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….”


  • I must confess I love Mexican food(well the Americanized versions) but I can’t stand Chipotle for all the reasons listed above. Taco Bell really does great fast Mexican food but there is even a better place than that. On the western half of the country there is a fast food joint called Del Taco which uses much fresher ingredients and is actually cheaper and better tasting than Taco Bell. In addition, I also live in Spanish Harlem and my biggest gripe there is lack of ground beef and crunchy or flour tortillas. It’s authentic but just not what I enjoy.

  • ok the thing about chipotle is that each item is spices heavily for a reason. They don’t know what you’re gong to get with it so it all has be be spices to perfection for the off chance that it’ll be eaten alone. Furthermore, it is done so because they don’t have specific burritos like Baja Fresh do they don’t know what you’re going to mix it with. That’s the whole reason they have everything separate, individuality! The whole point is to mix and match what you like to fond your combination. You -ness if you will. When I go to chipotle with my friends, I look aroud the table and see that everyone has a differnt color with differnt combos. And to me they all look terrible but that’s because I like what I like not what they like. It’s all about your individuality. And not to go too far here, but finding your souls counterpart in food. It’s bliss and personalized every time. It is a place to explore with you think you might like and fond out what you do like. The whole objective is to find your combo. And once you get tired of it, if you’re like me and go at least twice a week, then switch it up. That is the beauty of it, personalization. Fuck you Baja Fresh!

  • Wow. This is a disgrace. Taco Bell and Chipotle even in the same sentence? Taco Bell doesn’t even compare. Sure their food is cheap, but Chipotle definatly has more quality. Plus Chipotle has done plenty of helpful things for the environment. Go Chipotle!!

  • Tried Baja Fresh yesterday on your recommendation. That was very possibly the worst burrito I’ve ever had. Stale tortilla, preserved guacamole, ice cold clumps of cheese — just vile. Chipotle is no great shakes (haven’t visited them once since moving from NYC to LA) but Baja Stale was inexcusably bad. The rare occasion Midtown Lunch has led me wrong!

  • Chipotle is so-so. Would def love a Baja Fresh as an alternative. And what happened to poor little Burritoville????? They were great!

    As for burritos in general in NYC – I agree, Blockheads is pretty good. My favorite though is Neighburrito in the LES (Rivington between Essex and Norfolk.) Taco Chulo in Williamsburg is good too, but more on a fork and knife kinda tip.

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