Wichita’s many fast-food burrito places occupy their own dining middle ground.
The setup is decidedly fast food, with no-frills counter service, to-go packaging and late-night hours. But the food is a definite step above national fast-food chains. These restaurants, whose local ranks include Rene’s, Ricardo’s, Alejandro’s and El Gordo, to name a few, serve big burritos made with fresh ingredients stuffed in chewy tortillas, plus tacos, nachos, enchiladas, tortas, tamales and other Mexican favorites.
A new member of the group is Lina’s, which is distinct because it has two locations. The first opened last summer in the space at 3570 N. Woodlawn most recently occupied by Walt’s Old Tyme Hamburgers and Smashburger. The second opened in April in the former Jacky Chan Sushi space at 4910 E. Central. My curiosity about Lina’s was piqued recently when I conducted an informal poll on breakfast burritos and several readers raved about theirs. Now, I’ve eaten at both local Lina’s restaurants and liked the variety, the price and the convenience.
Lina’s is a regional chain based in Omaha, where it has two restaurants. There are also Lina’s restaurants in Des Moines and La Vista, Neb.
▪ ON THE MENU: Lina’s has a large menu filled with dozens of options. Breakfast is served all day and offerings include huevos rancheros, Spanish omelets and burritos stuffed with bacon, sausage, steak, eggs, chorizo, potatoes and more. The burrito menu includes choices like pollo asado, shredded beef, shrimp and fish. It also serves tortas, enchiladas, chile rellenos, taco plates, tostadas and chimichangas.
Lina’s also sells churros and flan, both delicious but not-that-commonly served desserts. It has extra large, dramatic quesadillas that are nothing like the kids menu versions many Mexican restaurants offer. And it serves an appetizer I’d never tried before but can’t stop thinking about: a massive calorie bomb called carne asada fries.
▪ DON’T-MISS DISHES: Definitely don’t miss those carne asada fries. In fact, go to Lina’s just to have them. The dish, listed on the appetizer section of the menu, is a huge serving of crinkle-cut fries piled high with carne asada (chopped skirt steak), sour cream, guacamole and melted cheese. It’s massive, and it’s messy, and despite valiant attempts at willpower, we couldn’t stop eating them until they were gone. The tender meat combined with the potato mushiness of the fries and the creamy moisture of the guacamole and sour cream produced a flavor/texture nirvana. I’d order those over nachos any day.
We also liked Lina’s burritos, which are served in giant tortillas that arrive to the restaurant frozen then are cooked on a grill. This produces a tortilla that’s substantial, chewy and able to stand up to its fillings. They taste fresh, and they’re browned in all the right places. We had the asada burrito (can’t get enough of that meat) and the Arizona, which contained an interesting mixture of carne asada, grilled onions, green peppers and chunks of potato. I hereby declare that all Mexican dishes should contain chunks of potato.
We were less impressed with the tamales, which were far too dense. The masa was too thick and chewy, and there wasn’t enough meat. But Lina’s makes perfect Mexican rice, which was served on the side along with equally quality refried beans.
On our way out, we saw a construction worker digging into a giant quesadilla, grilled to brown perfection, stuffed with meat and bigger than the foam plate it was served on. We’re getting that next time.
One of our favorite things about Lina’s is its salsa bar, which more Mexican restaurants should have. Diners can self-serve little cups of mild, green and extra-hot salsa and take as many lime slices as they’d like. It’s fun to try a different salsa with each bite.
▪ AMBIENCE: The Woodlawn Lina’s still looks like the old Smashburger inside, which is a little jarring. It’s a no-frills burrito joint fitted with modern, upscale booths and fixtures. But it makes for a nice environment. The newer Lina’s is in a teeny-tiny building that can’t seat more than 30, but it’s clean and bright.
▪ PRICE RANGE: Inexpensive. Burritos are $5.99 or less. Combo plates, which have lots of food on them, range from $6.99 to $8.99. Quesadillas range from $3.99 for a basic cheese to $6.49 for shrimp. Churros are $1.49 apiece.
▪ SERVICE: Customers order at the counter, and at both locations, the cashier was friendly and helpful.
Ratings reflect the critic’s judgment of the food, service and atmosphere in relation to the price. If you would like to nominate a restaurant to be reviewed, call 316-268-6327.
☆☆1/2 stars out of four
Type of food: Mexican fast food
Hours: 6 a.m. to midnight at both locations