Updated: November 8, 2013 at 12:44 pm
It's hard to plan a business lunch when you're a food writer. The others in your party expect flawless food and service bordering on magical, combined with a secret location nobody else knows about yet so it won't be crowded.
Quijote's Mexican Grill comes pretty close. It's got great food, it's not expensive, the green chili is really hot, and it has a freakishly awesome juice bar. The service lands on the quirky side, not bad but a little off kilter.
Quijote's does a booming breakfast business, because the breakfast burrito ($1.99) is big and tasty, filled with scrambled eggs, shredded potatoes, cheese, green chili and your choice of ham, bacon or sausage. The crumbled bacon punctuates the burrito with exclamation points of porky, salty crunch.
The three-meat burrito combines ham, bacon and sausage for a mere $2.79. You can smother any of the burritos with the bright, spicy chili. The mild version is brimming with smoky, roasted green chili flavor, which is accented with tender pork, a little tomato and a bit of red chili. The hot version varies from day to day, but you'll see a lot more pepper seeds and a lot more red chilis.
If you're going to order an appetizer, the guacamole ($4.50) is fresh and chunky, with hits of onion, garlic and cilantro. But the real steal is the ceviche ($5.50). A big, white bowl holds cubed white fish "cooked" in lime juice and combined with buttery avocado, tomatoes, onions and chilies. This had the avowed fish hater at our table fighting for the last tangy scoop. Both are served with freshly fried chips.
On one trip, we got an order of steak fajitas ($9.50) instead of the steak combination plate ($10.99) we ordered. Since we didn't have time to send the order back, we were lucky it tasted so good. The thin strips of steak are served with the onion and pepper strips grilled right into the pile of tender, beefy steak strips.
Other menu items that I loved include the carnitas burrito ($6.50). The burrito is stuffed with beans, rice and tender chunks of some of the best carnitas (braised and roasted pork) I've had in this town. I hope the restaurant will consider adding a carnitas plate to the menu.
The chilies rellenos ($7.99) bring two big chilies wrapped in a batter that is not too thick, so each bite is a balance of cheese, chili and egg. Smothered in green chili, the rellenos come with adequate rice and creamy refried beans on the side. So do the excellent chicken tamales ($6.99), two to an order, filled with tender shredded chicken and green chilies.
So all this great Mexican food, and yet my favorite feature at Quijote's might be the juice bar. For $3.50, you get to make up your own combination out of orange, carrot, apple, beet, cucumber, kale, celery, ginger, pineapple, lemon, kiwi and lime. The juices are all made fresh per order, and I've yet to sample one I didn't like.
If you want your order vegetarian, the kitchen can accommodate you even if the wait staff can't. On a breakfast visit, the server wrote "no meat" on the burrito order and it was perfect, served with red chili sauce that doesn't contain meat. He advised us to ask for whole beans instead of refried (not listed on the menu), because the lard doesn't get added until the frying. On a second visit, the server didn't seem to grasp the concept of no meat, and didn't know what lard was or that whole beans could be ordered. She was happy to write down what we said, but left us with the impression she didn't know much about what was on the menu. The good news: It came as ordered
There's nothing instinctive about the way you pay for your meal at Quijote's. You don't get a check. When you finish your meal, you go back up to the front counter and tell them what you had, and they ring it up for you. That's a leap of faith in humanity, trusting everyone to accurately remember and report what they ate, but it must be working for them.
Restaurant character: Tasty and fresh Mexican food at reasonable prices, plus an unexpected juice bar with excellent produce. May be crowded in the morning for the $1.99 breakfast burritos.
Rating total: 3.8 out of 5 stars Food: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Ambiance: 3 out of 5 stars
Service: 4 out of 5 stars
Address: 208 N. Union Blvd., 80909
Hours: 7 a.m.-8 p.m., Monday- Saturday Entrees: $1.99-$10.99
Credit cards: Yes
Vegetarian options: Cheese enchiladas ($6.99) with whole beans, not refried
WHAT'S ONLINE: As of Oct. 30: - 98 percent of 126 voters "liked it" on Urban Spoon - Four out of five stars based on seven reviews on Yelp - On Facebook; search "Quijotes Mexican Grill" - No violations were marked during a September inspection by the El Paso County Health Department.