For four years now, Red Habanero Grill in Indianapolis has served up their style of fresh Mexican food in their small northeast side location (see map). I decided to give Red Habanero Grill a try when I was in Indianapolis earlier this year.
The concept of Red Habanero Grill is pretty basic. There is no wait staff service at the restaurant. The menu is pretty basic. You order at the counter and they make the tortillas on a hot press right before your eyes. You then walk down the line of the counter and you choose what you want for fillings for your chimichanga, burrito, quesadilla or fajitas. It's all made right before your eyes and within minutes of stepping into the restaurant, you have your food and are ready to eat.
The concept is similar to Panchero's, a restaurant chain based out of Iowa City that has over 50 locations in 19 states. I had a friend from the east coast who used to travel to Iowa City a couple times a year who never missed a chance to eat at Panchero's. He absolutely loved the huge burritos Panchero's has. We have one not far from our house in Davenport and it's OK in a pinch for quick Mexican food.
While both Red Habanero Grill and Panchero's are similar in their concept, Red Habanero Grill offers a selection of homemade salsa and hot sauce for customers to choose from at a "salsa bar". Their hot sauces begin with a mild sauce that I would categorize as "hot". It definitely had some steam to the taste, but it was far from over-powering. They had an XX Habenero sauce that definitely got my attention when I took a little bite of it on a corn chip. And they had a XXXX Hot Tomatillo sauce that, frankly, I was much too chicken to try.
The other difference is that Panchero's is pretty much run by Anglo's, Red Habenero Grill has Mexican natives running the restaurant. There's more of an authentic Mexican feel to Red Habenero Grill than there is to Panchero's.
It was around 8:30 when I got into Red Habanero Grill. The restaurant is nestled back into a strip mall right next to the popular Moon Dog Tavern. While there is ample parking in front of Red Habanero Grill, it was sort of tough to find a spot due to the crowd at Moon Dog Tavern.
There was a light crowd inside Red Habanero Grill having a late dinner. I went to the counter and took a quick look at the menu. I was torn between the shredded beef burrito and the chimichanga with your choice of meat. I ended up getting the steak chimichanga which was served with a side of refried beans and rice. I also got a couple bottles of Sol beer to go along with the meal.
The chimichanga was made before my eyes - the tortilla was pressed, the steak was added, and then it was folded and their homemade queso sauce was added on the top. They call this "fresh Mexican", although I'm guessing a lot of the toppings had been sitting in their warming containers for a good portion of the evening.
Along with some Cholula hot sauce, I doctored up the chimichanga with the "mild" sauce Red Habanero Grill provided at the salsa bar. All in all, the chimichanga was OK, nothing special. The steak meat was a little over-cooked due to it sitting on the line for awhile. But the pieces of steak were small enough that were easy to chew and easy to digest. And they were flavorful from the grilling process. It wasn't a total washout of the meal.
The hot sauce was pretty damn good, though. I ended up downing my two bottles of Sol and going back for a third. I didn't touch much of the refried beans or rice, but was able to finish the chimichanga and the basket of chips one of the guys brought out.
With the three beers, my bill at Red Habanero Grill came to $17 bucks plus with tax. The food was good. Not outstanding, but good. It may be better at peak times when they're switching out the food more often. I've eaten at a couple three Mexican restaurants in Indianapolis that were much better and more authentic than Red Habanero Grill. But for a quick Mexican fix that definitely a step above Taco Bell, and is a better alternative than a Chipotle or Qdoba, Red Habenero Grill fits the bill.