All burritos are served with a handful of chips and salsa. The queso is extra, but worth it. (Photo: Lauren Smart)

What is Date Night Dining?
In a nutshell, this column is all about food in Chattanooga. I will take people out for dinner and lunch dates at various restaurants in the Chattanooga region. It is not meant to be a review per se, but an account of a one-time experience at a restaurant.

For this week’s column, I dined with Lauren Smart (yes, that Lauren) at Mojo Burrito in Red Bank to celebrate/discuss six months of not being in a relationship with each other. We are both huge fans of Mojo Burrito, and I’ve hesitated to write about it because it’s impossible not to gush affection everywhere. I told myself I’d never write about Mojo Burrito, but now seemed like a fitting time.

You can read about our breakup here.

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Maybe Mojo Burrito could run a promotion for discounted meals with your exes? That’s a bad idea, right?

The restaurant
For many couples, the default food of choice when nothing else sounds appetizing is pizza. But when we were together-hungry, but indecisive-Lauren and I would visit our neighborhood (East Brainerd) Mojo Burrito. It was kind of our thing. So it seemed fitting to have our six-month catch-up at a Mojo Burrito.

The first Mojo Burrito restaurant was founded in St. Elmo in 2002. Since then, two other locations have opened. Despite sharing a name, each location has its own personality and unique atmosphere. We arrived at the Red Bank location Monday night to find the line nearly out the door. If I had to rank the locations in order of preference, the Red Bank MB would be at the top of my list. I like the people. Lauren is-and I hope she doesn’t mind me saying this-a quesoholic. “The side of queso and chips is mandatory,” she said. “I drizzle the queso on the burrito as I go.” Although the menu is extensive, I only purchase one of two items. Lauren gets a specific burrito.

Atmosphere/service
There is no better food choice in life if you are under the influence of illegal marijuana than a burrito, or so I’ve been told. The funky atmosphere is a mix of fresh and grungy. If you’re a vegetarian, nearly every menu item can be made sans meat. As a carnivore, though, the steak, key lime chicken and fire chicken are crave-worthy. Delicious bowls, tacos, quesadillas and nachos are offered, but the word “burrito” is in their name for a reason. As mentioned above, each of the three restaurants has a specific feel. East Brainerd’s Mojo is a bit more commercial because of the strip mall setting. Red Bank has a hurried, intense vibe and offers the best seating (an awesome back porch) of all three. The St. Elmo location is the funkiest of the three. I own several pieces of local artwork that was displayed on the rotating art walls. Mojo Burrito has become as much of an institution as Nikki’s Drive-In and Bea’s. When friends visit from out of town, a trip to Mojo Burrito is among the first stops.

Food
Lauren always orders a mini-Mojo Burrito (still huge, by the way) with a regular flour tortilla wrap and fillings of steak, black beans, tomatoes, lettuce and cheese. She abhors spicy food and can’t handle any spiciness. Whereas Lauren is a quesoholic, I’m a spiceaholic. That’s why I usually order either a mini-Mojo with pickled jalapeños, fire chicken, Sriracha and anything else than can spice it up with. However, this time, I chose my other favorite menu item: a mini enchiladito. A sort of riff on a chimichanga, the enchiladito is a deep-fried jalapeño-cheddar-wrapped burrito with spicy chicken, black beans, cheese, pico de gallo and jalapeños. The burrito is served on a bed of Spanish wild rice and drizzled with queso. I could eat this every day for every meal and never grow tired of the flavor. The regular-sized burritos are too large to handle and still eat a basket of tortilla chips (the best in the city, by the way).

We enjoyed the familiar flavors and caught up on old times. We’re both good. Our breakup was well-documented, and we are almost to the point where we can be friends. The familiarity of the atmosphere helped ease any concerns-on my part-that we wouldn’t have anything to talk about or that the conversation would be awkward. Mojo Burrito will always remind me of our time together and, for that reason, will always taste bittersweet.

Just look at the photos. How could you not want that in your face?

Our meal was perfect. As it always is.

The interior of Lauren’s mini-Mojo Burrito was filled with the nonspicy ingredients she craves. (Photo: Lauren Smart)

Would we go back?
Consistency is important. I know exactly what I want when I’m standing in line at Mojo Burrito. There is no other restaurant in town that I would rather visit on a weekly basis (and I do). For Lauren and myself, it’s not a question of if, but when and how much. If anyone asks for a “local place” to dine, I always send them to Mojo Burrito. I have nothing negative to say, and I hope I never will.

Thanks to Lauren for agreeing to dine with me. It was nice to catch up.

The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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