Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chipotle Mexican Grill in Old Town

The concept behind the popular Chipotle chain is very interesting. While on the one hand it is Mexican fast food, on the other hand it places an emphasis on criteria where fast food joints tend not to focus. The ingredients are touted to be high quality with fresh vegetables and meat that is steroid and hormone free and fed a vegetarian diet. If how they treat animals their animals isn't enough for you, they also are impressively involved in philanthropy. In fact when my wife worked at a non-profit organization back in San Diego, Chipotle was consistently one of the most helpful local businesses in the community, seemingly always happy to provide help with food and money. As you would expect, Chipotle is not exactly Taco Bell when it comes to their pricing, but I feel it's money well spent.

What makes Chipotle especially interesting is that McDonald's used to be a large stakeholder in the company. It was as if McDonald's had recognized the inevitable decline of its unhealthy greasy food and was creating something of an escape hatch for itself. For whatever reason, they have since sold their stake and chosen to focus on its questionably healthy salads and new 'gourmet' coffee. It remains to be seen how their strategy will work out, though personally I'm skeptical of their ability to straddle two fairly separate demographics. However, if I'm that confident in my restaurant managerial talent, perhaps I should go to school for it.

Also nice at Chipotle is the ability choose exactly how you want your meal. It almost seems strange that Mexican food hadn't already gone this way when you consider that nearly all Mexican dishes are just slightly different combinations of meat, cheese, beans and rice. In a way, Chipotle really reminds me of when Subway first came out and the sandwiches were made with a little more care and the vegetables were much much fresher than they are today. Hopefully Chipotle doesn't go down the same path.

Since I've started to go out a bit more at lunch, I've been searching for places where I can find something reasonably healthy, tasty and not too expensive. This is where chipotle fits the bell pretty dang well. With their 'burrito bowls' you can easily forgo the carb-laden tortilla and being able to choose the ingredients I opted for the vegetarian black beans over the greasier pinto beans and no sour cream (though I did go for some of the tasty guacamole--its fat is monosaturated after all right?)

The food is pretty tasty and filling. It's hard to say whether the slightly lacking in flavor was due to a step-down in quality from a full-blown Mexican restaurant or whether it was just the lack of cheese, sour cream, etc. Regardless, for its price and speed of service Chipotle is a great place to grab lunch.

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