MANSFIELD -- Cirino Martinez knows there’s no such thing as a perfect dish. But he’s determined that every meal served at The Golden Burrito be as close as possible.
“It can’t be perfect, but it bothers me if it’s not the best," said Martinez, who owns the area's only non-chain drive-thru Mexican restaurant.
Martinez opened The Golden Burrito almost seven years ago as a food truck, which he parked on the north end of Mansfield and later on Ashland Road.
Now The Golden Burrito operates as a brick-and-mortar restaurant at 574 Park Avenue East. Martinez moved to the current location three years ago because there weren’t many eateries in the area.
“On Ashland Road they have a lot of options, but here not so many,” he said.
A few months after the move, Martinez had to close his small dining room due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of just doing call-in orders, he set up drive-thru lanes.
Sales went up and the shop stayed busy. Now Martinez says there’s no going back. The Golden Burrito will remain a pick-up and drive-thru only establishment.
“A lot of people don’t want to stay in the dining room right now,” he said. “Life is crazy. A lot of people don’t have the time.”
Business hasn’t slowed down. On a snowy Monday afternoon, six cars wrapped around the building at a quarter to five.
Martinez says people enjoy the convenience of the drive thru – he can fill an average order in just four minutes.
“We’ve got other Mexican options here, but no one else has drive-thru,” he said. “A lot of people say when are you opening your dining room again? I say no, I don’t think so.”
Customers can also call ahead of time to place a drive-thru pick up order.
Martinez grew up in Michoacan, Mexico with seven brothers and two sisters. He learned to cook early.
“My family in Mexico, they cook all the time," he said. “When my mom was tired, all the men got to cook. My dad can cook anything."
Martinez studied to be an architect, but found his true passion in the kitchen after a friend in Oberlin invited him for a visit.
His friend worked at a local Chinese restaurant. He convinced Martinez to move to Ohio and work with him. He was 21. A few years later, the restaurant offered him a new job prepping vegetables.
“Maybe they saw something in me,” he said.
It was there that Martinez began watching the head chef and decided that’s what he wanted to do.
After taking courses in cooking and restaurant management, Martinez worked as a quality control consultant before opening The Golden Burrito.
That attention to detail can be seen in the way he runs his restaurant. The meats aren’t pulled off the grill a moment too soon – if you can’t smell it, the flavor isn’t ready yet.
“Seconds make the difference,” he said.
The restaurant menu includes tacos, burritos, nachos and sopes. More unique items include the Golden Chicken Burger and Mexican Macaroni and Cheese.
Despite the fast food-like set-up, Martinez and his staff cook every dish from scratch – including the salsa used to marinate the meat. It’s made in-house with fresh adobo peppers and fresh garlic, slow cooked for four hours on the stove.
He says one secret to good food is using fresh meat and the best ingredients.
“I ask when they deliver, ‘What’s the best product you have?’ I want nothing cheap. Everything fresh.”
The other secret? Poniendole todo el amor – putting all your love into the food.
"I’m so happy when I work in the kitchen," he said. “Making food is my passion. I don’t get tired of it. I don’t get bored. I enjoy it. You've got to love what you do.”