My recent visit to El Zocalo in Margate left me with an unsated craving for some badass tacos -- I felt like Chris Farley in full Chicago Bears regalia (swap the "Polish sausage" for some "chorizo," "Ditka" with "Cutler," and the transformation would be complete). Instead of trolling my usual haunts, I decided to investigate another westerly spot: Chini's Burritos, a hole-in-the-wall in a run-down Coral Springs strip mall.
The four-table restaurant is barely more than a lunch counter, and the menu didn't seem like much to look at either. I perused the list of "famous" burritos, filled with the usual suspects: taco plates with lettuce, tomato and cheese; quesadillas with chicken and steak' and enchilladas in salsa roja, and felt unimpressed. But the specials board on the wall next to the register listed some more interesting fare. There were chicken empanadas, tamales rajas, chicken with mole poblano, sweet bunuelos with cinnamon sugar, and pork and fish tacos Oaxacan-style. I ordered some fish tacos from the round, smiling lady behind the counter for $6.49, and three of the queso fresco- and jalapeno-stuffed tamales for $5.49. Chips and two kinds of salsa -- a spicy one made from dried red chillies and a mild, green tomatillo -- were $2.49 on the side. Sack in hand, I was good to go.
The fish tacos were made with tilapia, a fish I'm usually not fond of ordering because it tends to be bland and has a slightly dirty flavor unless it's very fresh. But these tacos, I loved. The fish was tender and fresh, and, though lightly seasoned, had a nice mild flavor. When I was waiting for my order, I could hear the woman in the kitchen sauteing the fish for the tacos right then. She did a great job. The little chunks had a nice bit of crust from the pan and were still moist. The tacos had a perfect amount of cilantro and onion, and the tortillas were so soft and pliant you could stuff a pillow with them. I doused them in the smokey red salsa and absolutely loved it.
The corn husk-wrapped tamales were so hot I could barely open them. When I did, I took a bite of the fluffy masa and was amazed at how lush and rich it was. Some tamales are so dry they're grainy; others are so wet they're gelatinous. These were neither. The queso fresco and spicy, roasted jalapenos inside just elevated the mixture even further. I could've sworn the cheese was actually meat, but when I pulled it out of the tamale it was just well-browned, fresh white cheese.
Chini's prides itself on using only fresh ingredients. When I asked if the corn tortillas were homemade, the afable counter lady laughed. "Of course!" she said. "Everything we serve is." From the look of the fat, thick totopes, they don't even buy in their corn chips, like most places do. Those robust chips are fried from Chini's own corn tortillas.I'm sold on Chini's now, which is good because the place is way closer to me than my two favorite taco spots, Tacos al Carbon and Dona Raquel. If you live west and still want a great taco, Chini's is the perfect option. Just a word of warning: if you eat in, be prepared to smell like those great corn chips. The air in there is permeated with the smell of them, which is great if you're hungry, but not so much when your clothes still smell like tortillas two hours later. Still, it's a price worth paying.