Food: Riff's Alights in New Digs

Riff’s Joint used to be on Union Street in Easthampton, a stretch of road Riff’s owner Jeff Cahill refers to as “almost like a tunnel.” That’s a pretty accurate stating of the case—cars plow through the narrow thoroughfare, often en route to Rte. 141 and Holyoke. Businesses have come and gone quickly on that block, including the PACE theater and East Village Cafe, among many others.

Riff’s was quickly a popular place, especially for take-out, offering a vast menu of mix-and-match sandwiches, burritos and salads offered in signature styles. A “Speedy Gonzalez”-style burrito, for instance, means your standard bean-and-cheese torpedo gets the addition of guacamole, corn and black bean salsa, queso sauce and tortilla strips. Others styles include “Thai Dyed” and “Deputy Dawg.”

The portions are generous, and the food is rib-sticking fare. Just-right, house-made tortilla chips accompany many dishes, along with perfectly piquant salsa. The menu may seem like a dizzying over-abundance, but the many combinations work very well. Multiple visits don’t exhaust the possibilities when it comes to piling things onto a bun or into a tortilla, and the numerous vegetarian options don’t skimp on flavor. Riff’s burritos are not exactly traditional; they include items like Asian-style vegetables and peanut sauce, but such crazy-quilt combos all somehow work very well.

In keeping with cartoony themes like Speedy Gonzalez, Riff’s snazzy new location in Easthampton’s Eastworks building is graced with a wall full of portraits of cartoon characters. Much like Union Street, the new location has seen businesses come and go in short order; it was formerly inhabited by a burger joint, and before that the Blue Moon Grocery. Now it’s bright—a yellow and an orange wall gleam near the counter, and large windows provide plenty of light—and it’s an inviting space. Riff’s seems likely to stay put. What happens outside won’t hurt: a Willy Wonka-esque extension of the kitchen’s ventilation system broadcasts the aromas of grilling and frying out into the air, providing an olfactory beacon that is, so far, drawing plenty of customers. Cahill says that, since the early January move to Eastworks, lunch volume has tripled, and overall volume has doubled.

Author: James Heflin

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