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Baja Fresh mixes wholesome ingredients and fire-grilled flavor

Southern Oregon fresh-Mex fans have another choice for their veggie-laden and fire-grilled tacos and burritos.

Baja Fresh Mexican Grill, a California-based chain new to Medford, offers fresh twists on Mexican favorites and all the fresh tortilla chips you want (with purchase, of course).

I've made a couple visits to the new spot in Medford, open since July at The Village at Medford Center near Tinseltown, and I'm impressed with the chain's mix of fresh veggies, out-of-the-ordinary salsas and charred-just-right meats. 

The spot, open from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily for lunch and dinner, is up against some stiff competition in that niche just a notch nicer than Taco Bell, but Baja Fresh sets itself apart from Chipotle and Mucho Gusto with its own variety of Mexican favorites prepared without frozen or canned ingredients.

On Monday afternoon, I went for one of the chain's newest menu items, a quesadilla taco plate that puts a layer of Monterey Jack cheese between two grilled corn tortillas, then layers pinto beans and choices of three meats, sliced avocado, onions, cilantro and pico de gallo. For $8.79, you get two tacos and the option to add a third for $2.49, served with Mexican-style rice and a choice of pinto or black beans topped with cotija cheese.

I went for three tacos so I could try the chopped marinated steak, shredded carnitas and charbroiled chicken.

The carnitas and the steak weren't bad, but I recommend the chicken, which struck me as fresher and juicier than the others. The barbecue-style char worked well with the marinades and fresh onions, tomato and avocado.

There are more protein choices with the burritos and salads, including shrimp, wahoo fish and veggie options.

There are free chips while you wait, similar to sit-down spots like the recently shuttered Si Casa Flores. The salsa bar had six choices, ranging from mild pico de gallo, a green salsa verde and my favorite, the smoky, medium salsa Baja, which used fire-roasted tomatoes and jalapenos.

For my second visit Tuesday afternoon, I went for the Baja burrito with chicken, one of the chain's original menu items.

I was impressed that they used flour tortillas cooked on the grill, similar to burritos at some of my favorite taquerias and food trucks, along with melted cheese, a generous amount of chicken and juicy pico. It's a simple combination that works really well.

Those looking for a more traditional burrito with rice and beans will prefer the Mexicano, and those craving cheesy flavors will prefer the Nacho burrito. They all go for $8.79, and come with chips while you wait.

There's plenty to like, but it's worth noting that neither of my two visits were quick. For my burrito Tuesday, it took 18 minutes from order to pickup, which seemed like a while considering I noticed one, or maybe two customers ahead of me.

When a server called out my order at 7:51 p.m., there was no apology for the wait. I don't know whether that was hit-and-miss customer service or because Baja Fresh simply isn't fast food. I do know that 18 minutes is enough time to slowly work through two complimentary containers of chips.

The quesadilla taco plate at Baja Fresh offers mix'n'match meat fillings, fresh salsa and avocado. [Mail Tribune / Nick Morgan]