We hit Billings eager to have lunch at El Burrito, our favorite Mexican blue-plate lunchroom in Montana … and El Burrito was gone! We panicked for a moment until it dawned on us that the restaurant now occupying the same location, Sarah’s, looks a whole lot like the old establishment that used to call itself “The Working Person’s Eating Place.” In fact it is one in the same, renamed Sarah’s to honor one of the three sisters who founded it back in the 1980s, who passed away several years ago. It is still in the same family, though, Sarah’s two sisters running it efficiently and hospitably, even if meal service is a little strange.
Here’s the way it works. Upon entering, go to the back of the room to an order window. At the right of the window is a large posted menu. Choose your burritos, tacos, or enchiladas and tell the nice lady who steps out of the kitchen what you want. Then go to the cash register and pay for it. Now move over to the condiment bar and help yourself to Styrofoam cups full of hot sauce or mild sauce, onions, or jalapenos to carry to a table, where a basket of chips is set out along with lots of napkins. When you are halfway through the chips, the meal arrives.
We especially love the taquitos, which would be called flautas in much of the Southwest: tightly wrapped, crisp-fried tortilla tubes containing moist shredded beef. They are served with a cup of garlicky guacamole.
The order-taker grinned broadly when we said we wanted a red smothered beef burrito, telling us it was the most popular dish in the house. It is a monumental meal, the burrito loaded with big hunks of beef. Our one complaint is that the plastic forks provided are only barely up to severing the tortilla wrap and beef inside.
Sarah’s is a hangout for locals, young and old. It is open for three meals a day, and at high noon, it is mobbed. As the lunch hour cleared out, one table in the center of the room was occupied by a group of teenagers carrying skateboards. Towards the front of the room was a family having a quiet discussion with each other in a language that sounded like Spanish, but wasn’t. And we were busy plowing through some fine Mexican meals, grateful that nothing here has changed except the name.