Tag Archives: burritos

Chipotle Mexican Grill

chipotle

For around three years of my life, I ate at Chipotle with absurd frequency. Part of the reason why was that it was one of the only safe restaurants I was aware of, and I felt (and still feel) entirely comfortable eating there—but I also just liked the food. A lot. It was my go-to lunch, my go-to after-school “snack,” and my go-to travel food. Once, I spent two weeks in Michigan and ate at Chipotle for almost every single meal, breakfasts included. I’m past that stage now—I’m way less phobic about eating out with my allergy, at least—but I just realized that I’d never written about Chipotle, so I figured I should.

For those with nut allergies, Chipotle’s a pretty safe option. According to this page on their website, there are no (intentional) eggs, mustard, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, shellfish, or fish in any of Chipotle’s food. (Of course, they don’t guarantee that their food is 100% free from trace amounts of any of the above, but a lack of nuts on-site is generally good enough for me.) Plus, if you’re into Food with Integrity, Chipotle has you covered; their meat comes from pasture-raised animals, and they’re very into their commitment to “real” (i.e. farm-sourced, organic, and/or non-GMO) ingredients.

But enough about all that. (Seriously. Enough.) For me—and for most, I assume—Chipotle’s real appeal lies in its unusual mix of ubiquity and food quality. These days, Chipotle is about as common as McDonald’s (not really, though it does often feel that way; McDonald’s has, like, 36,000 locations to Chipotle’s 2,000-ish). But Chipotle’s food is actually pretty good, which is practically unheard of for a chain of its size. It’s omnipresent enough to be dependable, but it won’t leave you feeling sick. And that is why I spent so long eating so much Chipotle.

I should probably explain, then, why I’ve slowed my Chipotle consumption to a measly once a month, if that.

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It all started with Chipotle’s 2015 E. coli outbreak—but it’s not what you think. I never got sick from their food, nor did I stop eating there out of fear of falling ill. But after the outbreak (which followed outbreaks of norovirus and Salmonella, and which did a lot to sully Chipotle’s wholesome image), the chain made a bunch of changes in the name of safety.

Among those changes was a shift to the use of central kitchens to allow for frequent ingredient-testing. Cheese now arrives pre-shredded, a bunch of ingredients (tomatoes, lettuce, cilantro, peppers, etc.) now arrive pre-chopped, and steak now arrives pre-cooked. Onions don’t arrive pre-chopped, but they’re now blanched before use, along with lemons, limes, jalapeños, and avocados—and all of the above (aside from lemons and limes) are now marinated in citrus juice before they’re used in anything else.

Now, none of those changes have made much of a difference—except for the switch to pre-cooked steak, which is the sole reason I’ve become so disillusioned. Chipotle offers six protein bases: steak, carnitas, chicken, barbacoa, chorizo, and sofritas. I’ve only ever been able to get into the steak, and I’ve always been silently skeptical of anyone who swears by any of the other options. The carnitas are bland, and both they and the barbacoa are mushy as hell. The chicken’s dry, and the chorizo might as well be ground chicken, flavor-wise. Sofritas are vegetarian, and I’m heavy into meat. That’s left me with steak.

I never minded, though. I loved the steak, in all its medium-rare glory. On a good day, it was juicy, soft, and bursting with flavor—never dry, never crusty, and hardly ever overcooked. Now, the steak is cooked sous-vide, cooled, and then shipped to Chipotles everywhere for marinating and further cooking on the grill, and for whatever reason, this process never seems to end well. These days, Chipotle’s steak is almost always dry, tough, and bland. On its best days, it’s just a little overcooked—but usually, it’s inedible.

A steak burrito bowl from Chipotle

Before the outbreak, I had my order down pat: a steak burrito with white rice, fajita vegetables, chili-corn salsa, sour cream, cheese, and lettuce—or a bowl with the same ingredients, with their (free!) honey vinaigrette drizzled on top and a (free!) warm tortilla on the side. But without good steak, my order falls apart. I tried switching to carnitas. I tried switching to chicken. When they introduced chorizo, I tried switching to chorizo—but it just wasn’t happening, so I gave up. Perhaps the steak will improve. Perhaps the grillers will get used to grilling pre-cooked steak, and perhaps it’ll start tasting better.

In the meantime, Chipotle has done a lot to un-tarnish its reputation. They’ve given out free burritos, introduced a summer rewards program (Chiptopia), and released an animated short—but if you ask me (and why would you?), their customer base, fickle as any other, will have no reason to return until the food’s good again. For me, at least, it isn’t about E. coli; it’s about the food, and the food’s demonstrably worse.

But even if the steak never gets better, I’ll probably never get fully clean. Chipotle’s too big, too easy, too dependable for me to remove it from my repertoire. So I guess I’ll just continue to eat their food on occasion, taking every chance I get to talk about my dissatisfaction with their new steak, promising myself, with fresh conviction each time, that this will be my last Chipotle meal, that I won’t be back.

But let’s not kid ourselves.

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Taqueria Diana

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I know, I know. This blog is filled with posts about nut-free taquerias; how could I possibly have found another? Well, I actually have an answer: I found Taqueria Diana here, where I ended up after a Google search of “best nachos in NYC.” 30 minutes later—after I’d called and made sure the folks at Taqueria Diana don’t use any nuts in their kitchen—it was time to go.

I went pretty late in the day, and they were out of both carnitas and elote—which, to be honest, had me pretty disappointed—so I got a tray of nachos al pastor and Sam got a burrito (also al pastor). I tried his burrito, and…it was pretty bad. The filling was mostly rice and beans, and when Sam gave up on holding the burrito together and let its contents spill into onto his tray, I couldn’t deny how much what fell out reminded me of a cockroach infestation.

Unnecessarily mean comments aside, the burrito was undeniably mushy and bland, and I probably won’t ever eat another. The nachos, however, were a different animal entirely. (Not literally. Same meat.) For $12, it’s a huge portion—and it’s really good, too. Seriously: I can’t stop ordering them. It’s becoming a problem.

The chips (homemade!) are strong enough to hold the toppings: cheese, beans, guacamole, crema, salsa, jalapeños, carrots, salsa verde, and the meat of your choice. There’s plenty of cheese, always fully melted and well-distributed—and there’s a whole lot of guac, too, which I can’t help but appreciate. The salsa verde isn’t all that flavorful, but there are squirt-bottled salsas of various heat levels all over the restaurant, so the verde’s a non-issue, really. Even the beans are good (and I’m unashamedly anti-bean).

Best of all, these nachos are entirely free from that nasty-ass, movie-theater-tasting slop called “nacho cheese” that everyone and their mother seems to need to drizzle over tortilla chips. (Ugh. Ugh.) They’re missing pico de gallo, too—but I’m willing to accept that as long as nacho cheese stays out of the picture, too.

The pork itself—which is the one meat they never seem to run out of—is pretty dry and boring, but that’s my only real complaint. The earlier I go, the better the meat is—so perhaps it’d actually be good if I could manage to show up around lunchtime. (Or perhaps they won’t be out of carnitas. One can hope, right?) Meat aside, though, these nachos are pretty solid, and I’m grateful to have found them.

Two tacos— from Taqueria Diana

I’ve tried the tacos, too—al pastor and chicken, both pictured immediately above)—and while I prefer those at Los Tacos (and Otto’s, too, on a good day), these definitely aren’t bad. There’s plenty of crema to go around, and I’m a sucker for anything with a bunch of cilantro sprinkled on top, so it wasn’t all that hard for these to keep me chewing. Still, the tortillas were sort of shitty, and both meats fell totally flat. The al pastor was as described above, and the chicken was mushy-soft, in a tuna-fishy sort of way.

Via delivery—and only via delivery, because I can’t seem to ever get out the door before 3pm—I’ve actually been able to get my hands on both the carnitas and the elote. Though everything got a bit soggy in transport, I can still say that I liked the carnitas a whole lot better than the al pastor. On the other hand, the elote fell a bit flat. It had way too much mayo and not nearly enough cheese, and the corn itself was pretty bland—though perhaps it would’ve been better if it hadn’t just traveled a few miles in a tin foil cocoon.

Anyway. I’ve done a fair amount of complaining in this post, but I do like Taqueria Diana. The tacos are good, the nachos are great, and the elote’s all right, I suppose, though it’s not as if I’ll ever crave it. Maybe one day I’ll be able to get my hands on their carnitas in-store—or maybe not. Either way, I’ll probably continue to eat at Taqueria Diana. That’s kind of just what I do.

They have three locations: one on 2nd Avenue, between 7th and 8th (129 2nd Ave); one on 6th Avenue, between 17th and 18th (601 6th Ave); and one on the corner of 9th Avenue and 39th Street (524 9th Ave). It’s not McDonald’s, so they’re all a little different. I’ve only been to the 6th Avenue location, but I look forward to trying the others, too.

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Dos Toros Taqueria (or, That Time I Was Really, Really Wrong)

A carnitas bowl from Dos Toros

All right. Let’s say you’re like me, and you’ve eaten at Chipotle too many times in the past month to count, and you’re starting to feel a little ashamed. You still want Chipotle, but shouldn’t you…you know, eat something else? The answer is yes. Yes, you obviously should eat something else. And Dos Toros is your key to doing so—but, you know, without ever having to actually eat anything else.

Dos Toros is remarkably similar to Chipotle, though die-hard fans of either will probably try to convince you that they’re, like, totally different, dude. But the fact remains: they’re both Mexican-ish fast-casual chains that offer customizable burritos (and bowls and tacos, too). And like Chipotle, Dos Toros is pretty much nut-free. According to their online menu: “There are zero nuts in anything at DT. There is however sesame oil in our smokey hot sauce and our salad dressing.”

With regard to potential cross contaminants, a Dos Toros representative told me the following via email: “I just talked to one of the founders and it’s probably not fair to say we ensure that there are no contaminants, but we assume something like onions or peppers is not being grown next to peanuts.” Some may not be satisfied with that answer, but it was enough for me, so to Dos Toros I went.

The first time I went (to the Union Square location, in late February), I ordered a carne asada burrito with rice, corn, cheese, and sour cream—and to be honest, I absolutely hated it. It was soggy and bland, with mushy rice and funky-tasting steak, and I promised myself I’d never return. Come summer, though, I read that a brand new Dos Toros location was having a a Friends and Family event—basically a free food day—in celebration of their June 13th grand opening. If I was ever going to give the place another chance, it had to be then.

Fast forward to Sunday, June 12th. The Dos Toros in question was the chain’s 11th restaurant, located at 52 West 52nd Street, between 5th and 6th. The Puerto Rican Day Parade was in full swing (and only half a block away, at that), and Dos Toros #11 was crowded. Like, snaking-line, no-tables crowded. No surprise there, I guess. There’s a lot of hype surrounding Dos Toros—and who doesn’t love discounted food?

I figured I should switch it up, so when my turn came, I ordered a carnitas burrito with rice, peppers and onions, tomato salsa, corn, verde sauce, guacamole, and sour cream—and, of course, some chips and guac (why not?). As promised, everything was free. And the employees were absurdly friendly. With my last Dos Toros experience still fresh in my mind, I was ready as ever to hate everything about the place—but I couldn’t. Everything was perfect.

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I’ll just say it: My burrito was better than anything I’ve ever eaten at Chipotle—including those meals I’ve eaten when Chipotle was at its peak, which it certainly is not anymore. (Have you tasted their steak lately? It’s pretty terrible these days.)

My burrito wasn’t bland. It wasn’t soggy. Nothing tasted funky. All the ingredients were fresh-as-could-be, and the burrito as a whole was flavorful and cohesive, without any of the mushy homogeneity of my first Dos Toros meal. Above all, it was good. Great, even. So: I’m sorry, Dos Toros. I misjudged you.

I maintain, though, that their rice sucks. (I’m sorry. Maybe I suck. But I just don’t like it.) It is mushy and bland—but it definitely isn’t as offensive as I’d originally thought. And while I liked the carnitas better than the carne asada, I must admit that both were pretty boring. But I remain convinced: Overall, Dos Toros is pretty damn good.

Perhaps my first burrito was only so bad because of my own poor choices, made in the interest of saving money and emulating my favorite Chipotle meals. Or perhaps my second burrito was only so good because it was opening week, and all the ingredients were extra fresh (and the employees extra motivated).

Either way, I look forward to finding out just where your average Dos Toros burrito lies on the spectrum between my first and second experiences. And I’ve certainly learned my lesson—there’ll be no more cheaping out on additional ingredients for me.

[Note: Pictured in the two photos above is not a Dos Toros burrito; it’s a carnitas plato that I ate a few days after writing this post. I’d been wanting to try something other than a burrito—and a plato was way easier to photograph, anyway—so I figured I might as well. Forgive me.]

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