Friday, June 11, 2010

CLOSED! mexican: i strongly recommend OOLA MEXICAN GRILL


No.3 Ln. 136, Alley 1, Roosevelt Rd. Sec. 4
(02) 2363-1111

MRT: Gongguan

website: Oola's Facebook page

hours: SUN-THU: 11AM-10PM

$ Cash only

Kid friendliness: no high chairs. but quesadillas available off the menu for kids

Visit reviewed: 6/2/2010

Let's be honest. If you're craving Mexican food in Taipei, you're kind of out of luck. The options here are slim and imperfect and not to mention, on the pricey side. And as much as I liked Eddy's Cantina, it's hard to get to Danshui for a craving unless you have a couple hours to get there and back.

But hopefully Oola Mexican Grill will change that.

Tucked behind the movie theaters in Gongguan, it just opened last week and already has good word of mouth. Even though it was already on my to-do list, I received emails and comments with raves. So did I have high expectations? I tried to keep them in check- after all, this is a city where Mexican food often comes with a side of fries, or nachos consist of Doritos with a side of salsa (real experience!).

Let's start with the good, and there's a lot that is good.

There's burritos, burrito bowls, tacos, fajitas and salads, all for about NT$120-$150. If you've never been to a Chipotle, this is how it works- You pick what form you want your Mexican, you pick your protein, you pick what else you want in it or not (ie rice, salsa, cheese, lettuce, sour cream, guac) and then you eat!

I was definitely excited to see carnitas! Stringy, soaked in juices, braised carnitas. There's also steak in large bite sized chunks, grilled chicken and barbacoa, which here is beef. I was unsure between the carnitas and barbacoa and was offered a small taste of each to decide. I stuck with my original carnitas order as the barbacoa was a bit spicier.

There's lots of salsa- mild pico de gallo with mostly tomatoes and onions, a corn salsa and two spicier salsas- red and green salsas- and you can have any combination of the salsa. The first time I went I got the mild and the corn salsa and the second time I asked for a little of the green salsa. There's also fresh guacamole, made with Haas avocados, which will cost NT$20 if you want it added in burrito. Everything is behind the counter, so there's no self serve salsa bar here, though the drinks are self serve and refillable.

The space is clean and casual with two floors and an open patio. Perfect for the summer days and nights and there's free wifi.

The burrito comes out to be a decent size. You can also add chips and a salsa and drink to your meal for an extra NT$29. The chips I had were better the second visit than the first, and definitely go great with the spicier green and red chile salsas.

The first time I went, by the time they put together my burrito, which wasn't very long, and I unwrapped it, the burrito was cold. Not even lukewarm, but cold to the touch. It was strange considering that they warmed up the tortillas on the grill, but I was more sensitive to it because the owner asked if he could reheat it for us (without us asking). Even after it was reheated, it was still only warm, not steaming hot, but I was pretty hungry so I wanted to eat it.

And my carnitas burrito tasted good! The rice soaked up the juices from the carnitas and salsas and the touches of cheese and guacamole made it taste like LA.

On my second visit, I told them I wanted a hot burrito and so the owner asked them to make it quicker and indeed it tasted much better hot.

I also had a bite of a chicken burrito bowl and the bite sized grilled chicken was tender and flavorful.

Many people will compare Oola to Chipotle, which is a good thing since there's basically no other place like it in Taipei. I've only been to Chipotle once, but the idea of casual place where you can pick up burritos is definitely needed here. The owners are quite enthusiastic and seem to be open to hearing what customers like and don't like, so you can't help but to root for them to succeed. They are from LA so I'd say that the flavors and style of the food here is more California Mexican than Tex Mex or sit down Mexican, but there's already places for that here. They are still going through some opening kinks, but I'm sure with time and feedback that they can work them out.

Some people will be missing the pinto and black beans and mexican rice, but I'm okay without it- they state that they are figuring out an affordable solution to bring it to the store. I'm also okay with the jasmine white rice, which they flavor with cilantro and lime, though I'd prefer Mexican rice. (Have I been here too long?) For those looking for spicier flavors, consider adding the spicier salsas to your dish, which have a great kick and flavor to them.

What do you think? Have you been waiting for burritos to come to Taipei and is Taipei ready for burritos?

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LIN said...

ah, so the barbacoa IS beef. when i went, i got confused...i said i wanted barbacoa, then they're like "ok niu rou". anyway, the barbacoa was pretty good, had enough flavor. though, i think the only downside to this place is that their portions are tiiiiny. i was still hungry after eating a burrito bowl with the chips + salsa. i suppose maybe because i was expecting chipotle-portions, but still i thought the portion was quite small. i dunno if i'll be back since i get enough mexican food in texas haha :p

billy said...

Yeah, I miss the black and pinto beans. Hopefully, they'll figure something out about that. I noticed that my burritos weren't steaming hot but I was so into the flavors that it just didn't matter much to me. It's definitely worth going back for more. I hope these flavors catch on in Taipei and they have the opportunities to open many more branches. Gongguan is way out of my way.

billy said...

Oh by the way, the first Chipotle Mexican Grill opened in Denver back in '93. Now they are everywhere. What makes them great is that the owner uses all organic and local products.

Pierre said...

I went there two days ago with two American friends.

The owners were really nice, trying to get feedback, and taking "Chipotle" as a reference (I had no idea what he was talking about cause I'm French -- yeah, nobody's perfect).

Since we had to wait a little bit for chicken meat to be ready, they offered us a set of chicken quesadillas which was really good.

I had a barbacoa burrito and it was very good as well!

I'm not used to eat a lot of mexican food, but since all my American friends are craving for Mexican food here, I guess I'll definitely go back there every once in a while!

Anonymous said...

OMG, I have been craving something like this since I got to Taipei 18 months ago. I used to eat Chipotle on a regular basis in Florida. I've always thought that kind of place could work around a college area. Let's hope it's true.

Thanks for the recommendation, J! I'll be sure to check it out soon.

Anonymous said...

It was a very good experience, the service is good and the carnitas and Burritos where tasty and made out of fresh ingredients.
the only restriction : it was cold but worth going back

joanh said...

lin: yup, the barbacoa is beef. you thought the portions were tiny?? i've only been to chipotle once, so it seemed about the same to me. you can't compare to Texas! haha!

billy: thanks for commenting! yeah, gongguan is out of my way too... we'll see if they'll be able to open other branches elsewhere!

pierre: thanks for sharing your experience!

fredreddy: let us know what you think!

anonymous: yours was cold too eh? yeah, ask for it hot the next time! haha

Anonymous said...

this is definitely going on my post diet to-do! thanks for another great tip!

opium80s said...

I've only been to Oola once, it was good since it's affordable and the quality isn't bad. A small problem though, is the name. My bf asked them about what the name mean. They said it's because (they think) most Taiwanese would pronounce 'Hola' into HO-la, so they decided to make it Oola instead, which doesn't really make sense to us. Cos I mean, so what?

But that would detract me from a good place. What I really think is that they should make the burritos warmer than it is and definitely get some refried beans and Mexican rice up in those burritos asap. It ain't the same without.

Free Credit Score said...

I have just became the fan of this Oola, thanks for the info! I see that they put corns in their burrito? Mmm...not sure how it works..I don't see that here in the US!

Nicholas said...

That looks almost exactly like Chipotle (which I think is a good thing, but others might disagree).

Sad to hear that the portions are small though :(

The Thirsty Pig said...

I am going to try it today!

Unknown said...

Great food! Much better then that Dan Shui establishment people rave about. The burriotos here where as good as Chipotle in LA. This place is definitely the best Mexican food I ever had in Taiwan.

JT said...

I'll check this out.

There's a good taco/burrito/quesadillia bar just down the street from Out of India (or maybe In to India... the one on the north/west side of ShiDa Rd). Cheap food, and tasty and quick.

billy said...

I just keep going back to Oola for more. The burritos are just too tasty and the owners are cool.

Maddie said...

I live in the area, and have seen this a few times on my way home. Kind of wanted to try it, but never did after reading your comments on typical Taiwanese Mexican food. Then I saw you posted it was awesome and told my friends we HAD to come, haha. :D

I LOVED it, but yeah, it'd be better with some beans. They don't even have to be refried. . . pinto or black would do. And I thought the sizes were plenty.

Also, the one American employee we talked to asked if we heard about him from your blog, and he said your post has been giving them a lot of extra business. :D

Anonymous said...

I've eaten at Chipotle in Toronto a few times, but it has never been as good as 'hole the wall' establishments or local mom & pop shops that many seem to love.

Michael said...

Best Mexican I've had in Taipei City and great prices!

I can't wait for them to get the memo that more rice in their burritos won't cost them anything and that keeping the meat hotter is a good thing.

markp said...

I went there today and the big difference between Chipotle and this place is portion size and ingredient quality.

The ingredients are vastly inferior, but I assume this is to keep the price Taiwan-friendly. 150NT seems to be the mental barrier for Taiwanese. So I guess they use sub-par ingredients to keep costs down. But the problem is that quality, fresh ingredients are the "secret sauce" of Chipotle. Most of the vegetables had their nutrients cooked out and looked colorless.

Also, portion size was a lot smaller than chipotle. If the owner is reading this, the best way to get this down is to just use a bunch of rice.

I ate at Chipotle almost every single day for 3 years, so I am a bit of a stickler, but I will probably head back for inexpensive burritos.

EatTravelEat said...

I see Lilo and Stich on the TV. Cute!

At first I thought this was like Chipotle and it certainly is. This is more California/Mexican or Fresh-Mex or Cal-Mex but it's definitely way better than what some of your restaurants over there call "Mexican."

Anonymous said...

I guess most your bloggers are Chipotle fans. Well so am I and live in California just across the street from one too. I always ordered the work on my food. Wondering if this OOla Mexican Grill have someone that from states working in it?


F said...

Wow, on the first look, I thought it looked alot like a Chipotle burrito (just not as big). Even the setup is very similar, I wonder if it tastes similar too! I love Chipotle!!

LG said...

I think way too many of you are bitching about this place.
I went there yesterday and the food was really tasty, the portions are NOT small, in fact I think they are just right. I had the pulled pork burrito and I'm sure it's not authentic, but it was pretty darn tasty considering the cost. Only thing is that I'd get the spicy salsa next time and the medium one wasn't spicy at all.

joanh said...

thanks everyone for commenting!! hopefully the owners of Oola will read your feedback and take it into consideration!

Eric: hehe! thanks for commenting!

Mon: thanks for commenting! I think they couldn't call it Hola because there is a furniture store here called Hola and Taiwanese people definitely pronounce it with the H. I def agree with you about the heat and the Mexican rice/beans. We'll see!

Free Credit Score: I've been to a lot of places in LA that have corn salsas.

Nicholas: I didn't think the portions were small. Maybe not huge, but definitely not small. I did ask for extra meat on my 2nd visit and got it! :)

The Thirsty Pig: what did you think?

phatboy: cool.. thanks for commenting!

JT: do you know which one? Is is TacoBar?

billy: haha. thanks for commenting! you are one of their biggest fans!

Maddie: thanks for sharing and I'm glad the post led you to give it a try! it's cool to hear that the blog has helped bring them new customers.

Anonymous: Definitely hole in the wall places are better, but for Taipei, this has been long coming! :)

Michael: thanks for commenting! i think you can ask for more rice if you want more.. i asked for more meat and they added more. hopefully Oola will read all the feedback here and take it into consideration.

markp: thanks for commenting! i don't think the ingredients are subpar- what did you order? i thought the salsas and the carnitas were great. some people don't like too much rice in their burrito (like me) so maybe they should ask people how much rice they want. you can always ask for more rice, I think they'd be ok giving it to you.

EatTravelEat: yeah definitely more fresh Mex...

Stan: haha, I don't know if they've ever worked at Chipotle, that would be funny. but it's okay, there's seriously nothing like it here!

markp said...

joanh: I think the salsas and the guacamole are probably the strongest items they have. I did go back and the chicken was better. I had a steak fajita the first time I went.

I still think the rice is not quite dialed. The cilantro was pale green which either means that the cilantro was cooked in with the rice, or it has been sitting in hot rice for a while, neither of which are good for quality. The fajita vegetables looked a little bit better though on my second visit. The guacamole and salsas were pretty good on both visits.

Anyways, I realize am being hard on the restaurant for trying to control costs. I don't think many Taiwanese people would come in and pay 225NT for a burrito (about what Chipotle costs back home) for lunch/dinner. Also, they don't have the volume yet to guarantee high turnover on expensive, fresh ingredients.

hamper said...

wow i just visited their fb page and they stole qdoba's logo! qdoba is a chipotle copy but owned by the company that owns wendy's i believe. still good. still grateful we have it in taiwan...but maybe change the picture a bit more!

hamper said...

oops my bad. qdoba is owned by the jack in the box company. still can't wait to try it tomorrow! :)

Unknown said...

Just tried Oola tonight, and it's exactly what I've been craving! I agree with previous posters that they need beans, any kind of beans, or maybe just pile on more rice as filler. With the lack of beans, I requested "fajita veges" (onions and bell peppers)with my carnitas bowl, and it was awesome, as well as the service on the part of two of the employees (owners? they were the only 2 people standing around chatting in English) that helped people find seats (the place was packed because of the Japan-Netherlands match on the big screens).

I agree with hamper's opinion that it is more like Qdoba than Chipotle. Chipotle is just awesome, huge portions, great flavor - and Qdoba is awesome too, if only there wasn't a Chipotle across the street in Ann Arbor.

Go Bears!

Karen said...

i went again this week. i'm going to go again tomorrow and probably at least once a week until we move to our new place! love it! i tried the steak this time and it was really good as well!

joanh said...

mark p: thanks for your comment! i agree, i really like the salsas there. you just don't get that selection anywhere else in taipei. have you tried the carnitas? i really like that.

i think they have a few things they need to work out, but hopefully they will get higher turnover so that everything is fresher.

hamper: haha, it's a little different than qdobas, but yes, quite similar

peeeekaay: thanks for sharing! you can definitely ask them for more rice. i've never had qdoba and i've only had chipotle once.. but at least it's close!

karen: haha! i'll have to try the steak next time!

Karen said...

i've made 3 locals try it and everyone liked it! (or they are being polite to me) when are you coming home? let's go again!

Jenny said...

I've been to Oola several times, and my only complaint is that the quality is really inconsistent. Whenever certain managers are there, the quality is excellent, but otherwise it's so-so. Sometimes the rice is cold, sometimes it's hot, sometimes they don't have guacamole, and today the fajita vegetables were barely cooked, they were cold and crunchy (gross) and the person I brought with me was not impressed. It's better than other Mexican restaurants I've been to here, but since I never know what the quality is going to be like, it's kind of turning me off to the place. If they could get the quality issue together I'd definitely recommend it.

Anonymous said...

I've been to Oola a lot of times already, ever since they opened. Their food is great, whenever their main chef is there. Their service is good, whenever that guy that doesn't speak chinese isn't there. I don't know if he is just an employee or what? But he just sits there using his computer, when he should be worrying about taste inconsistency. Flavor-wise, besides that their rice is cold and hard, lettuce isn't romaine or at least not all of it, i'm guessing they use a lot more iceberg than romaine, and now, they don't offer the meal. Everything is more expensive now, and service is just simply not good anymore. By the way, I haven't seen the tall chinese guy anymore, he gave the best service, wasn't him the owner or partner there? I guess it was him who made the place seem good. My recommendation, is to get him back! Keep up the good work Joan!

jwfbean said...

Hungry girl: Thanks for the blog entry about Oola. I'm a California native on a business trip to Taipei and I decided to make a quest out of finding a decent burrito. I stumbled upon your blog entry and took HSR into town last night just to eat at Oola.

The lack of beans was funny. Other than that, it was a great experience. Thank you for the recommendation.

Ginny said...

We've gone to Oola a few times but have decided that we aren't fans of the price nor the cold food. Also, their chicken is quite fatty and not very tender. Yes, Taco Bar is the one down from Out of India - super cheap and delicious. He makes his own salsa that isn't spicy but it's fresh and really tasty. The owner is super friendly and loves a kind suggestion. I talked to him today and he's thinking about adding some yummy goodies to his menu. Check it out!

zonghuan said...

hah, i was wondering if there is anything similar to chipotle in taipei area, and i came across this. at the first glance, oola's logo somewhat resembles qdoba's. from your photos, their burrito doesn't look as "dense" as chipotle's. but i wouldn't mind giving them a try when i crave for chipotle-like burrito (which is almost weekly), and i am in taipei (which is like once every 2-3 yrs), and when the bosses are around. gongguan is out of the way tho.

Ken said...

I just tried their carnitas burrito bowl today. It was good, but not quite as good as Eddie's Cantina in Tamshui (but also not as far).

In general, I agree with markp's comments; he's right about the quality - for example, the salsa didn't taste quite as fresh as chipotle's, but overall, it was satisfying and worth a repeat. I think I will try the barbacoa next time.

The portions are fine, but I can see how relative to American or worse, Texas portions, this can appear to be small. But I may be biased, after living in Asia for almost the last decade. Also, I've been doing yoga and trying to lose weight, so a burrito bowl, chips + salsa, and drink for lunch was actually enough to push me to eat a small salad for dinner tonight.

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Anonymous said...

Obviously I can just go drive over but I've been busy, I've called them a couple of times recently and no answer... did they close? If so why? and why not tell anyone? weird :( and sad

Anonymous said...

Heard that Oola closed it's doors before the New Year. There's a recently opened Mexican joint called Macho Tacos that is in the DongQu area near Luxy that is quite good. The Hungry Girl recently reviewed it and gave it a strongly recommend.

Debbie said...

It is open again and they added pizza & burgers to their menu. I had the carnitas burrito set (chips + drink) though. It was good other than re-stating what others have said that I missed the beans. I am pretty sure the lettuce was actually napa cabbage. As for the cold issue, I got it to go & came home and put it into my george forman grill. Perfection. My husband & I are both Americans and the portions were fine for us.

Anonymous said...

this place was good... it's had nice renno but the burritos have gotten smaller... although the price hasn't :(

Anonymous said...

I just went here last week and was sadly disappointed :( But after reading the comments about inconsistent quality, I must have gone on an off day! We didn't get to pick what went into our burritos at all, the employees weren't very careful, the entire place was dark and looked and sounded more like a club than a restaurant.
The portion sizes I think are good :) Chipotle burrito = 2 meals for me!
My (veg) burrito had too much rice so not enough flavor, the "meal" deal is an extra NT$60 and the lemon tea was watered down and the chips were thick and stale and the salsa was inconsistent between mine and my mom's. I think they ran out of regular salsa and asked if spicy was OK. We preferred spicy so got both changed to spicy anyway.
Overall, I am never going there again, which is sad because I had really been thinking it would be good!!!

Unknown said...

Again this is not mexican, it's just US fast food version of what they think is mexican food....


Anonymous said...

6/28/11 Went there today. I agree with Sparklewolfie's post above. I'll never go again. The chicken tacos I ordered were weak. The chips stale. They don't know how to run a business. (Anonymous because of the recent Taichung food reviewer who was sued for expressing her opinion.)

Anonymous said...

The main reason that the food quality weren't as good was because the Co-Founder/Chef left a year ago. Prior Oola he was managing a Chipotle restaurant back in the state while attending culinary school. Thus the concept stays but the soul in the food didn't~

Anonymous said...

I would highly recommend changing this post, or adding a new one about Oola Mexican Grill. I went there for the first time about two years ago and it was completely different. It has changed ownership since then and is completely different. Unfortunately, I won't be going there again since the food is almost inedible now. It's almost as if they built a new restaurant and kept the sign.

Katruje said...

Yeah, the change in ownership really hurt it. Didn't last long, and it's closed now.

Katruje said...

Yeah, it really went downhill after the original owner left. It used to be awesome. It's closed now anyways. Good riddance.

Anonymous said...

this place is closed