If you’re like us, right about now you’re torn between your good intentions to eat better (more whole foods, less processed junk) and a craving for big flavors.  Starting at 11 AM this morning, it will become just a little bit easier to find that balance in Clarendon.  Lime Fresh Mexican Grill, a burritos-and-fajitas restaurant that originated in Miami, opens for business today.

On the surface, Lime may seem like another quick-service Mexican restaurant – Baja Fresh, Chipotle – but we stopped in to take a look around, and what we found surprised us.  Lime is much closer to a fast-casual sit-down restaurant, as evidenced by their focus on service (and their adult beverage menu).  They’re planning to offer speedy lunch options for office-workers on the go as well as a more relaxed sit-down experience for those who prefer to savor their meals.

We walked in on Lime during service training, and they were kind enough to give their cooks an impromptu test run as well so we could see a few of their more popular dishes as they’ll be served.  Check them out after the jump along with some photos of the inviting decor and the amenities that Lime is most proud of. If you manage to get there at a time when there’s no line blocking your view, the first thing you’ll probably see is the countertop tub mounded with ice and beverages.  Beers and Jarritos sodas poke out every which way, making it look like you’ve just arrived for a backyard barbecue, and they also offer frozen margaritas, sangria and even splits of wine.  But don’t get distracted – you’ll have a Lime staffer just inside the door to greet you and help you navigate the menu in case you need a hand.

Place your order and pay, and you’ll receive a numbered Lime tentcard to keep with you – when your food is ready, a server will bring it to your table.  Then work your way along the hammered copper counter and select your condiments.  With a target of ten minutes from order to receipt of food, it’s not uncommon for first-time visitors to still be poring over the many hot sauces and fresh-made salsas when their number is up.  You’ll find plenty of limes at the salsa bar, but no lemons (a manager told me they “consider ‘lemon’ a four-letter word” – though I’m not sure how many letters they see in ‘lime.’)

If you do make it to a table before your food is ready, you’ll have your choice of seating areas.  The front of the restaurant features high-top tables and stools below golden yellow walls decorated with art incorporating Lime’s namesake.  Toward the rear of the restaurant, a more traditional seating area is framed by wooden beams and windows that reference southwestern architecture.

But you probably won’t be paying much attention to your surroundings at that point, as the food is likely to have your focus.  Lime  makes it a point to source all-natural meats that are raised hormone-free, and their veggies are prepped on-site.  Not a meat-eater?  You’re in good company – one of Lime’s founders is a vegetarian and has always insisted that every item on Lime’s menu be adaptable to a meatless diet.

The attention to freshness and flavor in the menu starts with their handmade salsas and continues through to tacos, salads and fajitas.  The tastiest menu items we encountered were the ones that really let the ingredients shine – like the fajitas that are perfectly grilled and served with all the fixings to make your own tacos.  If you want a real treat, try the queso dip made from real shredded cheese and blended with Lime’s asado salsa for a deep smoky flavor.

Catering is available, and Lime also offers delivery in the nearby area at no extra charge.  They also point out their commitment to the environment in the form of biodegradable beverage cups and take-out containers.

With prices that top out at $11.99 (and most under $9), Lime offers a reasonable lunch option and a definite dinner deal in Clarendon.  If you manage to save room for dessert, you can pay tribute to Lime’s Miami roots with a thick slice of sweet-tart key lime pie.

Lime Fresh Mexican Grill
2900 Wilson Blvd. #104
Arlington, VA (Clarendon)
Lime Fresh Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon