Restaurant Review: Vaqueiros
Vaqueiros isn’t particularly new. It’s been around long enough to generate its own following. In fact, a regular patron sent in a compelling recommendation to visit the spot up off of Polaris Parkway.
If the spelling of Vaqueiros moniker looks a little familiar, that’s because its related to the well-established local Vaquero chain. It’s not a Vaquero, though. It’s a Chipotle. Well, not a Chipotle, exactly. The host at the order counter mentioned that comparisons with the fast-casual chain were sort of inevitable. He said the original intention was to do something customizable and fast-casual, but more authentically Mexican. Vaqueiros is the result of that plan.
So, for starters, Vaqueiros is not as plastic as a Chipotle. More wood. A better cantina element. And lots more meats to choose from. Those elements set it apart from the chain immediately.
Even a Chipotle veteran can feel a little bit of analysis paralysis set in when faced with the decisions to be made at the order counter. Be prepared for that. No one wants to be the person holding up the line.
Birria and Cochinita Pibil are both meat options. Four years of German language studies in high school don’t really help with the proper pronunciation of either of those options, but the counter team is adept at supporting the culturally clueless. Plus, you can always point through the assembly glass at the stuff you want. The Birria is a supple, saucy barbecued beef.
The Pibil comes off as its porcine counterpart. Both are shredded and soft, with the most distinguishing characteristic between the two being that the beef has more beefy flavor (as anticipated). There are chunkier meat options too, flavorful bits of grilled chicken and steak and savory pastor from a vertical spit. It’s a world of meat choices, all with high quality. Heck, even the vegetarian angle, grilled vegetables, is top-shelf with a generous supply of soft loops of hearty yellow squash.
That’s a strong starting foundation. Vehicles for delivery run the range, from tacos (three for $9.75), loaded nachos ($9.99), bowls ($8.50), and burritos ($8.75) to quesadillas ($8.99) that are flattened in a grill right next to the register. In terms of recommendations, the nachos and burritos were the best bang for the buck. The latter was bursting with ingredients, and folded into a square package as wide as it was long. Quesadillas deliver less quantity, perhaps because they have to be made for the squishing grill; their flatness allows for less goodness inside.
There are still more choices. There are six types of salsa: the Chipotle Red Creamy Sauce has a nice balance of salt and spice, but there’s also regular salsa and something insanely hot called Muy Picosa. And, there’s the the requisite rice and beans, cheese, plus vegetables, including diced tomatoes, lettuce, cilantro and corn salad.
It’s all sort of familiar, but just different enough to feel exciting. Ultimately, Vaqueiros gives control freaks the joy of designing their own Mexican food at will, while importing some of the traditional pleasure of eating and drinking at Vaquero’s.
You can find it at 420 Polaris Parkway. For more information, visit vaqueiros.me.