A suspended effigy of The Statue of Liberty seated on a shiny motorcycle inside Freebirds World Burrito summarizes the enlightened philosophy behind the Texas-based chain, which made its San Diego debut in Hillcrest last month.
“It’s all about the freedom to choose,” says Manager Jim Hyllengren, pointing to myriad burrito options and a staff that’s afforded the right to work in any street clothes they prefer. The barrier “Libby” is seemingly motorcycling toward symbolizes the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the background are multicolored peace signs that beckon to the 60s hippy movement. “Pot brownies” are also available at the cash register. They’re labeled as such “only because we store them in big pots,” quips Hyllengren. Unless cocoa makes you high, these homemade treats won’t bend your reality.
Some are calling Freebirds “Chipotle on steroids” in that you select the size and flavor of your tortilla before pointing to the numerous fillings and sauces you want added in. A “hybird” burrito barely extends beyond the palm of your hand while the “super monster” could fool people into thinking you’re toting a baby if you threw a blanket over it. Depending on your ingredient choices, it can weigh up to seven pounds, warns Hyllengren.
The “Freebird” sized burrito served me well in two separate visits. It sports the customary length and girth of burritos you’d find at the local taco shacks – bulky but manageable as you begin peeling away its taught foil wrapping. I also stuck each time to the bright-orange cayenne pepper tortilla, which provides a subtle kick to the sustenance within. Other choices include spinach, whole wheat and plain flour.
Customers next face a rice decision: Spanish or cilantro-lime. The latter proved far tastier and I found that it energized the understated flavor of Freebirds’ chicken, which is flamed, cubed and available in white or thigh meat. If you want both, just ask.
Bean choices extend to black, refried or whole pintos, all of them vegetarian. A stickler for refried beans, these were as creamy and nurturing as any spiked with lard. Moving on to the cheeses, there’s queso fresco, jack or cheddar-jack mix. As for the meats, choices feature grass-fed beef boasting a catchy steakhouse essence, slow-roasted shoulder-cut carnitas and the aforementioned chicken. In addition, vegetarians (as well as carnivores) can plump out their burritos with a medley of roasted vegetables.
Then comes the hard part. Indecision naturally strikes when you begin pondering the condiments and other enticing additions such as fresh-squeezed lime juice, dried garlic crumbles, roasted poblano salsa, white onions, red onions – and yes, even Ranch dressing and a carnitas-friendly barbecue sauce that’s slightly smoky and made from ancho chilies. The possibilities turn endless as your burrito begins intensifying.
Prices run the gamut depending on your specifications, although for $2.99 extra you get a foundation drink plus a homemade cookie or “pot brownie” or a pile of delicate chips with warm queso dip or guacamole.
Since Freebirds launched in Santa Barbara nearly 25 years ago, its two “ex-hippy” founders expanded the business throughout Texas and developed World Works, a charitable arm that promotes volunteerism among their employees. Here, the recipient organizations are Operation Home Front and Scripps Mercy Hospital. Just as the company does a fine job feeding our bellies, it caters equally well to the surrounding community.
Freebirds World Burrito (Editor’s note: No apostrophe in “Freebirds”)
3958 Fifth Ave. (Hillcrest)
Prices: $1.99 to $13.79; kid’s menu, $2.89 to $3.09