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….”


  • As a recent transplant from SF who is slightly obsessed with why NYC can’t do burritos like California can, I think Blockhead’s is actually not too bad. I think the problem with many of the burrito places here is actually the tortilla- they tend to be weirdly sweet and overly chewy or something- and the ratio of fillings. Blockhead’s does pretty well on both. Definitely no La Taqueria or Taqueria Cancun, but okay for what it is.

  • You have not had a burrito unless you have tried Anna’s Taqueria in Boston. As a BU student, I was lucky enough to have Anna’s multiple times a week. It is quite simply the best burrito in America. Once you have had it, you will understand where I am coming from. There is no comparison. It is the best.

  • dear “Anon”: obviously if you’re going for low carb, you request no rice.

  • Taco Bell’s not in NYC are far and away superior. Besides the fact that Taco Bell’s in the city do not carry the full menu, they are smaller and generally seem dirtier.

    Blockhead’s burritos are pretty decent, but I kind of put them on the same level as Chipotle. Fine to eat, but nothing special. All of the ingredients are good and high quality, but I usually find the burritos to have waaay to much cheese and you have to eat them with a fork and knife.

  • I’ve had Chipotle on the West Coast and I have to say it is far better than the Chipotle I’ve had in NYC. I’ve always gone for the steak, and I noticed it was a lot spicier in Southern California (where I was staying) as was the so-called “mild” salsa. The corn salsa also had huge chunks of jalapeno, which kind of made everything jump up a notch, flavor-wise. I guess NYC just can’t do Mexican food for crap.

  • Chipotle fan – interesting tidbit – you’d think in an enterprise like that, they’d have fairly consistent standards.

    Good to see you gave it another shot.

  • You really should haul your ass over to 10 + 48 instead to Tehuitzingo. You’ll pay less, get better food, feel better and have your exercise built in via the walk. There is just no viable excuse to patronize Chipotle. No wonder you’re complaining so much.

  • I will probably regret saying this, but if you order online at you can avoid the 20-minute wait. Sometimes there’s a short line at the pick-up window, but it’s nothing compared to the snaking, Disney World-esque regular line. I’m amazed more people don’t order ahead.

  • Inspired by this thread, I tried Blockhead’s last night. I pretty much concur with Spam’s opinion of their burritos. Decent, but not spectacular.

  • What this town really needs is a Taco Cabana.

  • I don’t eat at the ‘potle anymore, but when I did, I would never call in and order ahead of time. Who wants a cold or room temp. burrito that’s been sitting around waiting to be picked up? In other words, the call ahead actually makes a mediocre burrito worse (because it’s not served hot). Just my opinion.

  • You just dont wanna know how they make the Guaqamole green.

    Refriend beans..i leave to your imagination.

  • re: TB in NYC

    I loved TB down in suburban DC – fresh, great portions, and a real 99 cent menu. The TBs in NYC are smaller, skimpier, less fresh, dingier, etc. as others have noted.

    A contribution: The BEST TB I’ve ever eaten at is the one in the Denver airport, 2nd level by Panda Express and Burger King. Freshest and tastiest TB I’ve ever had!!!

  • My favorite meal at Chipotle is the off-menu taco salad. You order two hard shell tacos, ask them to put them in the cardboard bowl. you add in your rice and beans and meat and salsa. a little sour cream for dressing, and then you ask for lettuce. oh, could i get a little more lettuce? and just another pinch? they ring you up for 2 tacos a la carte, coming in around $4.88. grab yourself a fork, break up those shells and have a nice day. it’s probably the healthiest under $5 meal you can get anywhere.

  • I agree with Wayne, don’t bother with those awful chain Mexican places like Chipotle. Save it for good Mex food like Tehuitzingo or even better yet, Tulcingo Del Valle on 10th btwn 46 & 47. And don’t even get me started on (I know, WAY too far from Midtown) El Maguey Y La Tuna on Houston & Attorney. AMAZING!
    You could even go to La Paloma on 45th btwn 8th & 9th, right across from Piece of Chicken (which is also great!).

  • This is how I feel about Chipotle’s. It’s so salty! and yet I want it to work for me. And if I’m going to have all the calories, I better be doing it for the burrito, not a “bol” which I think deludes people–the tortilla is the least of the problems there when it comes to fat and sodium. I think I went into the Chipotle’s you speak of long ago, had a Carnitas and never went back until this year:

  • Ungh. I finally tried Chipotle today. It was, in a word, awful. In another word, insipid. Well, I suppose it is like White Castle; you have to try it once.

  • Um, I like the rice at Chipotle. If you prefer plain steamed rice to flavored, I guess that is your choice. Me, I don’t want to have to make sure I get a bite of bean with my rice in order to avoid a mouth full of bland. The mexican burrito at Baja doesn’t even come with cheese.

  • What New York City needs is a Taco Del Mar. A chain that started in Seattle about 15 years ago, but has started making a big Eastward push in the last couple of years. There Veggie Burrito is one of the things I live for. Fast Food Mission Style Burritos that can’t be beat.

  • Well, perhaps this has been discussed, but here goes:

    You can get white rice at Chipotle; just ask for rice with no cilantro!

    Here’s the best Chipotle burrito I have tasted:
    Cilantro-Lime Rice
    A little pinto beans
    Barbacoa (which is, by the way, amazing)
    Roasted Chili Corn salsa
    Tomatillo Red Chili salsa
    Sour Cream
    maybe a little cheese.
    Guac if you’re feeling rich.

    Something happens with the combination of the corn and hot salsas when they hit the sour cream. A beautiful taste conglomeration. Seriusly, I hope that since the date of this article, you haven’t sworn off Chipotle. I think it’s worth expirimentation. If you don’t like it, you could always bring it back to the counter.

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