Let’s be honest, us foodies can sometimes turn our noses up at chain restaurants. Of course we want to find the best food and eat local, but we sometimes ignore a great restaurant just because it’s a chain. I am a proud foodie and I am here to admit, not all chains are bad, I said it. I recently had the pleasure of trying Tijuana Flats, which has six locations across the Triangle, and several more in Florida, and I was definitely impressed. Brian Wheeler started Tijuana Flats in Florida in 1995 with a loan from his parents and no restaurant experience. After running the restaurant by himself and gaining success, he expanded to other areas. While he loved running his restaurant, doing just that was not enough. So next, he decided to start his very own hot sauce brand, “Smack My Ass & Call Me Sally”, which is now sold and offered at all Tijuana Flats locations. I went to the Cary location, where there is a huge hot sauce bar with about 15 different varieties to choose from. Of course I got about 10 of them to try with my meal, but we’ll get to that later. In addition to his hot sauce brand, Brian Wheeler also wanted to do something to give back to the community. This is why he started the Just In Queso fund, to help neighbors in the communities where his restaurants were located. To this day, Just In Queso has raised $20,000 for Homes for Heroes, and $1 million towards breast cancer research. They have also given to organizations like Habitat for Humanity and those supporting children with cancer. They also have a Charity Hot Sauce where $3 of the $5 purchase will go towards charity.
In addition to doing great things in their community, Tijuana Flats also has some delicious food. Like I said, I was able to try the Cary location, off of Cary Parkway near Trader Joes. We were invited in to try some of their limited time Turkey Chorizo dishes, but were able to try a lot of other things as well. We started with a Chips & Dip ($4.29), which were nice, salty tortilla chips served with salsa, guacamole, and queso. I had to pace myself since I knew there was a lot more food coming, but all three dips were delicious. I’m pretty picky about queso, but this one was nice and creamy, and not too thick or goopy. The guac and queso were nice and refreshing, it was definitely a tasty way to start our meal.
Next we moved on to the Norrito Rice Bowl with Blackened Chicken ($6.79). This was basically a giant naked burrito bowl. It was filled with rice, blackened chicken, black beans, avocado, pico de gallo, sour cream, scallions, and jalapenos. The dish was so tasty and for the price, it can’t be beat. This could easily feed two people, or be taken home and eaten for lunch the next day. It was incredibly filling, but at the same time didn’t make me feel terrible about myself. Next we moved on to Tostados ($7.99). These were tortilla chips topped with the limited time only turkey chorizo, refried beans, cheese, pico de gallo, scallions, and sour cream. This dish was one of my favorites because I just love the crunch of the tortilla chips. It was almost like eating nachos, just in a less messy way. These were also made extra tasty by topping them with some of the hot sauce options that we grabbed from the hot sauce bar.
Next we moved on to the Hangover Burrito, which is a limited time menu item. This was created to showcase the turkey chorizo being featured this season. The Hangover Burrito is stuffed with turkey chorizo, a fried egg, potatoes, cheese, and jalapeños. It was honestly the perfect breakfast burrito. The turkey chorizo was not too greasy, and the potatoes added an unexpected texture and incredible taste. Our final savory course was Beef Flautas ($6.99). The flautas were essentially ground beef wrapped in a flour tortilla, fried, and served with a side of queso. This was another one of my favorite dishes. Even though it was incredibly simple (just beef and tortilla) it packed a serious punch of flavor. The beef was nice and juicy without being overly greasy. Our final, and possibly most delicious, course was Cookie Dough Flautas ($2.99). Yes, you read that right. This is chocolate chip cookie dough wrapped in a flour tortilla, fried, and served with a side of chocolate sauce. The result is an out-of-this-world amazing dessert. The cookie dough was warm and gooey and melted, and I wish I could’ve eaten about 10 more of them.
Overall I was really impressed with Tijuana Flats. Every single dish we tried was something I would get again. Living in the Triangle with so many amazing food options, it can be easy to overlook and underestimate chain restaurants, but this is definitely one that is worth a visit.
Note: From time to time we’re invited out to try a restaurant or to try certain products. This meal or items are usually comped, as these was. We’re under no obligation to write a positive review or any review at all when we’re invited out to try a place. Every review you see on our site will be an honest review of the place whether or not the restaurant provided us with the meal at their cost.
Melissa Guido is currently a dietetic intern in the Triangle area. She studied nutrition at NC State and Meredith College. Her favorite part about nutrition is showing people that healthy food can be exciting and delicious. Melissa loves traveling and learning about how food fits into different cultures. In her free time she loves trying new restaurants, cooking, and obsessing over her dogs. Follow her on Instagram @made2order and at www.madeorder.wordpress.com.