Hate onions? Put ketchup on your ketchup? We all have unique likes and dislikes, but you don’t always know if a reviewer’s tastes align with your own. Instead of reading a review from one source, take it from four members of our team, along with a list of our personal preferences. Even though we are woefully under-qualified to review a restaurant, at least one of us will likely share some of your distinct tastes.
For this issue, the PressureLife crew visited Cilantro Taqueria. Cilantro opened back in January of this year in the former Chipotle location right by Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights. Like the major chain, Cilantro offers fast-casual Mexican eats such as tacos and burritos, except without a long history of E. coli and norovirus outbreaks. We decided to stop by to test out Cilantro to see if it could offer a fresh take on Mexican food or if Clevelanders should turn elsewhere for their taco Tuesdays.
You know when someone goes, “You have got to try this place?” This is not that place. Cilantro Taqueria is a spot if you’re in the area with a craving for Mexican or you’re going to show at Grog Shop and need a base. The selection of protein was more than what you’ll get at Chipotle with some tasty options. The pastor, ground beef, and grilled steak wasn’t too bad. The chorizo was good, but I needed a few glasses of water to wash down the amount of salt it had. To be honest, the veggie taco was probably my favorite. Other highlights for me were the Mexican rice, the hot, smoky salsa, and the fresh cilantro as an optional topping. As for the experience, the staff didn’t seem too excited that they had customers, which initially put me in that awkward “should I be here?” mode. I know Cilantro Taqueria is new and I hope the establishment will work out the kinks, but I won’t be back unless The Get Up Kids are at Grog.
It’s tough to judge service based on a single visit, but let’s just say Cilantro didn’t have the most helpful staff. It wasn’t so much that the people there were unfriendly as much as they seemed rather disinterested. It also didn’t help that I had to stand by myself at the register as nobody behind the counter wanted to ring up my order. Still, I’ll forgive some questionable service if the food is worth the experience, and I can say that what I ate was… okay. The meats themselves were actually quite nice. The barbacoa and pork al pastor had an inviting sweetness, while the chorizo–while rather salty–had a nice kick that livened up my tacos. The rice bowl with ground beef was also quite enjoyable, especially since the added queso seemingly absorbed into the Mexican rice to make each bite nice and cheesy. However, things quickly got soggy. The aforementioned barbacoa oozed both juice and grease that turned some nice taco shells into slippery disks. The nacho bowl was nice at first, but the mound of ingredients soon turned into a pile of sauce, sour cream, and mushy chips that would be perfect to feed people who are unable to chew. Cilantro has some nice options–especially when it comes to meat–but it’s quite a hit-and-miss affair.
I realize there is a difference between fine dining and quick service. While I enjoy eating out of a plastic basket, some things are just table stakes—like having a staff with motor skills. Though the people were extremely slow and very disinterested about what I wanted in my burrito bowl, there were a few things that I enjoyed. I really liked the variety of meats and sauces they had available and that the bowls are made with Mexican rice. They had fresh cilantro and onions as a topping, which I think is often missed with other similar restaurants. I was extremely disappointed that at the time we reviewed Cilantro, their liquor licence had not yet gone into effect. This meant that judging their ability to make a good margarita was unfortunately not an option. The food also had a very short shelf life; everything seemed to quickly liquify into a soupy mess. In short, I was slightly jealous of Dave and whatever thing he had to do that kept him from joining us for the food review.