Part One of a five-part series this week on tacos, burritos, and salsas...sorry, hungrymomma!
Us editorial Weeklings always steal food whenever the paper's ad side order mass lunches during a special issue sales push, whether Best of, Summer Guide, or some other such blockbuster. Sometimes, the chow impresses, like whenever they choose Philly's Best; other times, not so much. Especially whenever it was Chipotle, which I came to loathe like few other chains. It wasn't a question of authenticity; I will praise Jack in the Box's tacos until God calls his wayward wab. Chipotle's burritos just plain sucked, its rice pointless, beans unremarkable. And the meat! Mush worthy of a spittoon in a barely cooked flour tortilla.
Thankfully, the Weekly ad folks stopped ordering Chipotle some time ago, and I didn't have to bemoan their choice of crap. I wouldn't even try the restaurant after they left McDonald's, after they announced the use of grain-fed, cruelty-free beef, chicken, and pork. But last week, the mysterious Ben Dayhoe, the man behind the eminently readable, too-infrequently-updated blog Life at the Santiago Lofts, posted that a new Chipotle was to open in SanTana. Dayhoe gushes over Chipotle like a little girl over Miley Cyrus, per his own admission, and he invited me to try his culinary muse at his expense. I agreed, always open to revisiting a restaurant I might not like (there's hope for you yet, Lola Gaspar, if your owners ever get over themselves).
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We met last Friday, braving the rains to find a Chipotle buzzing with buyers. Dayhoe's wife was there, along with a Cuban friend whose relatives own the Fiesta Mexicana grocery store in Anaheim (little-known fact: Cubans also own the Cacique brand of Mexican cheeses. Oh well: wabs will always have Northgate). I entrusted Dayhoe with his usual, and so he ordered a steak burrito with rice, sour cream, sautéed peppers, and mild, medium, and hot salsa mixed in. Did I miss anything, Ben?
Scout's honor this burrito was good, and it was all about the meat. I appreciated the salsa's tang, the pepper strip's slight bite, and the sour cream's cooling effect, but the meat sung with the souls of cows that didn't die a horrid death. Maybe the allure of organic tricked my taste buds into trying to make the meat more than what it was, but I doubt it, especially given that the choice Dayhoe went was one I had maligned to friends almost as much as Armenian genocide deniers. This meat was as distinct in taste difference as the grass-fed steaks at Manhattan Supper Club in Orange are to what they grease out at Norm's.
Will I return to Chipotle? Probably not. Their flour tortilla needs more cooking than a quick trip to a flat iron (and let me trot out my cultural authenticity card and note that the French press is for a Cuban media noche, and a comal is mandatory for a true tortilla, and never the twain should meet), tasteful rice is better left to the Persians, and the price is a bit much given you can get a better-tasting burrito for about two bucks left with the same heft at Taquería Tapatía about 10 minutes away (more on them tomorrow). But no longer will I trash Chipotle--except for that Mayan figure on their walls. Hey, corporate: burritos have as much to do with the ancients as closed borders have to do with Mexicans.
Chipotle, 1945 E. 17th St., SanTana. Tomorrow: Taquería Tapatía's OG second location...