Cal-Tor has food all teens adore

March 11, 2005, midnight | By Caitlin Garlow | 15 years, 10 months ago

Tex-mex restaurant markets individuality and flair

When looking for a restaurant that matches both their wallets and their schedules, teenagers often find themselves continually visiting fast-food restaurants, where the food is cheap and good but often lacks any kind of nutrients or variety. Tex-mex fans who have exhausted their Chipotle sprees may wish to consider a smaller Tex-mex chain that has kept the feel of an independent restaurant without increasing prices too much or reducing the menu options.

California Tortilla, located on Cordell Avenue in Bethesda, is a funky little eatery with mammoth-size jalapeno peppers painted on the wall inviting you inside. The restaurant's inner décor is just as chirpy. Sun-yellow chairs are scattered around bright blue tables throughout the restaurant, and tiny red pepper lights hang like streamers from the ceiling. And though it's nicely decorated inside, summertime customers will appreciate the seating outside in front of the restaurant as well.

Photo: Customers of all ages enjoy meals at California Tortilla.

California Tortilla's menu is probably the most varied of any fast-food tex-mex restaurant in the area, and it has slightly cheaper pricing options. The restaurant sells burritos in two sizes; a regular burrito (definitely smaller than Chipotle, but still filling) usually costs about $5.49, and for about 75 cents cheaper, you can order the small size.

The best choices on the menu definitely come off the specialty burritos list, which includes nine innovative burritos including the Blackened Chicken Caesar burrito, the restaurant's best seller, a combination of blackened chicken, black beans, Mexican rice, Monterey Jack cheese, Caesar dressing, lettuce and fresh salsa. This burrito is a little confusing at first because it seems like you are eating salad and a burrito in the same mouthful, but the Caesar dressing ends up adding a unique zing to the burrito.

Some other favorites on the specialty burrito menu are the Honey Lime burrito, the Spicy Sunset Salsa Chicken burrito and the Crunch BBQ Ranch burrito. The only downside to the specialty burrito line is that nearly all of the burritos are made with chicken, although all of them can be made vegetarian.

California Tortilla also offers classic burritos; however, they don't exactly live up to Chipotle standards, especially because if you're not feeling daring, you may as well make your burrito yourself. Classic burritos can be made with chicken, beef, steak, spinach, veggies and guacamole or with just beans and cheese.

Other choices on the menu are Darn Tasty Soft Tacos, $1.99 each, and Groovy Quesadillas ($3.99), which are excellent choices for children as they come in smaller portions. Low-carb and weight-watch dieters have options of burrito bowls ($5.99) and fresh, tasty salads ($6.29). And if you're not full by the end, Darn Tasty Desserts, such as apple empanadas, churros (toasted cinnamon sticks) and brownies are only $1.29 each.

To keep your taste buds happy, California Tortilla owners piloted an original idea in their wall of hot sauces. The store keeps over 40 different varieties of hot sauces in stock, which are called names like "Jump up and kiss me hot sauce with passion" (hot), "Colon cleaner hot sauce" (hot) and "Bee sting, Honey and Habanero" (medium).

Other unique aspects of California Tortilla keep customers of all ages coming back for more. Walk right up to the counter on a Monday night, and you can spin the Monday Night Mystery Price Burrito wheel, which will give you anything from a free Darn Tasty Dessert to a free burrito. Also, this quirky little restaurant has great bonus card deals for regular buyers similar to Subway's; if you buy seven burritos at California Tortilla, your eighth burrito is free.

They've also got Pop Tart day and Freezer Pop day, on which they treat anyone who walks into the store with a free Pop Tart or Freezer Pop. The owners publicize events like these in their monthly newsletter, called Taco Talk, where they also announce special promotion deals, company news, stories about their lives and other funny bits and pieces.

California Tortilla is a refreshing change from the usual fast-food scene as it has interesting choices, cheap prices, friendly help and plenty of deals to make it worth your while.

California Tortilla is located at 4826 Cordell Avenue in Bethesda and at 7419 Baltimore Avenue in College Park. For more information on California Tortilla or other locations, visit their web site at

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Caitlin Garlow. Caitlin is a second-semester senior at last. Her favorite things include making fun of her homeless sister and hunting down her clothes in other people's closets. More »

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