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LA

Review

Jakob Layman

Cilantro Mexican Grill

$$$$
Written by
Jakob Layman

Angelenos have toxic relationships with gas stations. Our livelihoods depend on them, we feed them our hard-earned money, complain about them, and then do it all over again the following week. They’re bastions for our vices - a late-night pack of cigarettes, a case of sh*tty beer, room-temperature Twinkies inevitably salted by the steady stream of your tears. We’re surrounded by them at every turn, and yet, the only reason to ever seek one out specifically is because gas is 12 cents cheaper there.

That is, unless it’s the Chevron at the corner of Sherman and Whitsett in North Hollywood. What appears to be another run-of-the-mill gas station from the outside is actually hiding a not-so-well-kept secret inside - Cilantro, a tremendous counter-service Mexican restaurant with food worthy of a crosstown detour, regardless of the price at the pump.

Food counters are fairly common in gas stations, serving everything from sandwiches to day-old pastries to neon pink hot dogs spinning on into infinity, but the first indicator that Cilantro is different is the crowd that begins at the counter - and stretches out the front door. You’ll have a better chance of winning $5,000 from a scratch-off at the register than snagging a parking spot out front, so just plan on doing what everybody else does and find street parking on Sherman Way. It can be an admittedly tedious process, and we’ve parked well over five blocks away before, but when push comes to shove, we’d walk ten for food this good.

Jakob Layman

What everyone is here for are Cilantro’s burritos, which are big, budget-friendly (just $7.50), and, frankly, among the best-built in town. Restaurants tend to treat burritos with an attitude of “Let’s cram everything we can inside and see what happens!”, and the results are usually overstuffed, unbalanced wrecks of wasted ingredients. At Cilantro, everything’s deliberate. Whether it’s an egg and turkey sausage-filled breakfast burrito, the off-menu surf and turf with Angus beef and seared shrimp, or house carne asada served enchilada-style, these are well-composed, high-quality burritos that make you realize how many other places are simply phoning it in.

Customization is also a big component at Cilantro, but if the idea of choosing between chile lime corn, serrano pesto, or queso fresco fills you with order anxiety, know this - you can’t go wrong here. Just follow your heart and plan to come back next week to try a new topping combination.

All that said, if you come to Cilantro and only order a burrito, you’ll be doing this place, and yourself, an injustice. If you’re looking for a slightly more manageable lunch, head to the taco section, where you’ll find fresh, straightforward tacos (cilantro, onions, salsa, and a protein of your choice) that are among the most underrated in The Valley. The flour tortillas are soft and translucent, and if you’re looking to add a kick, there’s a separate salsa bar with every kind of heat level you could want. This might be a service counter inside a North Hollywood gas station, but we’d put the carne asada and beef barbacoa tacos up against the best Mexican restaurants in LA. And we bet none of those places have unleaded under $4.

Food Rundown

Jakob Layman
Carne Asada Burrito

Whether you get your burrito regular or enchilada-style (topped with red chile sauce and melted cheese) is up to you. What’s non-negotiable is getting carne asada as your protein. Throw out everything you know about food served inside gas stations, this is one of the best versions in town, and its sweet marinade and perfect outside char will have you returning to the deep Valley for years to come.

Jakob Layman
Tacos

For as tremendous as Cilantro’s burritos are, they’re quite an undertaking, particularly in the middle of the day. If you’re looking for a slightly more manageable lunch situation - but with all the things that make Cilantro so good - get the tacos. The flour tortillas are thin and slightly sweet, and the lack of abundant toppings allows the grilled meat to be the true star. Our favorites are the barbacoa and carne asada.

Jakob Layman
Surf And Turf Burrito

This is one of the most popular items at Cilantro, and it’s not even on the menu - you just have to know about it. As the name suggests, it comes stuffed with seared shrimp and Angus beef, and despite several elements in play here, it’s still about the simple balance between sweet and savory - which it nails every time.

Jakob Layman
Breakfast Burrito

If you’re in the mood for a breakfast burrito and can’t function until you get one, Cilantro’s version will fulfill your needs. That said, we’d definitely order other things before it. The eggs could be fluffier and all the ingredients that pop so well in Cilantro’s other burritos get a bit lost in the shuffle.

Jakob Layman
Tostada

Let’s get one thing straight - this is not your average tostada. It’s a massive shell (the kind usually reserved for family-style taco salads) filled with black beans, rice, lettuce, corn salad, sour cream, chipotle ranch, and topped with a protein and sauces of your choice. It’s a true behemoth, and that’s exactly why we order the seared shrimp as our protein to help even out the heaviness. At $9.69, it might the most food for your money in The Valley, and if you’re able to finish it all in two sittings, give us a call.

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