Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Rise and Shine 1: Anita's (Vienna, Virginia)

Clockwise from top left: Anita; Anita's menu; Breakfast Burrito; Enchiladas Rancheros.

***Note: The "Rise and Shine" Feature will be the headline for reviews of Breakfast only restaurants. It will not be retroactively applied to Clinton St. Baking Co. or any other breakfast review***

LOCATION: 521 East Maple Avenue, Vienna, Virginia
DATE: July 4, 2005
FOOD: Enchiladas Rancheros (Cheese Filled Corn Enchiladas topped with Two Eggs Over Easy, Red Chile Sauce, Cheese, Shredded Lettuce and Served with Refried Beans and Tortillas); Breakfast Burrito with Ham, Cheese, Scrambled Eggs, and Red Chile Sauce; Side of Hashbrowns.
BEVERAGE: Decaf Coffee
PRICE: Courtesy of my father (around $15.00)

Pancakes, scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, refried beans with green chile.

Which of the four isn’t like the others?

The answer, according to my childhood at least, is none – they’re all alike. All four go together like middle school and awkwardness, like Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth and summer break reading, like Mexican food and breakfast. Noting electrifies sleep dulled senses quite like jalapeno humidity at 9 a.m.

The original Anita’s, a Saturday family tradition and a Vienna landmark, was the official beginning of most great weekends of my pre-college existence. With a lineage that includes being the birthplace of the breakfast burrito and the favored Washington area eatery of Anwar Sadat during the Carter Administration, Anita’s opened in Vienna 30 years ago and has been turning out New Mexico Mexican (the slight difference between New Mexican and normal Mexican food is in the chiles, but the food at Anita’s would be recognizable to even the annoying Taco Bell dog) specialties ever since. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of Anita Tellez herself, her white mane all a furl, as she slips from her Jaguar into the kitchen, an early hour check-up on her flagship restaurant.

Dinner and lunch at Anita’s each offer an extensive list of notable dishes, but there’s something singularly reckless and carefree, like cold pizza the morning after a hangover, about chips and salsa for breakfast. Now, an adult (or close to it) fully immersed in the revelatory restaurants of New York, on this July 4th, I was the prodigal son returned, ready to test whether a cherished childhood memory could live up to my (hopefully) matured and refined perspective.

The answer: yes and no.

So much was just as I remembered. The hearty breakfast burrito was filled with fluffy scrambled eggs and generous chunks of ham. The mild red chile sauce flooded over the tortilla, the burrito an emerged submarine in an ocean of pepper spice and cheese gooeyness. It all tasted so familiar, so outstanding, and yet like an old school Dr. J jersey, so retro-chic. And the enchiladas rancheros were exactly as I’d left them – the yolks of the over-easy eggs forming a freakishly tasty eye-opener when co-joined with the smooth refried beans, layers of cheese and chile and crunchy shredded lettuce. The corn enchiladas were even slightly dry and overcooked like edge of the pan hardened lasagna noodles – just as they’d always been, just as I’d grown accustomed to.

So the walk down memory lane was perfect, right? I was a kid again. I’d gone home.

Well, not exactly.

My father’s tried and true egg and chorizo quesadilla (which he pronounces K?(he says que like its a question)-S-A-Dee-A), had gone from a past of crisp attractiveness to a present of oily secretion, the tortilla exuding the uncharacteristic color of plaqued fat. The cubed potatoes, once pillowy inside with a roasted pepper crust on the outside, were now tough throughout, like partially ripened fruit. And then there was the service, a half-asleep nightmare of wrongly itemized bills, forgotten requests, and apologies from the kitchen (not to mention my very disgruntled father). This was not the Anita’s I had loved.

Constancy is an illusion. The Anita’s I knew in younger years still draws breathe, but it has aged just as much as I have. The breakfast burrito can brighten any day, but like the manor in Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher”, Anita’s might have seen its better days. But like I said, nothing is permanent. The food at Anita’s, for the most part, is still delicious. Maybe Anita’s will get its second wind and improved service. And I can promise, after all the memories it’s given me, I’ll be going back again to find out if it does.

RATING: 7.0/10


Anonymous said...

Didn't this used to be your favorite restaurant? Are you jaded?

Rockefeller said...

I loved it growing up, but being in New York I've been able to eat a lot better Mexican food. Anita's will always have a place in my heart, however.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

First off I get carry-out at Anita's 99% of the time. I've found the Burke location to be the best for breakfast burritos a la carte. The Vienna East location used to make bigger burritos but started making skimping some years ago, no matter what time you came in. At most of the locations, you're more likely to find a smaller portion in the morning when they sell a greater volume and put them in the warmer right off the assembly line, as opposed to later in the day when they make them on demand when you order. But the Burke restaurant consistently makes decent sized burritos anytime and nobody looks at you funny when you ask for extra salsa, so I always tip. There've been times when I've grabbed a handful of rotten salsas out of the ice tub only to find out later miles down the road when I tried to eat them, or bitten down on some undercooked homefries or whole beans, but only distance could keep me away.

Anonymous said...

I am really upset with the change-over to more cheddar and less of their yummy (almost american tasting cheese). First it happened in Ashburn and now Herndon. Don't change it was better before! I really love the food but may stop going because the cheese is at the heart of all my meals there.