North Hollywood has no shortage of places to eat for a given weekday lunch. As one of the hipper sections of the greater San Fernando Valley, the neighborhood offers everything from casual Lebanese to takeout Chinese food to burgeoning chains like Dog Haus, but there is perhaps no busier fast casual lunch than the one at the shiny Chevron gas station just off Whitsett Avenue and Sherman Way.
Inside the retail building for the gas station there is a kind of surprise for hungry car washers and tank-fillers: Cilantro Mexican Grill, a massively popular burrito option that cooks up everything to order, practically all day long, to waiting lines of construction workers, passersby, and anyone else who followed their nose (or a stellar Yelp rating) inside.
Cilantro Mexican Grill is far from the average gas station food mart offering. Adolfo Perez, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate who spent years helping to run corporate places like The Cheesecake Factory before striking out on his own, runs the unassuming restaurant.
Except, as Uproxx says in a loving profile on the man and his restaurant from back in 2016, in order to get the kitchen space inside the gas station, Perez first had to stick to cooking breakfast sandwiches and reheating prepackaged items from the store. Eventually the chef was able to slowly introduce some of his own recipes to the menu, including the popular carne asada and practically famous surf-and-turf burrito with shrimp. The rest is gas station dining history.
Today, Perez and a team of six or eight work the tight counter to perfection, twisting that way to grab more carne asada for the smoky grill, or turning the other fill up large flour tortillas with everything from rice and beans to salsa, sour cream, and smears of guacamole. These are Mission-esque burritos in their final application, lacking the overwhelming heft and wateriness of the northern option while still holding onto the rice and bean staples of a Los Angeles-style burrito. Even the bi-colored tortilla chips served on the side are addictive, laced with their own slightly spicy, umami-rich coating.
Perez, as always, is aware of his surroundings and his clientele. The restaurant serves daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. to cater to everyone’s schedules, and they usually turn meals out in a few minutes despite the line that snakes past the metal and plastic fast food tables and out the front door at lunch. The prices fit the mold too, with nothing over $10.
Cilantro Mexican Grill’s menu has room for chicken al pastor combo platters, shrimp tostadas, sub-$7 breakfast burritos, and big piles of nachos. Everything is good (and some are excellent), but in a taco town like Los Angeles the emergence of a quality burrito anywhere, let alone a gas station within honking distance to the freeway, is worthy of its own special trip. Not that word isn’t already out about Cilantro Mexican Grill and owner Adolfo Perez; after all, there’s quite a line at lunch.
Cilantro Mexican Grill
7214 Whitsett Ave.
North Hollywood, CA