Taste Test: Bueno Y Sano
213 College Street, Burlington, 864-9900
B-town's famously potent "hurricanes" and conch fritters disappeared when Auggie's Island Grill closed in July. Its alcohol-free successor, Bueno Y Sano, which translates "Good and Healthy," is going a different route. Right next door to vegan-friendly Stone Soup, it offers an array of fresh, Mexican-flavored wraps that you choose yourself from an à la carte menu. There's not a bottle of Cuervo in sight.
Bueno Y Sano, a family-owned chain, began in 1995 as a small operation in the multi-college town of Amherst, Massachusetts. It wasn't long before owner Bob Lowry opened a second branch in nearby Northampton. Earlier this month, his brother, Will Lowry, brought the concept to the College Street space formerly occupied by Auggie's. Two separate visits to the newly built wood-and-glass restaurant yielded wildly different results.
The ordering scheme is a little unusual. Each item has a standard price: $5.25 for a basic cheese quesadilla or a bean-rice-cheese burrito, for example. Additional fillings are priced individually and can be mixed and matched at will. Spinach, sautéed mushrooms and chickpeas with red curry are a dollar each. Grilled shrimp will run you an extra $4.25.
After lengthy deliberation, we settled on two burritos: a veggie version with seitan and a pricey selection with shrimp, roasted red peppers, and sautéed spinach and garlic. Both were mildly disappointing. Although the portion size and quality were good, our chosen ingredients seemed to swim in a sea of bland rice and beans. Even with completely different "extras," the two burritos tasted kind of similar.
A side of sour cream — yogurt is also available — and a squirt of hot sauce helped in the flavor department. The side of pico de gallo — made, as it often is, with hard, underripe tomatoes — didn't. While vine-ripened fruit is expensive and often unavailable, a squeeze of lime juice and bigger sprinkles of cilantro and salt would do wonders for the condiment. The "pico" did add color to the plate, though.
How does Bueno Y Sano stack up against cross-town competitor New World Tortilla? Over there, the options are fewer and pre-determined, but each "burrito" is flavorful and unique. For example, NWT is famous for its chicken club wrap with bacon, cheddar and Grey Poupon; for the Mexican-style chicken Vera Cruz laced with jalapeños; and especially for the Thai chicken burrito, which has a bunch of crunch thanks to the generous layer of ginger-peanut slaw.
Oddly enough, the best burrito at Bueno is its own take on Thai chicken. At BYS, the just-spicy-enough burrito features peanut sauce and red cabbage slaw. The quantity of cabbage is smaller, but slivers of mint give it a fresh, exciting flavor. Verdict: Depending on where I find myself when hunger strikes, I'd happily chow down either restaurant's version.
I was better informed on a second visit to BYS, and the result was a delicious experience. Knowing that the rice and beans would be on the side, I opted for a hearty quesadilla piled with bite-sized pieces of grilled flank steak, mushrooms and zucchini between two toasted tortillas. The meaty and sweet, vegetal flavors were perfectly balanced, and since the filling wasn't smothered in starch, I could actually taste the cheese.
A salad with lemon vinaigrette was crisp and colorful, made of bright green Romaine lettuce topped with grilled red pepper and purple onions. The tangy vinaigrette was even better when mixed with a few dribbles of leftover sour cream. A generous sprinkle of optional grilled chicken, plus the ubiquitous rice and beans on the side, made the salad filling enough to function as a meal in itself. My only gripe about the greens: A smaller, cheaper, side-salad option, minus the extras, would be great for gringos who want some extra vitamins without all the frills.
I get why the rice and beans are practically naked. If the beans were laced with loads of toasty, funky cumin, every dish would taste like the spice. If they were freshened up with lime and cilantro, same deal. One possible solution: Pump the rice and beans up, but don't wrap 'em up in the burritos. Or offer a spicy version and a plain one.
The two hot sauces that patrons can pump from a dispenser near the fountain drinks had just the right degree of zest — the "mild" hinted at heat, while the "hot" started my tongue on a slow, steady burn. What was missing? The "medium" version mentioned on the menu. Plus, a wider array of sauces, à la Mexicali, would be nice. Another way to spice things up would be adding refried beans and corn tortillas. The new joint still needs to bump up the flavor quotient.
Another quibble: While the basic system seems logical, some of the pricing is inconsistent. A portion of chicken, barbecued or plain, is always $1.50, but Portabella 'shrooms cost $1.75 in a burrito, $1.25 in a quesadilla and $1 in a salad. Huh? If they toss a smaller portion into the tossed salad, shouldn't the add-ins be cheaper across the board? Once you figure it out, Bueno Y Sano is also economico.
Burlington's newest DIY eatery is open from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily.