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Cheap eats: El Rio Bakery

Citizen Staff Writer


Tucson Citizen

What: El Rio Bakery

Address and phone: 901 N. Grande Ave., 882-9457

Hours: 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays – Saturdays, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays

What was ordered: Birria burrito ($3.75), Chile Verde burrito
($3.75), Caldo de Queso ($3.50), Albondigas ($3.50) and two soft drinks
($1.25 each for a total of $18.38, well within our Cheap Eats goal of a
meal for two for less than $20.

Comments: The building has a new paint job and the small dining room
has been nicely made over, but this is still the same old Mexican
bakery that has been attracting loyal customers for decades.

If you’re up with the birds, the smell of fresh baked pan dulce
(Mexican sweet breads), empanadas, pan de huevo, (egg bread) cochinitos
(pig-shaped gingerbread cookies), and more can perk you up quicker than
that $5 cup of artisan joe you get at some haven for snotty art wimps.
And for $5 here, you get a dozen baked goods, though you’ll miss out on
the heady critiques of what’s currently playing at The Loft.

El Rio’s status as one of the better panaderias in town (La
Estrella, Le Cave’s, and El Triunfo are three others) has most people
thinking of it as the place to stop in the morning on the way to work.

What the neighborhood has known for years is that it’s an equally good place to stop for lunch or takeout.

Though the menu is confined to burritos and sopas, there’s more than enough variety to keep you coming back to try more.

The prices are inexpensive enough here that we went with a pair of
small sopas and burritos on a recent visit, which was actually a lot
more lunch than we needed. The Caldo con Queso ($3.50) came in a
surprisingly large bowl for a small order (the large is $5.50). The
cheese had been masterfully melded with the rich chicken stock into a
luxuriously smooth broth with no strings attached. Slices of bell
pepper and onion were accented by peeled and sliced potato, sized and
portioned at a thoughtful balance, as opposed to the fist-sized chunks
often encountered with such sopas. The Albondigas ($3.50) was equally
first-rate, the meatballs delicately flecked with mint and rice and
immersed in a pristine chicken broth rich in slow-cooked undertones.

The burritos here are not the gut-bomb fatties found at fast-Mex
joints but rather the long, slender type often encountered in Mexico.
The filings are more than ample, but rather than overpowering you,
they’re portioned in amounts that more pleasantly play off the homemade
tortillas. The Chile Verde version featured lean, shredded pork deeply
imbued with green chiles, garlic and onion. The Birria burrito ($3.75)
was pleasantly juicy, the succulent, shredded beef more strongly
flavored with red chile than other versions.

You could easily order just soup or just a burrito and leave El Rio
sated and happy for less than $5. Then again, you’d be certifiably
crazy not to grab a fresh-baked goodie to go.

Service: Order at the counter and the food is brought to your table.

Bar: no

Children’s menu: no

Web site: no

Most recent health inspection: Yikes, a “provisional” rating Feb.
13. Critical violations were reported for cooked potentially hazardous
foods not cooled properly, for effective food contact controls not
preventing food contamination, for employees eating, drinking, or using
tobacco outside designated areas, and for food employees not preventing
contamination of ready-to-eat food by limiting bare hand contact to
approved methods.

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