If you're wondering what Freebirds World Burrito brings to an already-crowded burrito scene in Silicon Valley, consider this: I recently found myself squirting mine with barbecue sauce. And I liked it.
Freebirds and I first became acquainted eight years ago when my boyfriend (now a husband -- that was one good burrito!) took me to the original eatery near UC Santa Barbara. That restaurant feels practically industrial. No frills, just a straightforward and simple menu of excellent fillings.
The Freebirds on The Alameda -- part of a chain that is no longer affiliated with the original Gaucho hangout -- couldn't be more different. It embraces its rebel personality (motto: "It's Not Normal") and punctuates it with heavy-metal music and flying electric guitars. Imaginative tortilla fillings abound; you could eat there a hundred times and not have the same burrito twice.
There are three meat options, and the chicken is my hands-down favorite. You can choose white or dark meat (I always ask for a little of each), and the bite-sized morsels are consistently tender, juicy and flavorful. Whether on a salad, a taco or a burrito, you can't go wrong with the chicken.
The slow-roasted carnitas is also a delight. Big, big flavor, and so tender it practically melts in your mouth. You may also opt for grass-fed steak, with meaty chunks that are free of gristle and fat.
The choice of meat (grilled veggies also are an option) is the easiest
There are four burrito sizes; four types of tortilla (white, wheat, cayenne and spinach); two kinds of rice (Spanish and cilantro lime); three kinds of cheese (Jack, a Jack and cheddar mix, and queso fresco); three kinds of beans (black, pinto and "un-refried"); and a blitz of "Freebies, Sauces and Salsas." It will leave you speechless -- and holding up the line — if you aren't prepared.
The Hybird-size burrito is the smallest on the menu, but it's a satisfying meal. A bigger appetite may want the regular Freebird burrito or the Monster. The nearly-7-pound, two-tortilla Super Monster really ought to be shared. Prices range from $5-$6.89 for the two smaller burritos, with the Monster costing around $8 and the Super Monster $13.
It was my chicken burrito that stirred my interest in the barbecue sauce, which was among three offerings at the salsa bar by the soda machine. (The other salsas and sauces are behind the counter; you can request them as they're building your burrito.) The barbecue sauce has a smoky, sweet flavor that enhanced the chicken flavor, and I imagine it would do wonders for the steak, too.
Other adventurous ingredients include grilled jalapeños, multicolored tortilla strips, lime juice and roasted garlic. Experiment a little. The cayenne tortilla is wonderful, and the wheat tortilla happily doesn't taste too, you know, wheaty.
We were bold enough to add the Death Sauce, which one worker described as a 7 in spiciness, though we found it to be a bit tamer than that. The hot tomatillo salsa offers the heat we wanted with a bit more flavor.
The tacos ($1.99 each) are a hearty option, as they're fixed up like a burrito with beans, rice, the works. I tried one loaded with carnitas that had a crispy fresh shell, and a soft, corn tortilla taco with chicken.
Lighter appetites may opt for a burrito bowl ($6.49-$6.99), which is everything but the tortilla. The Freedom Salad ($6.49-$6.99) even skips the rice and beans. Both are fine options, but I recommend asking for the lovely mixed greens over the tired shreds of iceberg.
Do save room for dessert. When I requested a pot brownie ($1.89) -- a sweet little goody named for its shape, not its ingredients -- the guy in line behind me warned that if I bought my first, I'd never buy my last.
I knew what he meant with my first bite -- it was a dense, chewy and moist cake flecked with chocolate chips baked into the top. The tops of the chips are slightly crisp from the oven, but as you sink your teeth in, a melty mini-pool of chocolate bursts in your mouth.
Freebirds World Burrito
1205 The Alameda, San Jose
Hours: Sunday-Wednesday, 10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Types of food: Burritos, tacos, nachos, quesadillas and salads
Average price: Regular-sized burritos run between $5 and $7.
Good choices: Chicken and carnitas burritos; the pot brownie
Attitude: The order line can be a little chaotic, but everyone's extremely friendly.
Amenities: Online ordering available. Sign up for a "Fanatic" card to earn free burritos, T-shirts and other items.
Vegetarian options: Everything on the menu can be made without meat.
Drinks: For now just sodas, but I'm told beer is coming soon.
Eat in car: Not recommended
Next-day edibility: Better to eat it right away.
Who goes there: Burrito adventurers
Credit cards: Accepted
Parking: Parking lot behind the restaurant
Restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously. The Mercury News pays for all meals.