Cilantro Mexican Inspired Food, which launched in Northport last year, now has a new Huntington offshoot. Although the first branch got off to a shaky start, owner Artie Berke recalibrated, getting rid of the restaurant's microwave and bringing in executive chef, Christian Velasco.
While Berke has set up both Tex-Mex eateries in a fashion resembling the Chipotle Mexican Grill chain, things may not move along at the same assembly-line pace. Blame tighter quarters and a small crew at both places. Here, you step up to the counter and choose either a taco, burrito, tortilla-free burrito bowl, fajita burrito (rice-free, pepper-and-onion-filled), loaded nachos or a salad. Then, select the components -- proteins, fresh salsas and other toppings.
Convection ovens now equip both restaurants, which means Velasco oven-roasts chicken thighs resulting in juicy, boldly seasoned nuggets of poultry -- a vast improvement over the dry, grilled breasts originally used in Northport.
At that location, one night, chicken is the protein of choice in a soft corn taco topped with bright tomato salsa fresca, roasted chili-corn salsa and chopped cilantro. Two more tacos, stuffed, respectively, with ancho chili beef and marinated steak, have good flavor, although the meat is a trifle dry. Salsa mitigates that somewhat. So, too, does guacamole, which costs $3 extra. In Huntington another evening, chicken works beautifully inside a crisp, melty quesadilla, ordered with a feisty mango salsa and crimson pickled onions. With their eye-opening citrus kick, these onions belong on top of most dishes.
They're ideal on a salad ordered with softly shredded sweet chipotle pork, which successfully juxtaposes heat and sweetness. Pork plays well in a burrito "bowl" with brown rice and black beans.
While Cilantro offers three types of chili, the most resonant is beef. Try it in a bowl, or tucked inside a burrito with rice, beans, salsas and condiments. In the end, it's all about mixing, matching, choosing.
When it comes to choosing a location, know that while Huntington is a bit bigger and brighter than Northport, neither locale has a lot of seats. But there's always takeout or delivery.