FOOD: Chipotle – The Chipotle Unexperience

There is an amazing Mexican restaurant in our area that we only rarely go to. The Andale Taquiera is a hidden gem of the suburbs, a Guy Fieri-approved diner that serves some of the most amazing burritos and tacos you can get on this side of the Twin Cities, and certainly the best ones outside of the cities proper. And yet, we choose time and time to go to Chipotle down the street instead. 

Why is this? Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? Everybody knows that Chipotle’s burritos are only just passable, and any independent Mexican restaurant worth their salt would blow them out of the water. We certainly are aware of this, but we kept choosing Chipotle time and time again. What kind of madness is this? What possible reason could someone choose to do this to themselves? Well, if you’re as perplexed at our behavior as we are, just click through and we’ll tell you all about the Chipotle experience.

It’s because we’re greedy and Chipotle gives bigger portions for a smaller price. Yes, that’s why. The thing about Chipotle is this: they will give you as much rice and beans as you ask for. Ask for three scoops, four scoops of rice, they’ll do it. We do this because we like to only eat about half of our burrito, and save the rest for the next day where we fry the leftovers up in a hot pan with plenty of butter and a few eggs. Chipotle fried rice, it’s delicious!

But this gravy train has been creeping to a halt for a while now, much to our disappointment. The price for a Chipotle burrito has been slowly increasing in our area, and the price for a burrito at the Andale has remained constant. And while we could still get a much larger burrito at Chipotle for cheaper overall, there’s a much bigger issue in hand: we are in the middle of a pandemic, and most restaurants are takeout only.

This nips our little Chipotle scheme right in the bud. With almost every restaurant being closed for walk-in business, we can’t talk directly to a person behind the counter to customize our order. We can only order online or through Chipotle’s bespoke app, and the customization options are severely limited. We can’t even get any extra rice or beans on the online ordering form, and the app limits us to four total customizations – and we can’t get more than one extra scoop! Is that stingy or what? [Edit: As of May 22, they’ve updated the app’s customization options. Getting Chipotle is still not worth it.]

So, forget it. Why are we going to this place again, anyway? To get charged 20 dollars instead of 30, for 60 cents worth of rice and beans? Sure, it’s good, but it’s not great food. The Andale, though? They serve great food. Why not go there and support a small restaurant in a trying time instead? 

So, of course, we did. And it was fantastic, as we expected it to be. We got a barbacoa and a carne asada burrito, and they were divine. The beef was perfectly seasoned, rich and flavorful, either soaked in a perfect guajillo sauce or fried to perfection respectively. We drove over to a local park and sat in the car, watching people play basketball on the court. We pondered, “why don’t we do this more often?” In times like these it’s harder to come up with an excuse.

Chipotle has been good to us in the past. It took only the barest amount of flattery over e-mail to convince their customer relations team to send us coupons for free burritos. We would repeat this scheme every few months, and it worked almost every time – once, they even sent us a free Chipotle T-shirt! They even comped us a full free meal for one of our dating anniversaries. Workers recognized Paula as ‘the huge burritos guy’ and never gave us any grief for it.

For 5 years, whenever we brought up being regulars at Chipotle, our friends would unanimously react with disdain: “Ugh, why? It’s just Expensive Taco Bell.” Ah, but you see, Taco Bell is Expensive Taco Bell. These are the dark secrets you learn when you are completely broke, which we were when we started this website. We have a whole catalogue of ridiculously overpriced menu items we’ve reviewed, we know that firsthand… our funny little ‘trick’ costs as much as two Crunchwrap Supremes and is three times the value. Plus, getting that much caloric intake from Taco Bell will make you horrifically sick, comparatively.

But in these trying times, squeezing free food out of a multi-billion dollar restaurant franchise is harder than ever. So why bother? Chipotle doesn’t need the business right now, local restaurants do. Supporting a great local place like the Andale is enough reason to eat there in itself. And it’s clear Andale could use the support! The changes were subtle, but added up to a noticeable difference in the eating experience. Instead of the usual foam clamshells, our burritos were served to us in a plain paper bag. Normally each burrito gets a serving of chips and fresh pico de gallo to go with them, but we were only given a single cup of pico. None of this was enough to ruin our experience, but it was a bit worrisome to see evidence that they’ve had to cut back. 

Eating at Andale served to show us how flawed Chipotle’s model is. Our Chipotle scheme revolved around the fact that they would let you customize your burrito to your liking. All of the burritos at Andale are served as-is. This shows, in our opinion, more confidence in the recipes. They actually know what your meal is supposed to taste like. We don’t like to talk about “authenticity” here when it comes to the cuisine of specific cultures and nations, but Andale genuinely is authentic food. It’s food made by hard-working, dedicated chefs, who know what makes food taste good.

And let’s be serious: who really wants to eat at Chipotle anymore? Considering they were recently slapped with the largest ever fine for food-safety violations in history, it would probably be in everyone’s best interest to stop eating there. Chipotle’s crusade for “real” food has bit them in the ass so many times with E. coli, norovirus, and salmonella outbreaks it’s a surprise we kept eating there! I mean, we live in the area where there was a salmonella outbreak! There were salmonella infections traced back to Chipotles we regularly ate at! 

Maybe the novel coronavirus outbreak has changed our feelings on unnecessarily exposing ourselves to pathogens. Now that we’re confined to our home we’ve had time to really contemplate if putting ourselves at risk of serious digestive infection over mediocre Mexican food is worth it. Let’s hope once this quarantine finally ends we don’t become tempted to start going to Chipotle again. But who knows how long that’s going to be? In the meantime, Andale’s going to be wide open with the food we love. It’s a no-brainer where to go.

So please, while this quarantine is still going on, try to patronize a smaller restaurant than usual. Order pizza from that hole in the wall instead of Domino’s. Get a takeout burger from a locally owned diner. They’ll be glad you did, and so will you.

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