A recent weeknight visit to Barberitos Southwestern Grille and Cantina in Johnson City resulted in a filling dinner consisting of a great-tasting and well-wrapped burrito, as well as a quesadilla.
The premise behind Barberitos and similar chains in the region involves custom-made burritos — as well as tacos, quesadillas and salads — prepared fresh in front of customers as they make their way through a counter line.
The man behind the premise is Downing Barber, owner and CEO of Barberitos Franchising Inc. According to the chain’s website, Barber started his franchise after living for a spell in Colorado and traveling extensively throughout the Southwest.
Today, there are about 20 locations in operation in Georgia and about nine more in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida. Downing opened his first Barberitos as a Southwestern Grille and Cantina in Athens, Ga.
Incidentally, the name of the franchise is a combination of his last name and burrito, a signature item on the Barberitos menu. The Johnson City location was the first to open in Tennessee, but since then the franchise has opened locations in Kingsport and Knoxville.
Customers entering the restaurant are directed to the front counter. A menu board behind the counter advertises all the items available for lunch and dinner at the restaurant.
Customers have to make several decisions as they move through the line. First, diners must decide on a choice of tortilla, which can be flour, whole wheat, spinach or chipotle. I chose a whole wheat tortilla for my burrito.
The burritos on the menu are divided into several broad categories. The Skinny comes with rice, beans, meat, cheese, and salsa, while the Fatty is accompanied by rice, beans, meat, cheese, salsa and a choice of guacamole or sour cream. The Heavy D comes with rice, beans, meat, cheese, salsa, guacamole, sour cream and lettuce. The menu also offers Vegan, Vegetarian and Super Vegetarian Burritos.
After selecting the type of burrito, a customer chooses from grilled chicken, grilled steak, ground turkey, spicy chicken or sauteed tofu. In addition, diners can choose to add black beans, pinto beans or a medley of the two beans. Customers can also add cheese and rice.
A wide selection of enhancements can also be included in a burrito, including guacamole, black olives, mushrooms, lettuce, spinach, onions, green peppers and avocado slices. Some condiments available for the burritos include tomatillo sauce, salsa, ranch dressing, southwestern chipotle ranch dressing and southwestern vinaigrette.
I chose the ground turkey with mushrooms, diced onions, spinach leaves, rice, a light portion of shredded cheese, pickled jalapeño slices and mixed beans for the filling in my burrito.
My dining companion chose a quesadilla on a whole wheat tortilla, topped with chicken, shredded cheese, black beans, spinach, mushrooms and black olives. The quesadilla is then grilled, folded in half and cut into four sections.
My burrito was served with tortilla chips, and I ordered a side of guacamole to enjoy with them. The restaurant offers a decent amount of seating, but the eatery also tends to stay very busy. There can sometimes be a wait for a table to become available. Tables were certainly scarce during our recent visit.
At the cashier’s station, there’s also a Western-style cowboy boot for collection of tips. The burrito wrappers do a great job, so don’t forget to show some appreciation.
The restaurant’s interior features gold and orange sponge-painted walls and pine wood booths as well as a long dining counter. Other decorative touches include multi-colored lights strung over a corrugated roof overhanging some of the interior booths as well as ornamental metal art pieces and hanging baskets of plants.
I am pleased to report that these are big, two-handed burritos. My burrito, obviously wrapped by a practiced hand, remained intact to the last bite. One of my peeves about burritos is a tendency for them to fall apart after only a bite or two, but these burritos are well formed and tightly rolled. Both my friend’s quesadilla and my burrito tasted great and benefited from fresh ingredients.
I also enjoyed the crunchy tortilla chips with the guacamole, which made a light side with the burrito. There’s also a salsa bar, which offers unlimited salsa with every order.
To conclude a meal at Barberitos, customers can choose a treat such as a brownie or cookies. We chose a couple of chocolate chip cookies for the conclusion of our visit.
Choosing the ingredients for a custom-made burrito appears to be an increasingly popular trend in casual dining, and seems especially popular to the young-adult crowd. Barberitos certainly has carved out such a niche for itself in the local dining scene.
The eatery also offers an interesting nod to healthier eating with its “7 Under 7” menu items that feature fewer than seven grams of fat. In addition, the restaurant serves Fish Tacos every Friday. If you’ve not paid a visit yet to Barberitos, consider one in the near future.
AT A GLANCE: Barberitos Southwestern Grille and Cantina, 3135 People St., Johnson City. 282-2500. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-9 p.m. Most menu items $6.99 and under. Credit cards accepted. Non-smoking restaurant.