With the 2015 return of U.S. Tex-Mex fast food franchise Taco Bell to the heart of Tokyo, it’s clear that the idea of Mexican food is gaining popularity in Japan. But that doesn’t change the fact that the execution is a bit lacking, as it’s still quite difficult to find establishments that deliver authentic flavor and let you leave with both your stomach and your wallet full. It’s like wandering through a barren desert hoping to stumble across a lush cactus—which is exactly what I did on my way home from work one day.
A short train ride into Kawasaki on JR’s Nambu line to Musashi-Shinjo Station, and a 10-minute walk beyond that, lies A Cactus in the Desert, which opened in 2007. Affectionately called Cactus Burrito, or simply Cactus, by those that frequent the joint, this low-key hole in the wall is instantly recognizable by its affectionately fostered Southern California skater style and the mouth-watering aromas that fill the air as soon as you get close.
Once you step inside, do yourself a favor and grab a seat at the bar. From there, you can watch chef, co-owner and all around rock star Naoko meticulously prepare the most authentic burrito I’ve had on Japanese soil.
While the small size of the restaurant belies the extensiveness of the menu (Fresh Guacamole? Check. Face-sized plate of carne-asada nachos? Check! Tequila? Si!), the burritos are the true stars of the show. Naoko makes each one to order, and while the process is time consuming, it’s definitely worth the wait. Whether it’s delivered on a hot plate, smothered in enchilada sauce and cheese, or served up in foil like Chipotle’s better-looking cousin, you’re guaranteed to scratch your culinary itch.
Beyond the food—which it does so right—Cactus Burrito (and all of the super-friendly women who work there) has cultivated a certain culture, creating a restaurant that offers customers an environment that's both edgy and inviting.
They offer happy hour most nights (with discounts on drinks and menu items), skateboard and burrito day usually once a month (which is basically exactly what it sounds like), and a delicious-sounding brunch service on Saturdays that I’ve yet to have the pleasure of trying. Beyond that, they sell a variety of small-press publications that they distribute from Microcosm Publishing, as well as other merchandise.
If all this hasn’t convinced you, or you’d like a little more information, feel free to check out their website here or their Facebook page (which is constantly updated with the restaurant operating hours, upcoming events, and more). Do yourself a favor, and try it first-hand. Your stomach will thank you!
Kanagawa, Kawasaki-shi, Takatsu-ku, 1045 Chitose