Mahesh Prasad loves his queso. He loves it so much, in fact, that the University of Maryland sophomore eats Tex-Mex style food no less than twice a week. His College Park restaurant of choice?
Lime Fresh Mexican Grill.
Lime, which opened on Oct. 10, offers all of the standard Tex-Mex cuisine, with various burritos, tacos, salsas and guacamole made ready to order, but with the added twist of sit-down style dining, including food delivered directly to tables. Most of this is just fluff to Prasad, who is a vegetarian and has one concern and one concern only: queso.
“The queso there is magnificent,” Prasad said. “It’s really tasty and well balanced, not too watery, not too thick. I don’t think I’ve seen that type of queso anywhere else. The texture is just unique.”
Thus his favorite menu items are, naturally, the chips and queso and the queso burrito.
Sandwiched between Bagel Place and Book Holders on Baltimore Avenue, College Park’s Lime is one of 21 different franchises situated in the Southeastern United States, but it’s currently the only such franchise in Maryland. The entire chain of restaurants is owned by Ruby Tuesday.
Lime is also located about a block away from a Chipotle, a restaurant with a very similar menu. Lime Store Manager Leo Mbwiria doesn’t think the more famous Chipotle will be too much of a problem, though.
“We don’t really see them as a competitor anymore, because we’ve tapped into [their] business, and we’re loving what we’re seeing,” Mbwiria said. “I understand they are not very amused by our being around here. We’ve added some flare to the burrito world.”
Mbwiria believes there are several factors that give his restaurant an edge over most competitors, such as Lime’s assortment of salsas, nine in all, compared to Chipotle’s three, and the bottomless tortilla chips that only his restaurant provides. He takes the most pride in Lime’s atmosphere.
“The ambience…the people…the buzz. I think once you walk in our door, you feel you’re in a nice spot. I really feel that,” Mbwiria said.
Michael Stiefvater, College Park’s economic development coordinator, said that Lime’s willingness to serve alcohol certainly plays a part in the new restaurant’s popularity too.
Prasad doesn’t necessarily think all of these defining factors are a good thing. For instance, he recently ordered a burrito without beans at Lime, but when the food arrived, there was in fact beans in the burrito. To some, this would be a minor issue, but Prasad is sharply allergic to beans, and considers himself lucky to have noticed the true contents of the burrito before taking a bite.
He believes that this never would’ve happened at a Chipotle, where he can see exactly what is being put into his food as the servers are preparing it.
“If Chipotle could just get queso once, that would be my default option,” said Prasad. “But they don’t, so I go to Lime.”
Lime also shares the same problem as nearly every business along Baltimore Avenue: what to do when the college kids are gone. Mbwiria estimates that his franchise currently gets about 300 to 700 customers per day, with the higher end coming on weekends, but sees that turnout thinning significantly come winter break.
His face darkened when asked about how College Park’s Lime would specifically deal with the break, saying that he recognized it wasn’t going to be as lucrative over the winter, but failed to delve into any specifics.
Stiefvater estimates that Lime’s rent is roughly between $5,000 and $6,000 per month, so only time will tell if the restaurant will be able to meet that figure and its other expenses during the lean season.
Mbwiria has high hopes for Lime’s advertising campaign, having established a social media presence of over 16,000 likes on Facebook and just south of 10,000 followers on Twitter. The College Park franchise recently stuck a deal with Metrobus, so Lime will now be advertised in both University of Maryland and College Park area public transportation.
He needn’t fear though, for as long as Lime continues to serve queso, Mahesh Prasad will be there to eat it.