If you've heard just one thing about Burrito Drive, the new American-Mexican place just off Willy Street on Brearly, it's probably that there's an item on the menu called the White Trash Burrito (featuring SPAM, Tater Tots, Velveeta and baked beans).
This item is not really what Burrito Drive is all about, though it does demonstrate that the kitchen is thinking outside the standard flour tortilla.
Perusing Burrito Drive's menu, you might think 'innovative" or you might think "gimmicky," but in general, the ideas and the ingredients here are fresh. It reminded me of the motto of the long-defunct Porto Bananas on King Street (site of the current Natt Spil): "Not real Mexican food, but then, we're not real Mexicans." If you want real Mexican, look for another restaurant.
If you're used to American-Mexican places that serve a complimentary basket of chips and salsa, and combo plates coming with rice and beans, know that this is not that place. The tradeoff for not filling up on the basket of chips is that you can indulge in appetizers.
The chorizo and bleu cheese fried wontons ($6.50) are sinful and, while undeniably rich, the assertive flavors of the sausage and the cheese do not war with each other. They come with a "dipping sauce" of cranberry salsa, which is too thick to qualify as dippable (it's more like a small container of Craisins).
The house salad ($7) is a generous, meal-sized combo of fresh greens -- frisee and arugula -- with pickled carrots, marinated beets, avocado, and the mild white Mexican cheese called queso fresco. If you're dining with a friend and want a side salad, this could easily be split. It could even be split three ways. Warning: the beets are a major, major component of this salad. I didn't hate the beets, but they overwhelmed the rest of the salad. Altogether it was a heavy mass, and the cheese was too mild to stand up to it.
Ditto for Burrito Drive's one variety of enchilada -- the chorizo and shrimp. It's an odd combination, since a sausage as assertive as chorizo is going to pretty much obliterate any taste of shrimp. The enchiladas, which are also dotted with corn and finished with a tomatillo cream/red pepper puree sauce, are okay, but really heavy -- the chorizo is too much for an enchilada filling.
The Classic Taco plate of three tacos ($7.75) features skirt steak (carne asada), guacamole, an excellent asadero cheese, a lot of pickled red onion, and pico de gallo. These are good tacos, but something on the side -- rice? beans? rice and beans maybe? -- would round out the plate nicely. (A rice and beans combo is available as a side for $2).
Speaking of the plate: Burrito Drive is not really set up for dining-in. The dining area features just two patio tables, and the food comes on paper plates or in takeout-containers. But Burrito Drive delivers -- with a far-ranging delivery area that covers downtown Madison and the campus, Monona and the east side west of Stoughton Road, and the north side south of Northport Drive.
Dining-in customers, take note: if you say you want "just water" with your meal, you may find yourself paying for a bottle of Aquafina. Generally, the words "just water" are code for "I want free tap water in a plastic cup." I'm just saying.
Other taco options are pork with adobo sauce, Mexican cole slaw, and choice of salsa ($7.75), chorizo (sausage made in-house), roasted potatoes, grilled green onions, asadero cheese, and choice of salsa ($8.25), and a blackened fish taco with Mexican cole slaw and choice of salsa ($8.25).
On to the burritos and tortas. The surf and turf torta ($9) features big hunks of carne asada, several good-sized grilled shrimp, guacamole, roasted tomato, arugula and garlic crema on a crusty French bread bun. This was a pretty good steak hoagie, though the carne asada was sometimes hard to chew through.
The steak and "eggs" burrito ($7.25) came with either a better cut of meat or just smaller-sized pieces. The well spiced steak, queso fresco and the fine, dry rice (almost like a basmati) made this my favorite pick, although it was also the plainest entree. The menu doesn't specifically state that it should come with a salsa, and mine in fact did not, but maybe it should.
There are three more torta and three more burrito options, a grilled chicken and squash chimichanga, and some create-your-own options.
The menu choices are interesting, but some of the more offbeat combos fall flat. Still, there's potential here. If diners don't return to Burrito Drive to investigate the nooks and crannies of the menu, it may not be for lack of taste, but to prices slightly on the high side for food that comes in takeout containers.
On the other hand, delivery is free.