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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.




Potential New Career: Burrito / Spaghetti Street Vendor

Potential New Career: Burrito / Spaghetti Street Vendor




As you may be aware, I am currently unemployed, having been deemed un-Streetworthy last fall.  And now my life is terrible.  I am forced to have some drinks, watch the market, and write inane stuff for this website.  And sleep a lot.  Actually, that is all pretty good.  I suspect, however, that there will come a time very soon where I need to start generating some cash flow.  Given my strong resume, robust experience and all-consuming work ethic, this shouldn’t really be a problem; maybe look for something that’s a little better “fit” than hanging out with mostly type-A nerds and sociopaths in the making.    

So I have recently spent a little time reflecting on my passions – most of which involve eating or drinking something.  Actually, all of them involve eating or drinking something (if you assume that, while rolling dice, you are also drinking).  So, I decided to peel the onion a little bit (note: this is metaphorical, I hate onions.  Unless they are Funyuns as previously discussed).  They say you’re supposed to do what you love, right?  So maybe I should open a bar, restaurant or a bar/restaurant?  Having worked at a start-up restaurant, I can tell you that it sucks for the owners.  Backbreaking work, major stress basically a 107% of financial ruin.

But what about a street cart?  Take most of the overhead away, add the pain in the ass of getting the cart back and forth from wherever you store it, and you probably have a more financially viable solution.  I am somewhat a connoisseur of street food here in New York, having eaten at the 53rd and 6th Halal cart about 15,000 times (hat tip to my boy C-Note for putting me on to the place).  And thanks to midtownlunch, I have tried several of the other joints – honestly some of the best grub in the city, with respected chefs now backing many of the newer carts.  The city is filled with Halal carts, hot dog stands, roasted nut vendors (they smell uber-delicious and then you want to vomit after you eat like three of them) – how might I stand out in this crowded crowd?

I cook only two items, each having one variation and both having one thing in common.  They’re fucking spicy.  That may be counterintuitive given my well documented hatred of onions, tomatoes and peppers.  But here’s the catch – I mainly hate the texture of these disgusting vegetables.  If you pound them into powders, or dry and crush them, them I’m down.  So the food I prepare is drenched in cayenne pepper (ground) and crushed red pepper, as well as some New Mexico chili powder and healthy doses of onion and garlic (powder form, of course).

My greatest creation and single most significant contribution to the culinary world is the chicken burrito.  I also offer a taco variant for when you’re looking for less than 7,000 calories.  You will sweat through the top of your head – guaranteed.  I won’t give away the recipe, but here’s how it looks hot off the stove – remember that all deliciousness looks gross at birth.  Please note the super sweet T-Fal pan that I’ve had for 15 years – take that All-Clad!


That's not burned Teflon, it's just well-done deliciousness
That's not burned Teflon, it's just well-done deliciousness


People have actually cried with delight after the first succulent bite, their tears a combination of saline and habanero extract.  I also offer a somewhat different take on the regular burrito, something I like to call Burritchos (patent pending).  It’s basically an open faced burrito, with an added heaping portion of Tostito’s Scoops (accept no other scoop-shaped tortilla chip).  First, you eat about 80% of the burrito contents (which always includes Frontera brand Chipotle salsa).  That leaves you with about 20% of the chicken, beans, cheese, salsa mix left – take another immodest handful of Scoops (at this point there should be an ample selection of broken Scoops, use them here, don’t be shy) drop in the very middle of the tortilla, then fold up and eat as a regular burrito.  Maybe add a little more salsa depending on what you’ve got going on there.  Trust me on this – it will rule your world.



Yellow Tail is a perfect complement to Burrichos
Yellow Tail is a perfect complement to Burrichos


Yeah, that's mild cheddar.  Don't question this move
Yeah, that's mild cheddar. So what?


You don’t see many burrito carts around – a few taco trucks here and there, but nothing close to market saturation.  The success of Chipotle in Manhattan points to the near-endless demand for tortilla-encased goodness.  I’m afraid the chicken chopping motion would probably have me wearing those carpal tunnel straps within two hours of opening.  And I’d have to get distribution deals signed up with both Scoops and Frontera.  Hmmm….

My other food creation is super spicy spaghetti sauce.  I’m almost certain that sounds disgusting to you – but you are incorrect.  It’s delicious.  Insanely delicous.  In fact, I’m getting pretty damn hungry just writing this.  Yeah, I make my sauce from scratch.  Well, sort of.  I use tomato sauce as a base (see above reference to revulsion at whole vegetables) and then bolognese the shit out of it.  Ground turkey is the only way to go for the bolognesing – and not the white meat ground turkey either.  That shit don’t cook right.  Gotta have that fatty ground turkey.  The ultimate incarnation of this is one of my legendary lasagnas – sorry no pictures available.  But trust me when I say we’ve eaten lasagna nine meals in a row before.  (I’m also working on a lasagnachos hybrid, but so far has not come together)


What's with that tiny pour?  And the green stuff?
What's with that tiny pour? And the green stuff?


Unfortunately, there probably aren’t too many spaghetti carts for a reason.  Probably too much potential wastage if you don’t have a good estimate of that day’s customer flow.  And people probably (foolishly) want something a little less hearty during lunchtime.  Maybe I could fire up a dual purpose cart – burritos during the day, spaghetti at night?This idea might have legs (at least than being a foot model), I’ll have to do a little more market research.