The Midtown Lunch Ultimate Burrito Theory (and how it relates to Chipotle sucking)

So, yesterday was the big day.  I returned to Chipotle, after a yearlong, self imposed absence- and had a burrito.  It was not terrible, but it was not worth waiting in a 20 minute line for- and in the end it just reinforced my Ultimate Burrito Theory, which I will now share with you.

Burritos are the perfect food.  That’s it, perfectly constructed, with a brilliant balance of ingredients.  You start with a soft, and very large tortilla to hold it all together, steam it with cheese, and add your starch (rice and beans).  Top it with your choice of meat, which adds a salty and fatty flavor, and add pico de gallo for your tomato, onion, lime and cilantro, all covered in sour cream or guacamole for creaminess.  If you like it spicy or smoky you have plenty of salsa choices, whether it be green tomatillo, or fiery hot red salsa.  It all comes together to form a nugget of goodness, that you can pick up with two hands and eat (none of this fork and knife crap you get at most Mexican places in NYC).

That’s it.  Simple, easy and anybody can do it?  Right?  Well, apparently not.  Chipotle does everything you see above, and yet for some reason their burrito doesn’t quite make the grade.  Well, here’s why.  They flavor every ingredient unnecessarily, so you end up with a big overspiced mess.  You don’t need to add cilantro and lime to your rice, it’s already in the salsa.  They add their special “adobo” to many of the meats, and then add alot of the same spices to the black beans.  Totally unnecessary.  And then of course they add too much salt to everything.

Don’t believe me?  Check out the “Ingredients Page” on their website.  Mouse over each item they offer and look at the pride they take in how many ingredients go into each of their fillings.  I’m sure each thing tastes delicious on its own.  Cilantro and lime rice, that’s been lightly salted?  Mmmmm!  Black Beans seasoned with “cumin, garlic and other spices”?  Bring it on!  Mixed together with meat that’s been marinated and slow braised in cumin and garlic, and topped with salsa that has cilantro & lime- it’s a little too much.  It’s like adding tomato flavored cheese to pizza. It’s just stupid.  The food is already a perfect combo of ingredients.  Why mess with it? 

I’m not saying don’t spice things, I’m saying the burrito is about balance.  Don’t spice each element to taste good on its own.  The best burrito places spice each element with the knowledge that it will be added to other elements that have their own spices and flavor.

One commenter said something about “authenticity”, but I want to make it clear it has nothing to do with that.  A burrito is a burrito.  Rice, beans, cheese, tortilla, salsa.  I would hardly claim that Baja Fresh is the picture of authentic Mexican food, and yet I love that place.  Why?  Because it’s clean flavors.  They don’t fuck with the formula.  Their Baja Burrito is perfect.  Tortilla, charbroilled chicken topped with pico de gallo, cheese and guacamole.  A great combo.  They don’t add smoky ingredients to the chicken, because if you want it smoky, you’ll add the smoky salsa. 

What I ended up getting at Chipotle (from your recommendations), after the jump…

I have to say, Carnitas is always my meat of choice when it comes to burritos.  I love roasted pork, especially when it’s done right- with crispy bits of fat still attached to the shredded and succulent meat.  But I had tried the carnitas twice, and I didn’t like the burrito.  Looking back, I don’t think there was anything wrong with the meat itself, but I wanted to switch it up to see if it made a difference.  So last year when I returned, I tried the chicken.  My thinking was that maybe a less fatty meat was the better choice at Chipotle.  Unfortunately I got the same result, and my burrito theory started to come together.

This time, the most recommendations were for the barbacoa, normally made with goat, sheep or the head of a cow, at Chipotle is it just beef that’s been slow cooked and shredded.  Thinking of my burrito theory I was afraid the flavors of the barbacoa would be too strong, so I opted for the steak, just to give Chipotle a fighting chance to redeem themselves.  Chipotle doesn’t melt the cheese when they steam their tortillas (like most great burrito places), so I opted for no cheese, and I asked them to go light on the black beans, since I know how much they like to flavor those.  I normally like tomatillo salsa on my burritos, but the Corn Salsa and the mild tomato salsa (which is their name for pico de gallo) seemed to be most popular- so I got a combo of the two.  And of course sour cream.  No $1.75 guacamole for me, which most people agreed either tasted weird, or is just not worth the money.

All in all I think my tactics worked a little.  The corn salsa is by far the best of the four and adds a sweetness from the corn that is not present in any of the other ingredients (which is why I think it works).  I got some tomatillo salsa on the side and realized their hot salsas are just not that good.  The tomatillo salsa is not even green, and is watered down by tomatoes- probably to offset cost.  I would advise people who are on the fence about Chipotle to get their salsas on the side.  I still wish they didn’t add freakin cilantro, lime and salt their rice, but marketing will always win out over taste at big national chains (“Look at me ma!  I’s eatin’ something fancy!!!”) 

In the end, I have found a burrito that I can eat at Chipotle- which is good, because I’m an addict.  Oh and by the way, to those people who said “Try the burrito bol”, I say what’s wrong with you?  I don’t care what they call it, “Burrito Bol” is a way to fool fat people like me into eating salads- and I’m not buying it!  It’s a freakin salad people, and if you’re on a “low carb” diet, you shouldn’t be eating Mexican food.  I’m not fooled.

Oh and why don’t they give you free chips?  And $1.75 for guacamole is ridiculous… WAIT.  I’m sorry.  I have to stop.  Too much complaining, and I might forget that I found an edible burrito that is right downstairs from my work.  I need to get back to my exercises…  “Chipotle is good enough. Chipotle is good enough.  Chipotle is good enough.  Chipotle is good enough.  Please save us, Baja Fresh.  Shit.  Chipotle is good enough.  Chipotle is good enough….”


  • Only suckers wait in line for burritos at Chipotle. Any self respecting luncher sends his or her order in using their FAX LINE. Then you can stroll in, bypass all the SUCKERS waiting in line, pick up your stuff and leave, with minimal roasted pork fat hosing.

  • The main reason I can’t stand chipotle is the smell that emanates from the 42nd & 5th location. I think they make all the carnitas for the NY region there and then ship it out. There’s no other reason it should smell like that. It’s almost turned me off of carnitas entirely.

  • NYC seriously needs a Baja Fresh. It really is the best in terms of fast food Mexican.

  • I cannot abide by the inclusion of rice in burritos. I consider rice a filler and – considering there’s already a starch wrapping – a redundancy.

    I prefer more vegetables, cheese, and meat inside the burrito.

  • Midtown (near my office) seriously needs a Taco Bell. It really is the best in terms of fast food Mexican.

  • I must respectfully clarify the Burrito Bol, which is all the stuff from the burrito in a bowl, and isn’t really a salad because they don’t add lettuce. If you do want lettuce (ew), they have a salad option, too. I happen to be one of the suckers who wait in line at least once a week for Chipotle and I love it, but it’s always good to read other perspectives!

  • Once again, I must agree with Spam regarding Taco Bell. Hate all you want, but their burritos are cheap and don’t mess around with all this “lightly seasoned with cilantro, lime and magical shaman herbs,” they’re just rehydrated refried beans, cheese and meat with ludicrous amounts of hot, medium, mild or fire sauce.

    In fact, I have written my senator to suggest that we send aid to foreign nations in the form of taco bell bean burritos instead of whatever we’re sending now. Do you know anyone who can eat more than three of those things? I think their special ingredient must be magic, that’s how good (and filling) they are.

  • I am with you and Sandra–PLEASE BAJA FRESH–SAVE US FROM CHIPOTLE HELL!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • I don’t know if it’s near your office or not, “Spam”, but Midtown does have a Taco Bell, in the form of a TB Express at the back of a deli on 3rd Ave circa 51st St. They do decent work there.

  • I can respect the sentiment that people on a low-carb diet shouldn’t be eating Mexican food, but from the perspective of someone who has been on such a diet, a Chipotle “burrito bol” is a godsend. Yes, it’s lame compared to a proper burrito, but after a week of salads it is great.

  • All mexican food looks the same.

    Shredded Iceburg lettuce everywhere.

    An Picca De Gallo is just heinze ketchup someones sneezed in.

  • Re: burrito bol –how do you justify that as “low carb” there is rice in it, and a lot of it. AS a “salad” it is low carb. But the bol itself has carbs.

  • I agree with the comment from MM about the smell at 42nd and 5th. They’re obviously pumping out the odor. A friend who runs a subway franchise says they do that. At what point does this become nose pollution? Can bloomberg get on this?

  • Mmmm…. “tomato flavored cheese”

  • Why does everyone hate Chipotle? I love Mexican food, granted it’s not authentic and I can’t say much for the burritos but I find it quite tasty. My usuals: soft/hard tacos and the salad (steak only please). I love Chipotle, and yes I also happen to be one of those suckers who wait in line.

  • Question to commentors: Do you guys think that Taco Bell in NYC is up to par with Taco Bell’s throughout the country? I didn’t have Taco Bell until i lived in ATL, and loved it, but my roommate swears that Taco Bells in NYC are a beast unto themselves and are slightly grosser somehow. Any experience with this?

  • PINTO Beans. Why did no one mention these? They have pork fat (yum!) and not as much spice as the black beans. Mexican food almost always favors pinto over black beans.

  • RE: Taco Bells in NYC compared to other areas of country.

    Taco Bells, and Dunkin’ Donuts and KFC and Pizza Huts in NYC are dirtier, smaller and nastier than in suburbia, period.

    That goes for in NY state as well. upstate is much cleaner and less nasty for the chains/drive thru, Rockland county as well and that’s only 25 miles outside of TCOTU.

    In MA the Taco Bells were much nicer cleaner and better the quality of food was better as well.

  • Baja Fresh all the way…they are in NJ – why can’t they open in NYC??

  • …I’ve actually had sun-dried tomato flavored cheese on a cheese pizza.

    Does anyone know anything about Blockhead’s, good or bad? Always wanted to try but usually thwarted by the Chipotle lure.

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