CHINO LOCOS (4 Greenwood, at Queen East, 647-345-5626) Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a soda. Average main $6. Open Sunday to Thursday 11 am to 9 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am to 10 pm. Unlicensed. Delivery. Access: three steps at door, washroom on same floor. Rating: NN
NOW loves an underdog. And we're all in favour of offbeat multiculti menus, as the featured resto listings that follow will attest. But two rounds of take-away from newly minted Chino Locos, the three-week-old Chinese burrito joint now operating out of the old Ghali Kitchen, suggests that some cuisines were never meant to meet.
Ghali tried - and failed three or four times - to pull off something similar. His invention was Jamaican jerk chicken pizza. He even put the incendiary stuff inside a roti and called it a burroti. Despite a winning product, Ghali failed to find an audience. Course, it didn't help that the Kitchen never seemed to be open.
Enter new kids Chino Locos. They've got the concept, the gung-ho attitude, the franchise-ready logo, the easy-to-remember phone number, and they were even opening at 6:30 in the morning at first, no doubt to catch that lucrative commuter crowd transferring from the Greenwood bus to the Queen streetcar. And they deliver! Problemo is, Chino Locos' grub ain't ready for the spotlight.
Let's be a little bit more specific. Nearly everybody loves Chinese food. And who isn't mad for Italian? But that doesn't mean that moo shu pork on a pizza - or in a hot dog bun or ice cream cone, for that matter - is necessarily a good idea.
Chino Locos might make sense if the slow-roasted char siu barbecue-style pork tenderloin included in the Swweeet (sic) burrito weren't so alarmingly overpowered by five spice powder (most notably, cinnamon and cloves) that it could pass for a Christmas fruitcake.
Or if the fried chow mein noodles that fill up about half of the whole-wheat wraps weren't burned, though I'm sure the short-order cook responsible for them would use the words "nicely charred" and possibly even "blackened." And don't forget the guacamole, turtle beans and crunchy edamame!
The otherwise tasty strips of stir-fried steak in chipotle sauce found in the Off Da Hook (both $5.99, tax inclusive) burrito make a good first impression until the dreadful chow mein kicks in, while the Paradise Vegan ($6.99) - tofu, oily mung bean noodles and barely cooked Japanese eggplant in black bean sauce - is enough to convert a herbivore back to the ways of the flesh. Though Locos offers "rustic rice" as a noodle alternative, it's unavailable both visits. Perhaps it was still aging.
Fancy dessert? Then go for the apple burrito ($3.50), a turnover in all but name. It gets weirder: an Asian spin on chicken and waffles - in a burrito, obviously - is in the works.
Chino Locos does manage to get a couple of things right. The veritable hole-in-the-wall has been spruced up with a new open kitchen, a bar that seats six and a portrait of Barack Obama. And the house-made hot sauces - a mild Chinese-style ginger 'n' scallion relish, a mid-range Caribbean heat inducer and a no-holds-barred green chili hell-raiser (all $1.50/2 ounces) - are actually terrific.
"That be some crazy-ass shit," says the dude behind the till, pointing at the latter.
He be right.