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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.

 

Anna’s….sigh,

Chilly17

Potential New Careers: An Ongoing Series

Potential New Careers: An Ongoing Series

wallst2

Seeing as how the whole Wall Street banking thing didn’t quite work out for me, and that I have been unable to get my asking price for this sweet website ($250 million, Rupert, that’s the opening number!) I might ultimately have to seek gainful employment again.  I suppose I have a reasonably solid resume, but so does every laid off banker out there.  (And there are tons – Qdoba happy hour is filled with ex-bankers every day at 2:00)  I have to think outside the box (jargon alert!) a little bit: what do I have that every other Wall Street loser doesn’t have?

Hmmm…well, I’m really good at foosball…but that pro foosball circuit never really caught on…I am formidable at using ellipses, but at the current moment the national ellipsis lobby isn’t that powerful…I am excellent at watching TV and drinking wine, but there doesn’t seem to be a market for that (Nielsen apparently pays like shit, and I’m probably not recognizable enough to be a Yellow Tail endorser)…what do I have to offer?

Then, like a bolt, it hit me: I have incredibly beautiful feet.  I can become a foot model.  Talk about inelastic demand – there will always be a need for attractive feet: flip-flop advertisements, bunion treatments, motion picture body doubles.  How many times, in teen movies alone, has a character inadvertently (and humorously) been stuck hiding under a bed with the viewer only able to see the other characters feet ?  Those are foot doubles!  Elisha Cuthbert was a foot model – perhaps with proper networking this could lead to a full-fledged acting career (Hollywood is sorely lacking in fat, balding, middle-aged leading men).

 

Potential New Career: Foot Model

 

The Visual Evidence

Just look at the perfect formation of the toes – no abberant second toe that is more massive than the big toe.  There’s a reason that the big toe is called “the big toe” – it’s the thumb of the foot.  Admire the perfectly balanced hairiness – just enough to project confident masculinity; not so much as to suggest Yeti heritage.    

Opinions on toe hair vary by culture
Opinions on toe hair vary by culture

A slightly more revealing shot – I think this is safe for work – reveals the soft underbelly of the sole (given my proclivity for blisters there I’m pretty sure that my bodacious feet share the same exact skin type as the fingers of Josh Beckett’s gifted right arm).  Also a teasing glimpse of the powerful calf, what better form to market an athlete’s foot medication?

Barely safe for work
Barely safe for work

 

 

Wait a second…I’m remembering something horrible from my past…

Moment of honesty:  Let me be truthful here: there is a bit of embellishment on this website from time to time.  For instance, I have never actually had a foursome with 3 Solid Gold dancers, as I may have alluded to before.  The story I’m about to tell, however, is 100% true.


100% True Story

Setting: Summer 2002

I had finished the summer after B-school in San Diego, it was fucking incredible.  I was heading to NYC to start what was sure to be a long-term career in the prosperous industry of investment banking.  I was on top of the proverbial world: wide-eyed and optimistic, like every romantic comedy ingenue who impulsively moves to the Big Apple.  The flight from San Diego to Las Vegas had no issues.  I had a short layover before the redeye to NYC – no time for gaming but luckily at McCarran there is a sweet Taco Bell Express.  I remember it like it was yesterday: four soft tacos and an order of nachos, lots of Fire sauce (this is not my usual order, but you have to make adjustments for the Express).  Took my bag of deliciousness with me on the plane (much to the chagrin of all the other passengers).

Boarding the plane – still no issues.  There was a rugby team of some sort boarding ahead of me – I was just hoping to get some sleep and feared they’d be loudly headbutting each other the entire trip.  I was wearing shorts and a tee shirt, running shoes, carrying a duffel bag and a bag of tacos.  As I entered the plane, the First Class flight attendant pulled me aside and asked if I’d like to be upgraded to First Class.  Fuck yeah I would – he was clearly an oracle who could see the Master of the Universe I was to become.  First Class was effectively empty – he told me I would need to sit in the first row as he’d upgraded me for security reasons.  This was less than a year after 9/11, tensions were still high, and – obviously – I’m a bad motherfucker.  Of course it’s logical to move me (and my tacos) up to First Class to protect the pilots; it would make little sense to use any of the 25 rugby Neanderthals for this purpose.

This flight attendant would not shut the fuck up – he kept asking me all these questions and generally being annoying as shit.  I didn’t want to be rude – he did, of course, hook me up (and he realized that I had the ability to put a fucking whoopin on any would-be terrorists).  So I pulled out a book, headphones – none of it worked, he kept prattling on.  He kept asking me if I wanted some wine; given that I drank every day for three months, I wasn’t really in the mood.  Finally, I relented, hoping he would quiet down.  I had some (disgusting) red wine, which he kept refilling every 1-2 minutes.  I moved to the window seat to escape his chatty ass.  He told me I had to sit in the aisle seat (again for security reasons).  This, for some reason, did not seem peculiar to me.  The reason, in hindsight, was that I am a moron.

So there I was: Seat 1B, drinking wine I didn’t want, with this fucker interrupting me every two minutes.  I decide it’s time to sleep, surely that will shut him up.  So I grab a blanket, throw on some headphones, and feign sleep.  He taps me on the shoulder and asks if I want to prop my feet up.  I say no.  He pulls some random box thing out and puts it in the aisle and puts my feet on top of it.  Another security measure to literally trip up potential terrorists?  Now I was starting to get a little freaked out.  Did I mention that EVERY WORD OF THIS IS TRUE?

So now I was really getting sleepy, the red wine had contributed greatly to the cause.  This fucking guy then asks if I want to take my shoes and socks off?  Nope, I’m good.  He says don’t be ridiculous – and fucking removes my shoes and socks himself!  At this point I started having a little more empathy for those Lifetime protagonists.  

Actually, it was a bit more comfy, given how your feet swell when flying (John McClane was right – but given my antiterroist role on the flight I should’ve recalled how the shoe decision ultimately backfired on him).  After my 12th glass of wine, I finally succumbed to the seductive charms of sleep….I awakened to the First Class flight attendant, rubbing my fucking feet!  He’d drawn the curtain at the front of first class; my feet were propped up on the box, behind the curtain – he was massaging away with what I pray were his hands.  

Now this is a situation that you rarely believe you will get yourself in: getting a foot rub from a male flight attendant against your will sitting in the almost empty first class cabin, at a time of extremely heightened airline security.  There is also a rugby team sitting about ten rows back.  Do you scream?  Punch the guy?  Kick him in the face?  Embrace your shame?  Seriously, you think you know what you’ll do, but trust me, you don’t.  I chose to withdraw my feet and move to the window seat, where I curled up in the fetal position for the remainder of the flight.

I got off that plane as fast as I could.  My girlfriend harmlessly asked how the flight was.  “Uh, it, um, I uh don’t really want to discuss it.”  Eventually I decided I had to say something to someone at the airline because, my extraordinarily beautiful feet notwithstanding, it seemed like he’d done this before (the wine, the box, etc).  I was too petrified even to threaten to sue though – imagining the Post headlines was enough (“Bare Market: Finance Fiend Foot Fondled on Flight”).

So maybe I’ll skip the foot modeling gig, probably better for the common good to not take these puppies national.  The quest continues….