by Molly Reitter

MOORESVILLE – It can be hard to be the little sister, especially when big sister is the extremely popular Prickly Pear restaurant.

Big sister gets the upscale food and venue, not to mention being around for years and years. But little sister, Burrito Loco, is finding that smaller and more casual can be just as good and, in some cases, even better.

Eddie moved to Charlotte from California in 1995 to help his cousin open up the first Azteca Mexican restaurant. He then met Valentino Panizzut and in 2003, the two opened the Prickly Pear, a high-end restaurant serving modern Mexican food. The restaurant became very popular, but eventually the two wanted to parlay their success with a more casual Mexican eatery. Burrito Loco opened in May 2010.

Like many sisters, there are few similarities between the restaurants. The Prickly Pear is a posh venue with full-blown entrées.

Burrito Loco is like a standing taco truck tucked away in a blink-and-you’ll-miss it strip mall in Mooresville. The room is rectangular shaped with a counter to order food. The décor is simple with comfortable booths and small tables.

Before it gets dismissed as just another Mexican fast-food joint, however, it pays to delve deeper into the menu, where Chavez’s California roots shine through.

Burrito Loco uses fresh ingredients in unique and tasty ways. The flavors have been carefully selected and blended for a taste sensation. Marinated pork mixes with pineapple, rice, beans, jack cheese, onions, cilantro and fresh tomatillo salsa to create a burrito with panache. The adobo steak is marinated in a special mixture that gives it an incredible tang without too much heat.

All the sauces, salsas and marinades are homemade. Mexican cheeses at the restaurant range from Cotija, which is similar to Parmesan, to Chihuahua, which is similar to a white cheddar or Monterey Jack.

“We cook the food fresh,” said Chavez. “We formulated the burritos and tacos so the flavors taste really good together.”

The menu also features drinks and paletas (popsicles) as well. The Jamaica is hibiscus ice tea, which is made from the real hibiscus flower. The Horchata is a drink made from rice soaked in water and then sweetened with cinnamon, sugar and evaporated milk. Paletas, made with juices and bits of fruit, range from mango with chili to tamarind.

Burrito Loco seats 65 people and offers take out and delivery.

Brandon Ladd, of Mooresville, eats at the restaurant two or three times a week.

“It’s got fresh ingredients and good prices,” said Ladd. “Plus it’s a really fun place to hang out, especially on Wednesday nights.”

The restaurant features Open Mic Night every Wednesday from 7-10 p.m. with community members showing their musical talents. It has become a popular local hang out on those nights for young and old alike.

One drawback is that the area for open mic takes up needed table space.

“We need to add more seating,” Chavez said. “Our lunch lines are out the door!”

The sibling rivalry is about to get even more fierce. A third restaurant, Verde, is currently underway off Exit 23 in Huntersville. This one will be a sit-down restaurant hanging somewhere in between the price points of Burrito Loco and the Prickly Pear.

Burrito Loco

391 E. Plaza Drive, Mooresville