I met a group of friends on a recent Friday evening for my first trip to Hot Head Burritos, a casual-dining Mexican-style burrito establishment that opened for business just this spring.
The chain got its start in Ohio, where it’s still headquartered. According to the chain’s website, husband-and-wife team Ray and Cynthia Wiley opened the first Hot Head Burritos in 2007 in Dayton, Ohio.
The chain specializes in burritos and other Mexican-style foods. The chain has also won some industry distinctions. For instance, Hot Head Burritos was ranked by AOL.com in 2009 as one of America’s next big chains. In 2011, Hot Head Burritos was named 41st on FastCasual’s list of 2011’s Top 100 Movers and Shakers.
The chain chose Johnson City as its first location for Hot Head Burritos in the Volunteer State. The eatery opened May 9 near East Tennessee State University on State of Franklin Road.
Customers order their food at a front counter. The menu — and different stages of the ordering process — are detailed on a large menu board positioned behind the counter.
The first step to ordering a meal is to select a burrito, bowl, nachos, tacos or quesadillas. The burritos and bowls come in both large and little, or li’l, sizes.
The next step is to choose a fiber, which in this case is rice, brown rice, black beans, pinto beans or peppers and onions.
The third step is the selection of a protein, including chicken, steak, pork, barbacoa, or barbecue beef, and taco meats. All these proteins can be ordered regular or spicy. There’s also a vegetarian option.
Step four is to choose a variety of salsa, including pico, verde, corn and wild.
Next, customers choose to add onions, banana peppers or jalapeno peppers.
The sixth step, which probably involves the most possibilities, involves choosing a sauce. Hot Head Burritos offers more than a dozen sauces, include sweet, extreme and straight habanero, ranch, honey barbecue, taco sauce, Louisiana horseradish, Tabasco chipotle, Cholula and spicy sauce.
The seventh and final step is to top off your order with sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, lettuce or shredded Monterey Jack cheese.
I chose to have a burrito, which involved yet another decision— whether to have my burrito wrapped in a plain flour tortilla, a wheat tortilla or a Jalapeno-cheddar tortilla. I chose the latter.
Working through all the stations along the ordering process, I chose to fill my burrito with a mix of white rice, black and pinto beans, spicy barbacoa, a mix of jalapeno and banana peppers and cheddar cheese, all doused with the eatery’s special Hot Head Sauce.
I also added a single Taco loaded with spicy taco meat, shredded lettuce, cheddar cheese and sour cream.
One of my friends ordered a Hawaiian Burrito, which consisted of chicken, pineapple, sweet corn salsa and white rice. Others ordered Taco Salad, Nachos and Quesadillas.
The servers and cashiers also impressed us with their friendly demeanors, patience and knowledge of the menu. The staff wrapping the burritos also did an exceptional job, encasing the ingredients snugly in a tortilla shell that didn’t unravel while being enjoyed.
I enjoyed my large burrito. I chose some rather potent ingredients, so it was definitely on the spicy side. The ingredients were all flavorful and tasted fresh. I also enjoyed my hard shell taco with its ample helping of spicy taco meat.
I ordered a combination meal, which came with chips and salsa and a beverage.
The surroundings are casual to the point of being rather utilitarian. Red, black and white walls are trimmed with black-and-white checkered tiles. The table and booths are speckled grey and the black chairs are matched with red upholstered cushions. Red fabric-covered pipe tubes for ventilation are installed under the ceiling. A few wall-mounted televisions complete the decor.
There’s not a lot in the way of sweets for concluding the meal, but the eatery does offer a selection of cookies. We finished off our meal by sharing some Chocolate Chip Cookies.
The “build-your-own” burrito concept is not entirely new, but we all remarked on the fact we found the food quite tasty. Conveniently located near the ETSU campus, this casual-style eatery will probably attract plenty of business form the college community. Pay a visit and try Hot Head Burritos for yourself.
AT A GLANCE: Hot Head Burritos, 1735 W. State of Franklin Road, Johnson City. Monday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday- Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.- 10 p.m.. 232-1384. Menu items $7.99 and under. Credit cards accepted. Carryout available.