Monday, May 09, 2016

Chipotle

So, I had never visited a Chipotle before now.  I'm not against chain restaurants, but, Mexican food is rarely at the top of my list, so I just have never had a reason to visit.  The fact that they have had some interesting, uh, problems this past year certainly didn't help encourage me to prioritize a visit.

But my dad loves Chipotle, and when I moved to my new condo, a random coupon showed up for a free meal at Chipotle.  You know I can't resist a freebie, so ...

To Chipotle I went, with Ojan in tow.  (Really, I went for him to have Chipotle, and for me to try a bite and experience the whole thing.  I had no real plan of eating there, just because it isn't the sort of cuisine I like).

Overall, it was exactly as I expected: higher quality than standard Mexican fast food (a la Taco Bell), but no where near the cailbre of fast-casual Rubios.  I wouldn't go back, and I doubt Ojan would if we were in San Francisco, but, if travelling, and needed fast food that wasn't burgers, it seems like a reliable option.  And no, we didn't get sick.

The Menu

The menu board.
If you are new to Chipotle as I was, let me review the menu for you.

The menu is not very extensive.

First you decide HOW you want your item: a burrito, tacos (crispy corn, soft corn, or soft flour), as a "bowl" (burrito sans wrapper), or a salad (like a bowl, but with dressing and more lettuce).  Then you pick your protein: steak, chicken, carnitas, barbacoa, or sofritas.  Then the fillings: rice (brown or white), beans (black or pinto), salsa (mild tomato salsa, hot red-chili salsa, medium-hot tomatillo green chili salsa, or medium roasted chili-corn salsa, fajita veggies, and optional toppings (sour cream, cheese, lettuce, or, for a fee, guac).  Pricing is the same no matter which form factor you choose, as the price is set based on the protein, aka, a steak burrito is the same price as a steak salad, but, a chicken burrito is cheaper.

Besides the burrito/taco/bowls, the only other items on the menu is a kids menu with quasadillas, and the side dish of chips and salsa.

Chipotle takes pride in their ingredient sourcing, and claims to make real relationships with farmers, use pasture raised animals with no hormones, real local product, etc.  I don't know much about that, except that the vegetarian soyfrito option uses Hodo Soy, a Bay Area high end tofu manufacturer, so, I can vouch for that at least (and congrats to Hodo for landing this deal!)

The Space

Front Counter, Seating.
I visited the Chipotle adjacent to the Metreon.  It was fairly busy.  We got in line, which moved quickly.

Once at the front, you move assembly line down the counter, starting with picking your option (burrito/bowl/tacos) and ending at a register.  Basically, Subway, but, burritos.
Protein Station.
After you make the choice of base, you need to pick the protein.  All of the proteins are sitting there in heat wells. Given the volume of people moving through, I imagine these are replenished relatively often.
Toppings.
After the protein and beans are added, your order is slid down to the next worker, who adds on the salsa and other toppings.  Things move right along.
Condiments.
On the side is the finishing station, with plastic cutlery, napkins, sugar, and ... tabasco (both red and green).
Seating.
Seating isn't particularly interesting, several types of tables in the light-filled interior, and a few smaller tables outside on the sidewalk.  We ate outside since it was a lovely day.

The Food

Carnitas Crispy Tacos. $8.15.
"Fill three crispy corn shells with your choice of meat or sofritas, salsa, guacamole, sour cream or cheese, and romaine lettuce."

Ojan opted for the crispy tacos, which come as a trio.  You must pick a single protein for the filling for all three, no mix and match (lame).  He opted for the carnitas: "seasoned with salt, cracked black pepper, juniper berries, thyme, and bay leaves. Braised and shredded by hand throughout the day, resulting in tender meat with concentrated flavors."

To this he added pinto beans, medium tomatillo green chili salsa, cheese, and sour cream.  The tacos didn't exactly look pretty (particularly the cheese just kinda thrown on top), but, who am I to judge based on looks?

I took my requisite bite.  Well ... it was a taco.  Standard crispy shell (not stale).  The cheese was ... cheese, blended white cheddar and Monterrey Jack.  The sour cream was ... sour cream.  I appreciate that those items are included standard and not an upcharge.  The carnitas tasted kinda like chicken to me, but, Ojan commented several times that he was impressed by the quality of the meat, not greasy, not gristly, not chewy.  The salsa didn't have much flavor, but also isn't the one I ever would have chosen.

So, to me, fairly lackluster, but, for fast food tacos, obviously better than the competition.  But, in San Francisco, why would you ever go here over a real taqueria?  The price isn't any better, and, although the ingredient quality is, the flavor is just much better in more authentic food.
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