A chip off the olé otle

Output from a Culinary Institute of America graduate.

Output from a Culinary Institute of America graduate.

I received a $25 gift card to Chipotle Mexican Grill for a birthday gift. Now I don’t know Chipotle from a hole in the ground but, ostensibly, it still seemed like a reasonable gift. I knew it was a chain restaurant of some sort so I figured I’d get a meal of out the deal.

At the time we’d been in the big city for six months. I had never seen a Chipotle. Luckily, a check of the internet maps revealed there were nine to choose from within a 10-mile radius. We chose the closest and embarked on a big city adventure.

The adventure really took off in the parking lot. It was tinier than a postage stamp’s sphincter and, wisely, allowed cars to enter from both directions at the same time. So I was in a really good mood by the time we entered the eatery. (I will deliberately eschew the word “restaurant” for the remainder of this review.)

Although we waited for a space, a car pulled in and assumed it was theirs, not knowing that we had waited six hours. It was an honest mistake but the angry look on the dude’s face did make for awkward times a few minutes later when they stood six inches behind us in the line.

That brings me to the next feature of this diner: The Line. We walked into the place and the most prominent feature, the thing that really captured your attention was the humans in a queue. I looked at my wife. She looked at me. We shrugged and said the same thing. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

All in all not a bad first experience.

Obviously we made it back again or (probably) I wouldn’t be writing this review. I’m one to get right back up on that horse. (Please don’t use that word near the chaffing dishes, though.)

I pondered that first experience and began to scheme and prepare a plan. I had to mentally steel myself for the next attempt. Two months later I felt ready. We decided to go. After all, we had no choice. The gift card had committed us on this irrevocable course.

It was my hope that we picked a better time of day and we’d have a small window of opportunity of normalness. We rolled up on the joint and I slowed and glanced into the parking lot. Nope. It was not meant to be. Clusterfuck. Cars were every which way and all akimbo. It was time to put my plan into action.

I pulled around the block and calmly parked along the curb. Ah. So nice.

Score: Me 1, Chipotle 0.

We walked around the block and began our ingress to the area. There was the front door. For some reason, they had installed a guard rail that forced you all the way around like one of those Disneyland queue mazes, and just to reach the front door. This did not portend well.

We entered and assumed our position at the end of the queue. Since we had mentally prepared in advance, this did not cause me to lose control of my bowels. This time.

We scanned the board and desperately consumed the information in the hopes that we’d know what to do when it was our turn at the chaffing dishes. Apparently the drill was to choose an item (burrito, taco, sopitas, etc.) and a filling. Ah, idiot proof.

My wife chose burrito so I chose burrito. I’m sorry, I panicked. The pressure was intense. She got carnitas and I went beef. In the confusion I ordered the wrong kind of rice. She also somehow gleaned that grilled onions and peppers were available. I got none.

Against all odds we were soon seated at a table for two. Our first stroke of luck! Every table in the place was occupied and still the people were streaming into the facility like it was the last place on Earth. What the hell is the attraction of this place I asked myself for the umpteenth time.

Maybe it’s about the food? I took a bite. Nope, that can’t be it. I will admit that I did get one tender and flavorful bite of beef that was close to delicious. The rest of my meal was like noshing on a cow that had been raised on nothing but fried rubber bands. Chewy with plenty of gristle and hard to maneuver around my mouth and down my consumer hole. And it was a giant burrito. But the flavor was mostly “meh” and, as I revealed earlier, it had the wrong damn rice.

My wife brightly said that hers was actually way better than she expected. She shared a bite and I had to admit it was more more food-like that what I had foolishly ordered.

Meanwhile, the ambiance and experience was akin to being in a blender. Kids were running around screaming. Every table was full. People were coming and going like subatomic particles trying to find new orbits. We were jammed in tight.

Taken together, the dining area and the ordering queue, the kids, and the feel, the place was reminiscent of being inside Disneyland’s butt hole, assuming Disneyland had Mexican for lunch.

The motif also had something to say. A garbage can that looked like a miniaturized 55-gallon industrial drum was wheeled through the dining area. The floor was concrete. The tables were stainless steel. The walls were drab. That’s when it hit me. The ambiance was early American stun room. You know, the place where cows go to be transformed into food. Perhaps the very same cow that was making my jaw hurt. The irony was not lost on me. I had to admire the efficiency of design. A multi-functional room that could easily be hosed down and steam cleaned after either activity.

On the plus side, out the windows and across the street, I could see a Muchos Gracias and a Taco Bell. We were in a Mexican Triangle of culinary excellence. Why is the burrito always greener on the other side of the street?

There’s still a $4 balance on the gift card. Since I will not be returning to Chipotle – ever – some lucky heir of mine is going to be in for a real treat. That’s good news for them as soon as my work on this planet is done. Enjoy!

17 responses

  1. “Nobody goes there any more. It’s too crowded.”

    It *is* one of those places — like Starbucks — where you feel like an outsider if you don’t know how/what to order.


    1. I should have upgraded to the E-Ticket which, I’m pretty sure, stood for enema.


  2. I’ve been to chipotle several times, and have actually found their food to be more than sufficient at keeping me going until I could get some real food.
    (They are much better if you go at off hours. I used to go at 8pm when I had to work late downtown. The Burrito Bowls weren’t too bad.)


    1. I figured with your moniker you’d be a Chipotle apologist. 🙂


      1. No, I save that for the (oh so delicious) Taco Bell pink slime.


  3. The real motivator I think for people that patronize Chipotle is calories/dollar which has to be an enormous number.

    I don’t mind Chipotle as counter-service mexican, but there are so many more local places here in SD to choose from that are better I almost never go there.


    1. Yeah, that burrito was huge. Probably twice the mass and four times the inertia of Del Taco’s macho combo.

      Yes, there is excellent Mexican to be had in San Diego. I miss watching from the sidewalk as tortillas were handcrafted.

      Of course, I also miss Alberto’s carne asada burritos and Rubio’s fish tacos. I’ve been craving some Rubio’s for years now.


  4. When in Portland, I enjoy ¿por que no? When miles away from good Mexican, I’ve been know to eat a forearm sized burrito from Chipotle – like your wife, I have found the carnitas to be the best bet.


    1. “Forearm sized burrito.” Sir, I wish to pump out prose with you some day! 🙂

      I don’t think there will be a next time. I’d probably rather have Tapatio forcibly injected into my eye sockets. But, if there is, carnitas it will be! Thanks for the tip.


      1. In my usual neck of the woods, Chipotle is a half decent alternative for Mexican food. If I lived anywhere near Mississippi Ave in Portland, I’d have a permanent seat at Por Que No?


      2. Ah. I missed the reference the first time around. Never been to Por Que No? Never heard of it, either. But I do know Mississippi Ave. Lots of good eats to be had on that street.

        Por Que No is now on my bucket list. We are seriously craving a good taqueria in Portland. Haven’t found the right one yet. We have found some seriously strange (and lacking) Mexican restaurants not counting the trendy upscale places. Matador on 23rd was seriously good eats. I had the pork belly tacos.

        Por Que No, here we come!


      3. There’s another por que no somewhere else in Portland, but we only went to that one.


      4. Then again, I’m in Jersey, what the hell do I know about Mexican food?


  5. At least you didn’t get served a glass of water.
    Saved us from an explosive post.


    1. Good point. I did not drink the water! I briefly considered the Chipotle margarita (which I assume comes in a can) but I couldn’t risk my relationship with alcohol. It’s far too precious. Instead I settled for the self-serve liquid candy dispensed from a bacteria breeding ground machine.


  6. “Chipotle” is a verb in my house, as in when I’m too busy to cook and the mister says, “Maybe I’ll just Chipotle the children and me, then.” And I say, “I’ll scrounge at home.”


    1. I love good Mexican and I’ll chipotle anyone who says otherwise!

      So what you are saying is that you’re the Lone Chipotle Survivor? I had a hunch you were an outlier.


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