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Restaurant Review (South Jax Beach): Bravo Baja Burrito

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Due to the recent close of my (former) favorite burrito joint here at the Jacksonville Beaches, I was forced to search elsewhere for a replacement. Along my way, I tried several different locations, and to be honest, I couldn’t pick a favorite out of the crowd.

The fact of the matter is that the beaches communities are saturated with places where you can order a burrito. The problem, however, is the fact that it’s extremely difficult to find a place that serves a decent one. So many companies, especially franchised companies follow the same business model; bagged frozen meats that are shipped in from somewhere else, topped with ingredients that are either mandatory per the menu, or are thrown on in an assembly line that is more reminiscent of a Ford auto factory than a burrito joint.

The vast majority of the burrito joints here are impersonal, and “cookie-cutter”. There is no variation between one another. Sure, it’s company policy at these places that they say something along the lines of “Welcome to Moe’s” or whatever, but half the time, nobody says anything, and even if they do, that’s all you’ll be getting from them.

So this presented a problem for me. As an avid burrito lover, and my favorite place recently being closed, what was I to do? I was on the prowl for a new place, but was coming up disappointed and empty handed.

That is, until I found Bravo Baja Burritos in South Jax Beach on 3rd Ave South. Chances are, if you’re not local then you’ve probably passed right by it and never noticed. Chances are, even if you are local, then you’ve passed right by it and not noticed it. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “hole-in-the-wall”, but I wouldn’t necessarily NOT call it that either.

When I first walked in to Bravo, the first thing that caught my attention was the atmosphere. It was open, friendly, and supportive of the local “scene”. Being two blocks away from the beach, it had plenty of beach decor, including painted surfboards, murals, and action sports photography everywhere. What also caught my attention was the fact that, yes, I was greeted by a cashier, but the owner, J.J. Carr stopped long enough to reach over and shake my hand, engage me in conversation, and welcome me to his place.

However, what impressed me the most of Bravo Baja wasn’t the decor, or the staff, it was by far the food. I was in search of a new burrito joint, and I had stumbled upon the Holy Mecca of burritos! It was immediately clear to me that they had painstakingly gone to great lengths to avoid the “cookie-cutter” mentality so others seemed to embrace. Many of the recipes used here are family recipes that have been in J.J.’s family for anywhere from 40-70 years. Forbidden from Bravo Baja Burritos are the pre-packaged bags of frozen meat, and the cheapest ingredients.

This certainly was a calculated risk, but during my many trips to Bravo, it was obvious to me that it is one that was paying huge dividends.

But then again, what else would you expect from a place that allows you to choose any ingredients you want, including several different choices of white, red, or green salsa, peppers ranging from the relatively mild Banana Pepper, to the Habanero, to the hottest pepper known to man: the unholy Ghost Pepper. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this unforgiving freak of nature called the Ghost Pepper, allow me to enlighten you. The Habanero rates 325,000 points on the SHU scale, while the Ghost Pepper rakes in well over an incendiary 1,000,000 points! Gloves have to be worn by anyone who touches it, temporary insanity has to be worn by anyone who eats it.

You can choose from 5 USDA choice meats including ground beef, carne asada, fajita carne asada, carnitas, chicken fajita, and finally, drunk chicken, which is marinated in a secret recipe (that I’ve been sworn to never reveal) for 36 hours. All of their meats are specifically inspected, and hand carved by Joel, Sr., while the ingredients are specifically chosen by J.J., who refuses to accept a lesser quality product, regardless of price.

You can choose to add anything from mushrooms, bacon, or mexican potatoes to your order. And unlike the other “cookie-cutter” burrito joints, they don’t nickel and dime you to death per ingredient you add. They’re all included in the $5.00-$6.00 you will pay for your 2.5lb burrito. You can also choose to make this monstrosity of a burrito “wet” with queso dip, or add “mucho meat” for only $1.00 more. However, let me warn you. If you think you’re going to walk in on your first visit and order the “mucho meat” option, think again. The portions are already generous beyond belief, and the “mucho meat” option doubles your meat order.

They also have some very exciting additions to their menu, including their new white tuna with wasabi mayo sauce. I was worried about how the wasabi was going to treat me, but Denie, the General Manager, part-time maniac, and member of the magic that creates this Frankenstein menu here, assured me it was not hot at all. Actually, it was quite the opposite. The heat came toward the end, but not as traditional heat, but rather as what I can only describe as a tingle of the tongue that came in the form of a smooth wave.

They’ll soon be unveiling “The Black Tie Burrito”. This beast will be made out of hand cut choice beef tenderloin topped with crumbled blue cheese, drowned in a delicious port wine sauce, and finally, wrapped in a chipotle wrap. They are expecting to start selling this upscale gentleman soon at a price expected to be around $10. Take that, Ruth’s Chris!

But maybe you’re not ready for a 2.5lb burrito that’s the size of a grown man’s forearm? For those of you of lesser gestational capabilities, they also have amazing fish tacos that are second to none, beef tacos, “Build Your Own Nachos”, and the “Bacon Cheese Burger Burrito”. They even have quesadillas so big that it gave Pizza Hut’s large pizza a size complex! But maybe you’ve brought your little ones with you and they don’t like Mexican food? Not a problem, they’ve got you covered. They’ve got Nathan’s Hot Dog Quesadillas.

What makes this place so special to me is the fact that their meat is not pre-made, waiting in a bucket for your order. When you order it is when it is placed on the grill in front of you. Their tortillas are 100% corn, and rather than being steamed into a soggy mess, they are lightly grilled before your eyes to a light golden color.

So I ask you, when you’re no longer able to eat at your favorite burrito joint, what do you do? Most of us would do what I did, go hunting for a new place. However, if your name is J.J. Carr, and you can no longer eat at your favorite restaurant, Robertos, located in Southern California, you open up the baddest burrito joint known to man, and name it Bravo Baja Burritos! That’s what he did, and now we get to reap the benefits. So you may be asking, “Aren’t you a little biased, being a fan and all?” And to that I respond, “You better believe I’m biased.” Any place that serves food this good, and treat you like family from your first visit, I’ll always be biased for.

So the next time you’re looking for a cheap, amazing lunch or dinner, find your way over to 204 3rd Ave South in Jacksonville Beach, FL and say “Hi” to the crew. Grab yourself a monster burrito, and select from their wide variety of imported Mexican beverages. As you leave, J.J. will most likely say, “See you tomorrow”, and chances are after you eat there once he will. That’s because it’s that good.

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About Mike Swims