For Mexican fare, La Choza is ‘hot’

Some Saturday mornings, light rain is a more welcome sight out the window than clear sunshine. The nights preceding these mornings are filled with parties and bars, are often populated by women who are more trouble than they’re worth and usually stretch into the early morning like a kitten exploring its own skin. No matter how much sleep you get, it isn’t nearly enough.

On these mornings, you don’t jump headlong into the day with wide open eyes, but instead gradually wake up in a way that’s neither completely voluntary nor altogether enjoyable. Saturday was one of those mornings.

By the time that the chloroform of warm blankets and comforters wore off, morning had turned into midday and, what’s more, the refrigerator was empty of everything but condiments. Four bottles of ketchup, three mustards, a jar of mayonnaise and six unique varieties of barbeque sauce are about as useful to a grumbling stomach as 14 clods of dirt, so a couple of compadres and I took a drive down to Pittsfield for what we hoped would be a surefire way to rally our spirits: burritos with extra guacamole at La Choza, a recently opened Mexican restaurant.

La Choza calls itself a “Cantina Americana” and is a pleasant forty-five minute drive from campus. Its menu is easy to navigate: first you choose a filling from a short list that includes chicken, beef and chorizo (a moderately spicy Mexican sausage), as well as a few vegetarian and vegan options and then you decide whether you want to eat your filling choice in a burrito, taco, quesadilla or atop nachos. The meat dishes each cost five dollars, and the vegetarian options run from $2.00 for the plain cheese to $6.50 for the Vegan Deluxe burrito.

If you enjoy hot sauce on your meal, the restaurant will include one of their substantial selection of sauces free of charge and you can also throw a few extras like jalapeños or special salsa into your meal if you like. I think guacamole is nothing short of essential, and the slightly chunky “guac” at La Choza is made fresh on the premises. It’s a little tangy and will go well with just about anything.

Most add-ons cost $0.25, and guacamole is the most expensive at $0.75, causing La Choza’s reasonable pricing to inch upwards.

To accompany the guacamole, we ordered a couple of quesadillas – beef and chorizo – and both chicken and cheese burritos. The burritos were well wrapped in tortillas that were neither too thin nor too dry; they ably held their contents without getting soggy or splitting open.

The plain cheese version was simple. The Monterey jack and cheddar go well together, but probably would have benefited from a few more choices from the extras menu. That was our mistake, however, not La Choza’s, and I couldn’t complain.

In comparison to the cheese burrito, the chicken version was mammoth in size. Hearty portions are never unwelcome, and seeing this beast of a burrito was a thrill. However, after a few bites it became clear that the mixture of chicken, yellow rice, black turtle beans, tomatoes and scallions was heavily weighted towards the rice. This problem was compounded by a strange aftertaste that forced us to stop eating the burrito in the middle of the meal. This unknown flavor, which no one could pinpoint, was thankfully absent in the other dishes and spoiled what was a decent, albeit rice-heavy, burrito.

The quesadillas were much more satisfying. In between the tortillas was a lot of gooey melted cheese, a definite plus, along with beans, rice and, in the chorizo version, corn. In a pleasantly surprising step up in quality, the beef iteration featured a garlicky marinated beef sliced thin, rather than the usual ground beef that one encounters so often in Mexican food.

The chorizo wasn’t very spicy, but tasty with a dry texture that went well with the more oily melted cheese. The quesadillas were large (about eight inches in diameter) and filling.

There are two elements available at La Choza that I didn’t get a chance to enjoy on my visit. First was their extensive beer selection – a nice variety of microbrews, imports and domestics, which could come in handy when quenching the effects of particularly hellish hot sauces.

The second aspect that I missed was the frequent live musical performances that take place most every night of the week. The schedule is mostly filled with local jam bands, but also includes Latin bands and DJs, an open mic night and a regular Friday night dance party playing electronica and house music. The standard cover charge for these events is a modest $5.00.

La Choza has embraced a guiding principle of simplicity that runs throughout the restaurant: décor, menu, food and pricing. The dishes, with titles like “Basic Beef,” “Simple Chicken” and “Sencillo Chorizo” make this clear and the interior of the establishment reflects it as well, with minimal ornamentation and a “what you see is what you get” open food preparation area.

Aside from the mysteriously foul flavor spoiling the chicken burrito, all the food was enjoyable and there was always enough of it to ensure that there were no calls for a trip through the Burger King drive-thru on the way home.

Next time there’s a rainy day and your spirits are a little low, hop in the car, throw Otis Redding on the stereo and treat yourself to a soothing drive down Route 7 out of the Purple Bubble.

La Choza will offer you a fulfilling meal at a nice price, and with a contented stomach and a smile on your face, you’ll drive home thinking that the world is all right after all.