Burritos roll out in Harvard Sq.

by Beacon Staff • November 28, 2007

It's an affliction untold thousands of students silently wrestle with: the relentless desire for jumbo-sized, freshly-made, gourmet-level burritos. The unnatural longing is a classic symptom of a Chipotle obsession. Emerson students from Colorado, Florida, Baltimore and Washington D.C are particularly susceptible to Chipotle fixation. Thankfully, relief has flung open its avocado doors. There are already three Chipotle outlets in Massachusetts, and this October a Davis Square Chipotle opened for business with lines out the door. Only two T stops away in Harvard Square another site is under construction.

A native of Washington D.C., sophomore James Garner said he has sentimental value in the chain.

"The commencement at my high school talked about Chipotle as a metaphor for life and us graduating," said Garner, a theater design and technology major. "And we went with it."

To grasp what makes Chipotle different from other burrito joints is to know the philosophy behind it along with the company's meteoric rise in just over a decade.

More than just ticky-tacky burrito boxes, Chipotle restaurants are stylish, blending into a variety of cityscapes, both urban and suburban. According to its Web site, "Every Chipotle has original artwork by Bruce Gueswel, a noted sculptor." Instead of corny murals of poncho-wearing villagers, Chipotle offers modern wood and metal sculptures in an ancient Mayan style. The Chipotle burrito masters are friendly, efficient and take direction well. Once reaching the head of the line, patrons are typically through in five minutes or less.

Critics of Mexican food point out the fact that there are typically only four ingredients used to make any dish. However, the menu at Chipotle attempts to make a twist on the usual meat, beans, cheese and rice. Vegetarian burritos include guacamole, and the fajita burrito substitutes sauteacute;ed peppers and onions for beans. If tortillas fail to appeal, the Burrito Bol and the Chipotle Salad both leave them off. The salad combines romaine lettuce, cheese, choice of beans, meat, salsa and chipotle-honey vinaigrette, and goes for $6.75.

Burrito roll-masters make their guacamole multiple times a day with Haas avocados, red onions, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, citrus juice, salt and assorted spices. Getting the guacamole runs $1.50 extra for all non-vegetarian burritos, but the hefty dollop is well worth it. Salsas are fresh and full of variety, from a mild fresh tomato to the mainstay tomatillo-green chili to one of the tastiest hot salsas, tomatillo red chili.

The Chipotle "wow" factor really is the heft and girth of these foil-clad creations. Any customer who can finish a burrito and have room for the chips guacamole ($2.50) or the chips and salsa ($1.50) deserves a medal. Despite Massachusetts' archaic liquor laws, the Medford location serves beer ($3.75 for a Corona) and the Davis Square location should have its license by the end of the month.

For the contemplative burrito lover, Chipotle brings up a few questions, mostly about local burrito favorites like Anna's Taqueria or Boca Grande. Anna's Taqueria and Boca Grande produce very good, sometimes excellent Mexican fare, but their focus is more on value and variety than quality ingredients. Boca Grande has five locations. It offers 13 different varieties of burritos, including a very tasty Chile Verde. Boca Grande's menu also includes quesadillas, enchiladas, tacos and Mexican plates, all for under $5.

For only $4.20, an Anna's Taqueria Super Burrito draws the real penny pinchers. Quesadillas, tacos, and Mexican plates, are all cheap, slightly greasy and pretty tasty. Super burritos come close to Chipotle's in size but not quality. Anna's is equally well spread with restaurants in Brookline, Somerville and Cambridge.

Steve Ellis, chairman and CEO of the company, opened the first Chipotle Mexican Grill in Denver in 1993. Ellis honed his culinary skills in the Culinary Institute of America, and then began a Mexican-cuisine career as a line cook at Stars Restaurant in San Francisco. By 1997, Chipotle had grown enough to attract the interests of the largest restaurant company in the world, McDonald's. That year McDonald's made an initial minority investment, which expanded to a controlling interest in 1999. Six years later, in 2005, McDonald's had a 92 percent interest. With the parental support of Ronald, Chipotle's dotted the map with 480 locations by the end of 2005 with Ellis still serving as chairman and CEO. Families, college students and food critics alike lauded Chipotle with praise and massive revenue.

One mission has guided the company from its Denver roots, and Ellis believes they are still striving to accomplish it. According to the company's official Web site, "Doing all these things better, from start to finish is our mission. We call it 'food with integrity.' It energizes everything we do in our restaurants and behind the scenes."

There may be ethical concerns for some students about shunning the small businesses for a Mac-backed chain. But if it wasn't for McDonald's, Chipotle would have never reached a mass market. And any fast-food chain that recommends you read Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation in its mission statement is definitely worth checking out. Students will go to great lengths to get their Chipotle fix.

"It's great!" said Pat Lord, sophomore theatrical design and technology major. "It's like a taste of home from Maryland."

Chipotle Mexican Grill

270-276 Elm St Davis Square, Somerville 11am-10pm

616 Fellsway, Medford 11am-10 pm Under Construction in Harvard Square