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Battlefield NYC: The Great Burrito Wars of 2010

Battlefield NYC: The Great Burrito Wars of 2010

I like burritos.  More accurately, I fucking love burritos.  I probably consume more of them than anyone in the United States.  (To clarify: I’m suggesting that burritos make up a higher percentage of my meals, not that I consume a higher gross tonnage of burritos than anyone else in the US – that would be foolish.  Also, I’m lumping tacos in the “burrito” category because soft tacos are effectively the safe thing.  I prefer to get the semantics out of the way early.)  Roughly 82% of my meals are burrito-focused; if you want to consider slight variants that are essentially the same thing (halal food: gyro, rice, hot sauce, pita; vindaloo: spicy chicken, rice, naan) then I’m running on something like 96% burritos.

I wanted to firmly establish my burrito cred, because what I am about to offer is going to be controversial: the burrito situation in New York has gotten out of hand.  Burrito shops are springing from the ground like the buzzards in Joust.  A Chipotle just opened that is three streets down from my apartment.  There’s a Qdoba that’s zero streets down from my apartment.  There’s an auxiliary Chipotle two avenues and zero streets from my apartment.  There’s a double redundancy spare auxiliary Chipotle four streets and one avenue from my apartment.  The recently opened Baja Fresh in midtown has a delivery range so massive that I suspect they’ve deployed the corporate helicopter fleet to participate in the burrito market share grab.  A recently opened taqueria was profiled in the New York Times.  Burrito shop proprietors: you can cool it with the NYC expansion for now; there is currently about a 1:1 person : burrito shop ratio here.

An all-too-frequent sight

Back when I was among the working elite, I’d frequently organize treks to the nearest Chipotle.  Back in 2007-8, it was a revelatory experience, walking roughly two miles there and two miles back, mingling with the other working stiffs, and savoring a lovingly prepared burrito.  It felt like a treat, a little escape from the numbing grind of the finance world.  Now, I would be astonished if there wasn’t a Chi-pot located right in the Tribeca lobby, manned not by a team of passionate burrito-assembling associates, but by mindless drones who don’t listen to the words emanating from your mouth as they slop some shit together haphazardly.  Were the lessons of Boston Market, Krispy Kreme and others lost on the management of these establishments?  Preserve the experience.

Take a look at Anna’s Taqueria in Boston – that’s the perfect model.  A handful of locations throughout the city, uniformly excellent staff well-equipped to handle the throngs of customers, who are happy just to be there and  to enjoy something special and delicious.  A shoddy Qdoble Fresh on every corner does not a Burrito Mecca make.  And, the pool of talented burrito assemblers is only so deep.  The fuckers at Qdoba are eschewing the traditional cylindrical shape of the burrito in favor of some square looking nightmare guaranteed to turn into a huge fucking mess.  Chipotle once benefited from a trip there seeming special – almost Anna’s-like – but they and their compatriots  are diluting the shit out of the burrito experience.  (If you have about three hours to kill, you can check out the Chipotle difficulties this crazy fuck is experiencing in Orlando.  Tremendously entertaining, but  then again, I have a lot of time on my hands.)

The new Chipotle right in the heart of Chelsea has its work cut out for it.  The guys in Chelsea spend about the same amount of time mulling their salsa choices as they would going through the sweater rack at a Barney’s sale.  Read this if you don’t know how to fucking order.  This new Chipotle also appears to serve mixed fucking drinks?!?  I’ve always seen “margaritas” on the menu but have never seen anyone order one.  Yesterday while checking out the new place some douche ordered an Izze and Absolute (after taking about 17 minutes to order his six fucking tacos).  If you are getting drunk at Chipotle, you are doing it wrong.

Here’s how I would rank the burritos available in NYC right now (not including actual sit down restaurants):

1.  Chilly17 homemade burritos (not widely available)

2.  El Sabor Del Taco truck – 6th Ave and 19th Street, spicy carnitas are fucking divine

3.  Dos Toros Taqueria – The NYT review was pretty spot on, need to do a little more work here but the carne asada was probably the best I’ve had outside of SoCal and the chicken was legit as well)

4.  Chipotle – I’ve eaten so many that I’m getting a little burned out, plus they’ve diluted their talent pool so much that the quality pales compared to even two years ago

5.  Qdoba – I’ll prob come back around fellas, and I’m sure your senior management is looking at my Qdoba card in astonishment pondering Vegas-level comps to keep me involved, but the lackadaisical attitude of everyone involved and resultant shitty square burritos has put you in the doghouse.

Burrito or dumpling? Hard to say at Q

Not ranked: Taco Bell, because it’s a pain in the ass to get over there and no one ever wants to go with me and it makes it easier to justify going overboard when I’m home.  Baja Fresh, because if you get delivery from an area that would be a $16 cab ride to get to, your food is gonna be pretty cold and the order likely fucked up.   BF is pretty solid in person but I can’t make go that far for a burrito and delivery is a poor choice for burritos even if they don’t fuck it up and it doesn’t take three hours to get to you.

I’ve gotta run, somebody’s trying to put a Chipotle in our half bath,

Chilly17, wasted potential

How To Eat at a Fast Casual Mexican Restaurant

How To Eat at a Fast Casual Mexican Restaurant


As a way of giving a little something back, I will occasionally offer some simple tips for how to do things, so that the world will be a more efficient, less annoying place.  Given my penchant for burritos, I have noticed some sub-optimal ordering practices as I visit the Qdobas, Chipotles and (if heaven would only grant them in NYC) Anna’s Taqueria’s of the world.

Speaking of Anna’s, my love for it/her/them is well-documented by anyone who has ever had the misfortune of having an actual conversation with me.  Two years ago, when I went back to Boston for B-school recruiting, I realized they had put an Anna’s in at the Dome area of MIT.  Good lord – if that had existed when I went there I probably would have actually gotten my “daily trips to Anna’s” over 2.0x (instead I settled for a measly 1.87x).  We landed in Boston pretty early, like 9:00 AM and I had the cab take me directly to Anna’s.  We were interviewing in our offices in Boston, where I would have access to a refrigerator.  I ordered six chili verde supper burritos – double meat, double cheese, no beans, no salsa, extra hot sauce.  Damn, I wish I was in Porter Square right now.  So I have these five huge foil-wrapped logs in my briefcase for the flight back – which led to quite a bit of attention from security, as apparently foil logs scream narcotics more than pork in green sauce.  After three rectal exams, I was confirmed to be balloon-free and allowed to go.  Worth it?  Of course, even reheated those were deeeelish.

Also, So You Think You Can Dance is back.  In probably the gheyest sentence I have ever committed to electrons, this show is a must watch (particularly given summer programming lameness).  I hate Dancing With The Stars, but this show is quite a bit different.  See, they aren’t (seventh tier) stars, they are wannabe dancers.  It’s pretty interesting watching people who yearn for a career where you make, what, $40k/year?  Sure, the winner of the show gets a little scratch ($250k, or $1200 after taxes), but this isn’t really the ticket to fame and fortune.  It might be the ticket to being a backup dancer for Ricky Martin.  There’s usually a couple of human interest stories, but that’s not really the draw, either.    The choreographers make the competition aspect challenging and compelling while the judges are funny, informative and are actually trying to be helpful instead of just firing off venomous bon mots.  Just try it, there’s another one of the audition shows tonight – if you hate it leave me a comment telling me I’m an idiot. /ghey


How To Eat at a Fast Casual Mexican Restaurant

1.  Walking in the door and getting in line

I should have covered this in my “How to Enter Things” primer, because there seems to be a lot of confusion on how to go about this.  Let’s look at this decision-tree style:

  • Do you know EXACTLY what you are going to order?  If so, proceed directly to The Line.
  • Have you been to this establishment before and become familiar with their offerings?  But do you also like to vary your order every time, instead of getting, say, a chicken pesto burrito every time?  If you need less than 30 seconds to confirm what you want, get into The Line if there is greater than a 30 second wait.  If there is a very short or no line, stand just to the side of the ordering line, ready to jump in when you make up your dumbass mind, but don’t impede the progress of those people in the category above, who know exactly what they want (a chicken pesto burrito, for example).
  • Have you never been to this establishment, or possibly any eating type place before?  Are you completely fucking stymied by the enormity of the task before you?  Is your first impulse to walk directly to the front of The Line and then stand there for 17 minutes, scanning/squinting at the menu while mumbling to yourself and preventing others from passing your fat ass?  If so, ask for a to-go menu, then go outside.  Peruse to your heart’s fucking content.  Only return to the restaurant when you fit clearly into the FIRST category above.  Thanks.


2.  Ordering

Knowing what you want to order is only about 1/8th of the battle here.  These places allow you a freedom of choice not often seen at any type of restaurant – you have a say in basically everything that goes into your burrito/bowl/taco.  This is a huge responsibility for even the savviest of us; for morons it’s much more curse than blessing.  From step one, you should be able to answer the most basic question involved in the order.  Say for example, you’ve spent your time wisely and have decided on a carnitas burrito.  You utter those magic words to the kind gentleman standing at the steaming device, and you’re on your way to getting some food.  But big decisions loom.  The first ones involve your preferences for beans and/or rice.  Then they’ll drop your carnitas on.  Then it gets massively confusing for most people.  

Once you get past the protein, beans/rice stage it gets kind of frantic.  They will try to slop all kinds of shit on your ‘to.  DO NOT STAND FOR THIS.  You control the pace of the process – this isn’t The Biggest Loser (your burrito is tipping the scales at 980 calories), and those burristas aren’t trainers pushing you to go ever faster, faster.  You have to be vigilant, loud and direct – NO FUCKING PICO!  (Given that I hate tomatoes and I hate onions, pico de gallo is the Dr. Doom of my edible rogue’s gallery)  I’m not suggesting you be too slow and cause a pileup, but in my vast experience I know that having them screw your food up will result in a start over which really fucks up The Line.  Couple of things: one, guacamole is always extra, don’t bitch about it, that’s a fact, it’s been that way forever; and two, don’t put your hands over the sneeze guard to point at what you want.  Do you really need to touch the sour cream to indicate that you’d enjoy having some on your burrito?

In a nutshell: take control of the ordering process, be attentive and proceed apace.  Keep The Line moving.  Keep your hands to yourself.  Guac extra, okay?


One can dream...
One can dream...



3.  Paying for your order

This is pretty self explanatory.  Errors here are pretty rare – know where you stand on drinks, chips and if you want one of those brownies that I’m pretty sure have been sitting there for eight months.  I’d go with no to the latter.  Yes, they accept credit cards (and seem to prefer them).  Interestingly, the way downtown NYC Chipotle changed all their prices a couple of years ago so that everything was an even dollar amount after tax.  During their uber-crowded lunch rush, they calculated that not digging around for coins would let them squeeze out 2-3 more customers per hour.


4.  Sitting down and eating

A couple of points of etiquette here: if you are walking in and there’s a huge line, don’t be a fucking douchebag and put your purse, bag, whatever down to “claim” an open seat.  There’s a natural flow to The Line, getting a seat ahead of time screws up this flow and is akin to someone from the future meeting their present self – the result could be catastrophic.  Also, it’s okay to take a bottle of Chipotle Tabasco to your seat, but if someone else asks for it, you need to surrender it freely.  It’s a community, after all.  

Enjoy your meal.  Then get out.  You see The Line?  Those people need somewhere to sit, go somewhere else to discuss how hard you rocked Tenjune last night.  And don’t throw the baskets away – they have to reuse those.