Allow me to play devil’s advocate: Guy Fieri gets too much sh*t. On one hand, it’s understandable—a man whose projects include the television show Guy's Grocery Games and a restaurant named Johnny Garlic’s is an easy target for fine-dining snobs.
But give the man a little credit. Fieri’s signature brand of dude food isn’t responsible for dumbing down the American palate. Our collective appetite for deep-fried, ranch dressing-dipped food existed long before he got famous. If anything, Fieri has given the average guy incentive to skip the drive-thru and get in the kitchen. If adding pepperoni to lasagna is what it takes to get men to pick up pots and pans, so be it.
Dining at one of Fieri’s restaurants requires a similar, forgiving mindset. At the new El Burro Borracho (translation: the Drunken Donkey) at the Rio, Mexican and Southwestern cuisine is re-envisioned as all-American frat-boy fare. Trash can nachos ($18), layered with all of the standard fixings, are unleashed from an industrial-sized tin can for a lowbrow but tourist-friendly tableside show. Jalapeño poppers ($14), stuffed with chorizo and queso casero, are just the kind of deep-fried cholesterol bombs one would expect to pair with sweet and slushy “brain freeze” cocktails ($14).
Fieri only comes up short when taking stabs at authenticity. Chicken mole enchiladas ($17) had me hoping for complex flavors, but what arrived at the table felt like a cafeteria lunch plate. A blanket of green sauce was strangely sweet and tasted like it came from a jar, and a side of cold rice added to the disappointment. My dining companion’s pick—the carne asada burrito ($20)—was a better choice. Sliced skirt steak was generously stuffed into a moon-sized flour tortilla, and a toasted exterior lent a satisfying sonic crunch with every bite.
With your daily calorie (and dollar) expenditure already surpassed, you might as well end with a dessert. House-made churros ($10), lightly dusted with chile de arbol, are surprisingly proper. And a basketball-sized portion of fried ice cream ($10) will please anyone in tune with Fieri’s “more is more” philosophy.
El Burro Borracho is a smart replacement for the former Búzios. There’s a more jovial vibe, and the restaurant’s proximity to the pool, as well as to the World Series of Poker, should guarantee it stays packed all summer. My advice to Fieri fans is to show up early, because in Flavortown, reservations aren’t accepted.
El Burro Borracho Rio, 866-746-7671. Daily, 5-10 p.m.