our mornings at work. We made it downtown but had to ask for help from an 80’s looking groupie in a candy apple red pickup truck, who of course knew exactly where to send us. The entrance looks like it’s on a side street (I think it’s Mill Street) because that’s where the only Charrito sign is. That door, however, is locked. The entrance we found is actually on Main Street. Just look for the blue dog dish in front of a window with a flashing “Open” sign.

Yes, a dog dish. What’s even more bizarre is that when we pulled up to the curb, a car pulled up next to us with a little hound dog hanging out the window. And sure enough, the dog jumped out of the car, went right for the bowl of water, and had himself a drink. It felt a little like watching a Norman Rockwell painting come to life.

The lunch crowd was already starting to trickle in when we arrived, and soon after, the dining room filled to capacity (about 20 booths and tables). With three servers hightailing it around the long, narrow dining room, the wait was minimal. We were approached almost immediately with menus and a small empty bowl with a squeeze bottle of what looked like their house salsa. It was.

Our Cindy-Lauper-after-a-long-night-on-the-town looking server offered us a basket of chips, but when we said yes we had no idea we were agreeing to pay almost three dollars for them. Aren’t these things complimentary? I thought chip baskets were the Mexican restaurant version of bread sticks or dinner rolls. That erroneous assumption wasn’t fully realized until we saw the check. Really? And how much is the basket rental for the chips?

Did the basket rental account for the mysterious seventy-five cent additional charge on our bill? No. That charge was for the hotter version of the house salsa, which amounted to a second empty bowl, a thimble full of diced jalapeños, and another squeeze bottle of salsa. This really was turning out to be like a bad trip to the movies.

On to the con queso. What could possibly go wrong with the queso, right? It’s nothing more complicated than melted cheesestuff, with or without a layer of refried beans under it, that you may or may not have to pay extra for. It came as no surprise that this version was served without the beans. Besides, there wouldn’t have been any room in the two-ounce soufflé cup for the cheesestuff, and I’m using that term, cheesestuff, liberally. It looked like Phillips Milk of Magnesia and tasted like paper machete paste. Really folks, this stuff shouldn’t even be on the menu.

Stephanie ordered the chicken enchiladas, which came, like most dishes do, with a side of beans and rice. I ordered the chimichanga, but apparently somebody wrote the beans and rice out of the script. Oh yeah, and the cheese and gravy on top of my chimicanga each had their own special price as well. I’ve rarely had good rice in a Mexican restaurant, so I passed on that and just ordered a side of beans. Good call, as it turned out.

My chimichanga, on the other hand, was stunningly good. It was one big shell filled with well-seasoned ground beef and perfectly deep fried. The gravy and cheese portions were perfect too. This dish, as I think back on my experience, was a little like Meryl Streep acting in a Keanu Reaves movie.

Stephanie’s chicken enchiladas turned in a lackluster performance, but next to the Mexican rice it looked like a pretty good effort. For the second time in as many weeks, the chicken in the enchiladas was really off the mark. Last week, the chicken was waterlogged from the juices it soaked in. This week it was dry as a bone with not even a hint of seasoning on it. Stephanie’s a trouper, though, and has vowed to find the perfect enchilada before we move on to another theme. Until then, we soldier on. I know there’s a star of a Mexican Restaurant out there somewhere just waiting to be discovered.


  1. Charging for chips and salsa is a crime against humanity. Have these people never been to a Mexican restaurant?

    Queso blanco is not to be mentioned to me. If I have a cheese sauce on my Mexican then I want it a nice yellow and it better be spicy.

    At this point I'm not surprised they charged you extra for the hot version of the salsa so i can't get too worked up there.

    Never been to this place and I doubt I will now, thanks. I *have* been to El Charritos at Richfield and Western. No idea if they';re affiliated. I've never had a bad experience there. It's not earth-shattering but it does in a pinch.

  2. Crap. I forgot to mention that EVERYTHING at El Charittos is charged a la carte. I, too, think that's weird. I also apologize for not giving you directions!

    Now I'm dying to know what you think about Senor Lucky's. I can tell you it's easier to find, the chips and salsa are free, and they Keno (and a liquor license).

  3. Cat Basket, yur holdin' out on me with all this valuable Lucky's info? :) I'm totally intrigued now and will probably have to head back to Flag town to try this place. Is it right on the main strip, on the left as you come from the freeway?
    Think I can convince my lunch partner?

  4. First, thanks for the blog. It's great to see someone tackling the Flint food scene.

    I have many fond food memories of Flint. My mom and I used to eat at El Charito a lot. She lived in both Texas and Southern California, and she thought the food was very authentic and held up well against California Mexican food.

    My old favorites in Flint were the Pink Garter on Clio Road and Bob and Ethels Rib Crib, first over near Lewis, then Davison Road.

    I'll post something about Eating Flint on Flint Expats. (

  5. Finally visited El Charritos in Davison....well I was disappointed in the food. The place was bustling and we were ushered into the very small dining was okay.

    The food is in no way as good as it was back in the day when El Charritos occupied the building across from Cody school where Ron's Ice Cream is now.

    I ordered the combo platter...the taco was mini and the shell overcooked, the tostado was very good, the tamale was ok, the enchilada was okay.

    I guess I hold all Mexican food to the Tia Helita bench mark. Also, for quick greasy Mexican food LaAzteca is the benchmark.

    I long for the old style El Charito in the dingy little building with fans as air conditioners eating the best ever Mexican food and sweating from the heat of the air and the heat of the sauce.....seems like so long ago and yet not that long.