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Portage Avenue establishments couldn't be more different... or delicious

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/7/2013 (1508 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE following two places are almost across the street from each other -- both very simple and unpretentious, and both open seven days a week. What they also have in common -- and what makes them of more than usual interest -- is the fact that, although their specialties are worlds apart, the specialties in both are delicious.

Mexican food isn't high on my list of favourites, mainly because much of what I've had locally has rarely been better than just OK. I may have changed my mind, though, and not because I've found some high-end purveyor of that cuisine. No, what changed my mind was the food at Burrito Splendido, which was very much better than just OK -- it was some of the best of its kind, in fact.

The setting may be spartan, but the vibe is cheerful and friendly. Seating is at booths on moulded plastic benches or on little round stools at small tables, which wouldn't look out of place in one of those huge food courts. The menu lists the standards you might find in some of those courts, too -- burritos, tacos, quesadillas and such -- but there all resemblance ends.

It may look like one, but Burrito Splendido is no chain operation and has an impressive pedigree. Owner Ken Livingstone is a one-time member of the Wow group with past stints as manager at 529 Wellington and the late, lamented Pasta la Vista. It also has a philosophy based around the use of fresh ingredients, local when possible, and the skills to do right by them.

Everything tasted exceptionally fresh and good. The burritos come on made-to-order tortillas of organic-white or whole-wheat flour ($6.75 to $8.75 regular, or $8.50 to $10.99 large). The three regulars I tried bulged with adobo marinated chicken, slow-cooked pork carnitas or barbacoa-braised beef. Other possible fillings are roasted tofu or vegetables, and all include as many of the 20-odd additions as one wishes: salad veggies, black beans, corn, rice, jalapenos, salsas, cheeses, etc., etc. I particularly liked the refried beans, the house-made queso fresco (fresh cheese) and (for an extra 99 cents) the excellent, lime-scented guacamole.

I thought the whole-wheat quesadillas, with a blend of cheddar, mozzarella and Monterey Jack, were muy splendido ($6.99, or $7.99 to $8.99 with added meat). The soft corn-tortilla tacos come with the same choice of meats or -- if you're lucky (it sells out fast) -- the wonderful marinated pickerel. They are tiny, but they come two to an order ($6.50 to $7). You can also have your burrito filling as a salad, i.e. in a bowl with romaine lettuce in a chili-lime vinaigrette. It is delicious ($7.75 to $8.75 regular, $9.99 to $10.99 large).

You order at a counter from a wall menu and carry your own trays, but the young and uncommonly well-trained staff are friendly, enthusiastic and familiar with all aspects of the food.

They only have cookies available for dessert, but they are terrific, especially the must-try chili chocolate cookie (79 cents each). And oh yes, there are some nice Mexican fruit-flavoured soft drinks, and you can even have a Corona, a sangria or a margarita. The beverages come in a plastic cup, true, but they are still a lovely treat.


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The chicken burrito at Burrito Splendido on Portage Avenue.


The chicken burrito at Burrito Splendido on Portage Avenue.

With a name like Daily Grind, it should come as no surprise to learn this is a coffee shop -- a comfortable, if rather dimly lit one, with seating at conventional tables and chairs or on a few sofas around coffee tables. The coffee, which comes in endless variations, is predictably good, and there's also a large selection of other hot and cold beverages. What is less predictable is the quality of the sandwiches, which are freshly made to order, with top-notch ingredients, and among the best I can remember.

They are based on crusty ciabatta rolls, with generous and interesting fillings ($6.25 each). Our tuna salad was finished with melted swiss cheese; a grilled chicken breast was completed with bacon and pesto mayonnaise; and although I'm a committed carnivore, I even loved the filling of roasted zucchini and red peppers with red onion, swiss cheese and a tangy tomato mayonnaise. If I were forced to make a single choice though, it might be the sandwich that was almost an inch thick with notably unsalty baked ham, juicy roasted turkey, swiss and cheddar cheeses and a dab of honey for a hint of sweetness. I could live on that one indefinitely.

Other possible fillings are roast beef with roasted peppers; a turkey, bacon and cheddar club; and grilled chicken with swiss cheese. There are also homemade soups, which change daily -- the beet borscht of my jour was good ($2.49 as a side). Salads, too, among them a Greek salad that was mostly romaine with only a token sprinkling of feta, and a better one of romaine with apple, onions, pecans and feta in a vinaigrette dressing ($6.49 each).

There's a large selection of gelati (unsampled) and also, among the many pastries, several that are house-made and very good. I liked the moist brownie, the old-fashioned date square, the thick slab of banana-nut bread, the chocolate-dipped biscotto and -- most of all -- the wonderful pumpkin scone.

Here, too, orders are placed at a counter, from a wall-board menu, but are brought to your table by a cordial and helpful staff.

To see the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below or click here.

Restaurants marked with a red flag were rated between 0.5 to 2.5 stars; yellow flags mark those rated between 2.5 to 4 stars; and green flags mark those rated rated 4.5 to 5 stars. Locations marked with a yellow dot were not assigned a star rating.


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Updated on Thursday, July 4, 2013 at 9:26 AM CDT: Replaces photos, changes headline, adds fact box

9:38 AM: adds map

2:19 PM: Corrects name, address

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