It is hard to ignore the fanfare that carried Freebirds to our campus grounds.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve likely noticed the giant inflated burrito balloon, Lady Liberty freewheeling on a gleaming motorcycle and the enthusiastic dudes strutting around Figueroa and Jefferson with guitar-shaped Freebirds signs.
Freebirds has roared back into California, returning for the first time since it moved from its original location at Isla Vista in Santa Barbara, Calif. to Texas in 1987. Freebirds’ outrageous portions and rock and roll decor attracted a devoted fan base, allowing it to expand to more than 30 locations throughout the Lone Star State.
When Freebirds opened at USC last Thursday, lines snaked well out the door. The lines might reflect the hype, but it’s only the food that will determine whether they will continue to be seen weeks after the initial novelty has worn off.
From the taste of it, it seems like Freebirds is all it’s rumored to be.
Even if you aren’t hungry, once you enter Freebirds and breathe in the smell of smoking meats, the tortilla wraps hissing in the grill and the masa chips sizzling in the fryer, you will be.
You’ll hear the buzz and excited chatter, happy eaters comparing burrito sizes and the cheerful servers coaxing you to try their guacamole, and before you know it, you’ll be fantasizing about your own masterpiece burrito.
At Freebirds, you are as free as a bird to create your own customized meal. Similar to Chipotle, you pick and choose which ingredients you want in your burrito, taco, burrito bowl, quesadilla, nachos or salad.
But for the full, bona-fide Freebirds experience, stick to the burrito.
Queue up, tell the front worker your desired burrito size (Hybrid, Freebird, Monster or Super Monster) and choose your preferred wrap (flour, wheat, spinach or cayenne). A server will then guide you through the entire process of designing your dream burrito.
The base protein choice is steak, carnitas, dark or white chicken, crispy fish or vegetables.
From there, you’re given free reign on the bonus additions: Cilantro or Spanish rice? Cheddar or jack cheese? Black, pinto or refried beans? Or perhaps all? Or none?
You also get various “freebies” — basic fixings such as lettuce, tomatoes, onions, various salsas, jalapenos and cilantro along with a selection of eight sauces ranging from creamy ranch to fiery habanero.
You can’t go wrong with any of these ingredients. All are fresh and the meat choices are lean yet juicy and marbled with flavor. The steak is smoky, the carnitas melt-in-your-mouth tender, the chicken plump and the fish flaky yet crispy from its breadcrumb coating.
Be sure to ask for the corn salsa, which appears to have been shucked from the cob just before being grilled. The corn nibs stick to each other in a neat row, and the edges are beautifully charred and caramelized. A healthy spoonful adds a juicy-sweet bite, a lovely contrast to your savory meats.
Unfortunately, as far as chips go, the ones at Freebirds are just above mediocre. Though crispy and much more satisfying than store-bought bagged chips, they lack the intriguing zing of Chipotle’s lime-spiked chips. The guacamole that comes with them reeks of too much garlic and onion, not something you want to eat before a discussion class.
If you want the biggest bang for your buck, order the Super Monster: A mammoth sized, seven-pound edible brick sculpted from two super-large tortilla wraps with your choice of filling shoveled in.
Priced at about $13, the Super Monster is a decidedly economical investment, nearly three times the size of the $5.29 Hybrid. Unless you’ve got a wood-chipper for a stomach, you probably won’t be able to finish it in one sitting, but divided into three parts, the herculean burrito would make a satisfying lunch, dinner and midnight munchie. (To reheat your leftover burrito, just rewrap it in its foil wrapper and stick it into oven at 350-degrees for about 10 minutes, or squash it into your George Foreman grill.)
Freebirds is neither free nor particularly cheap, and it doesn’t leave you feeling like a bird (especially if you’ve just polished off a Super Monster), but its fresh, quality food and friendly servers that make it worthy of all the fanfare.