Giant Pork Burrito Chain Challenge: Chipotle Mexican Grill

So a while back, I had the idea of trying roughly the same dish at a bunch of different places to see who's doing them the best.  Unfortunately I had the idea after going through my gyro phase.  I figured burritos the size of small dogs would be a worthy topic though...

Here are the rules: I will only be reviewing pork burritos because, well, it's me.  Also, it saves me from having to take places like Taco Time and Taco Bell into consideration.  I will not be purchasing any premium add-ons; if it isn't available as a standard choice, I ain't getting it.  I'll only be reviewing burritos from fast food chains, because bringing restaurants and taco trucks into it just casts too wide a net.  And because this is a series about a specific food item from fast food chain eateries, I won't be using my standard rating system for the atmosphere, service and so on (though I may mention those things in passing).  Also, keep in mind that I'm rating this stuff for what it is, not measured against authentic Mexican food or restaurants, so an A+ doesn't mean it's the best food ever.  Let's get started, shall we?

Chipotle is a place I'm not ashamed to admit I really dig, and was the inspiration for this burrito comparison when I first heard they were coming here.  Yeah, I have that inherently snobby tendency to bristle a bit at the whole chain thing, but when the food tastes good and is of exceptional quality I can get past it.  The set-up is assembly line style, so you see your food come together before your eyes.  Unless you take advantage of their online ordering system, that is.  I love online ordering, especially with a place like Chipotle which is built with horrible cafeteria acoustics and becomes irritatingly noisy when they're busy.  Oddly enough the kid's meal options aren't available for online ordering, so keep that in mind if you've got tots in tow.

Tortilla - To be honest, I've never noticed anything special about the tortillas at Chipotle (they're not even mentioned in the extensively self-congratulating section of the website dedicated to their ingredients), but there's nothing wrong with them either.  They're given a quick warm-up in a steamer to make them pliable, and then take their place as a tool to hold the massive amount of fillings together.  Grade: B

Filling - After choosing a meat or veggies (actually, if you order online it allows you to choose two, but I've never been offered this option in the restaurant itself), you choose between the remaining filling options which are cilantro-lime rice, black or pinto beans, lettuce, cheese and sour cream.  There are four varieties of salsa available: a mild fresh tomato, a medium roasted chili and corn, a medium-hot tomatillo and green chili, and a hot tomatillo and red chili.  In the end, it's not as many choices as it sounds like and other places certainly have more options for customization.  Guacamole is available as well, but it will run you nearly an extra two bucks.  I'm going to have to try their guac at some point though, considering how fresh and tasty all their other ingredients are.  Grades: A+ for quality, B for customizability

Balance - This is where the Boise Chipotle is really suffering right now.  I've been there three times for their pork burritos since they opened, trying to recreate the experiences I've had at various locations in Oregon and never quite making it.  The first time the burrito was smaller than I remembered and left me a little unsatisfied.  Also, there was so much sour cream that I could barely taste anything else.  The roommate had the same experience with the guacamole she added to her chicken burrito, and was shocked to discover about a pure quarter cup of the stuff sitting at the bottom of her burrito.  The next time I skipped the sour cream, and now that I could taste the burrito I noticed just how mild the fresh tomato salsa was.  On my most recent visit, I got a mix of the fresh tomato and the tomatillo with green chili and light sour cream, and that's been my best experience so far.  It could still use a little fine-tuning, but I'm sure things will get more standardized with time.  It's one of the benefits of having corporate masters.  Grade: C

Fine-tuning - Once you've got your burrito in your hot little hands, there's not a lot you can do with it here.  Your options are salt, pepper, and the holy trinity of Tabasco sauces: Original, Green and Chipotle (natch).  There are no to-go packets or plastic cups you can fill and take with you, so unless you want to eat there or risk fouling your outfit and most of the surrounding area by trying to open up your burrito and season it before you leave, your only option is to appropriate a bottle of Tabasco.  I don't endorse this in any way, but I can't help but wonder how often it happens.  Grade: C

Portability - This is another sketchy proposition currently.  As I said, the first burrito I got from them was a little smaller than I'm used to and would have been relatively easy to eat on the run.  The most recent one was so overstuffed that the tortilla had ruptured and was leaking rice.  The foil helps if you do the peel-as-you-eat thing.  Grade:  C+

Chipotle has all the makings of a superior Tex-Mex joint.  It would be nice if there were some more options both in the filling and condiment departments, but the ones they do have are high quality and pretty classic.  If they can just work on their consistency, I expect they'll be as good as the locations that preceded them.  In the meantime, I'm certain those of us who know how good they can be and those who have never been to a Chipotle and have no frame of reference will continue to throw money at them so they can take the time needed to fix their little glitches.  Final Grade: B-

Chipotle Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon


  1. They're on the list, as are Baja Fresh, Taco Del Mar and Los Beto's so far. Am I missing anyone?

  2. Not saying whether they are good or not, but Qdoba is another & also Costa Vida, which are both located on Eagle Road. Not sure how far you are willing to travel for this challenge...

  3. Can't believe I forgot to mention Qdoba! Yeah, they're on the list. Good call on Costa Vida, I'll add them as well.

  4. At Mission-style burrito places (like Chipotle or Qdoba) I like the carnitas, black beans, and chile-corn salsa combo. I recommend giving it a might like it better than the pintos. (I like the steak/carne asada with pintos, though.)

  5. I almost always get the carnitas and black beans, but I'm not sure I'm down with the corn salsa. Might ask for it on the side next time, probably the safest way of checking it out.

  6. You can ask for any of the salsas on the side. I like to get the hot on the side for "fine tuning," instead of tabasco.