Head Honcho 

Bandito's has a winning combination of attitude and execution.

It must be written somewhere in the "Book of Burrito-Joint Success" that the room must be dark and peopled by tattoo-splashed wait and bar staff. These same waitrons must endure weeks of I-don't-need-you attitude sculpting and poor-posture techniques. These attributes would sink many restaurants, but they are the basic precepts of successful 'rito retailing.

Also required are velvet matador paintings and Mexican beer advert posters, which Bandito's has in abundance. They take the décor one step further with a nicely appointed horseshoe bar and very classy booths with the "b" logo forming the outline of opposing bench seats. The El Diablo Room, a banquet facility for up to 70 people, is an added amenity. It is obvious that the management team took a good look at theme and application when planning Bandito's. The whole place has the sheen of well-thought-out execution.

The food is excellent for a burrito joint. The vast menu offers 10 specialty burritos ($7.95 to $10.95), numerous appetizers from $4 to $6 or so, salads and entrees. Few offerings top $10 and portions are enormous even by the "burritos as big as your head" standard on which most of these places operate.

I was particularly fond of the spicy black bean cakes ($5.50) and the chicken enchiladas with verde sauce ($8.95). Half of my girl's Lodi burrito (with marinated steak, cheese, grilled peppers and onions in a sun dried tomato tortilla — $8.95) is still in the fridge. It's lunchtime and soon it will be gone. The food isn't overly spicy, cheese-entombed or goop-slopped into submission. Good flavors and a respectable degree of restraint with the goo were greatly appreciated.

I offer a piece of advice to those genteel diners who might find Bandito's too edgy. The key at a 'rito joint is to adopt the same attitude as the staff, if not to have the whole of Norse mythology emblazoned upon your arms. If you think, as I do, that today's 30-square-inch tattoo is tomorrow's "God, what was I thinking," then you should stick with the attitude. Don't want, need or expect to be catered to and you will most likely endear yourself to those deeply jaded 20-somethings carrying the sizzle plates. The service is faster than a two-minute offense drill anyway, so relax; you'll get what you need.

I adopted this approach on my second visit and my margaritas got a little stiffer. I was even afforded an occasional smile from the staff. Speaking of margaritas, they are excellent. The "top-shelf" version is a top-notch concoction of Cuervo 1800, Grand Marnier, Cointreau, juice and mix. Truly stellar. I would also like to compliment Otto, who is the best bartender I've seen 'round these parts.

I have to hand it to Bandito's. I'm particularly fond of burrito joints and it is one of the best I've been to. They ascribe to a familiar game plan, no doubt, but they execute it better than most. It's a sexy place. The food is well above the pale. The crowd is amiable, and the staff is properly punky, yet ultimately approachable. It's a winning combination. S



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