Tuesday, August 29, 2006

FAST FOOD HEAVEN? Chipotlé Is The Place

Why Did It Take So Long To Figure It Out?

It’s true. Fast food has become a dirty word.

But when you think of fast food, don’t you think greasy burgers? Fries? Fried Chicken?

Well, there is a trend sweeping the country, and that’s fresher fast food. Yes, it still may be served on a paper plate or in a wax wrapper… but that doesn’t mean that it can’t taste good, and be good for you. Or at least… better for you.

This is where the new fresh-mex concept CHIPOTLE comes in. Like the earlier Baja Fresh, these guys hit the market with fresher that fresh ingredients, no freezers and no microwaves. This means your food was made fresh, likely a few minutes ago, and may actually taste that way.

Before I dive in, let me fill you in on a few things….

McDonald's owns 90% of Chipotle Mexican Grill.
Competitor Baja Fresh is owned by a subsidiary of Wendy's.
Competitor Qdoba was acquired by Jack in the Box in 2003.

This is a big deal in the food world. There is a lot of money to be made here.

The menu concept at Chipotle is genius. You have very little to choose from… a burrito, a fajita burrito, a burrito Bowl (or as they call it, Bol), soft or hard tacos… and a salad.

Once you figure out what it is you’ll have, you pick the meats. Marinated, grilled chicken, hand chopped steak, braised carnitas, spicy barbacoa (shredded beef… and my favorite) or vegetarian (surprisingly good).

The meats are not your run-of-the-mill fast food quality fare. This is marinated, grilled and stewed stuff. You'll be shocked.

From there, you tell your new friends behind the counter what condiments you’d like (fresh sliced romaine lettuce, pinto or delicious black beans, etc) and choose a homemade salsa.

The salsa is downright great. As I love the medium hot Tomatillo-Green Chili, the Roasted Chili Corn, Tomatillo-Red Chili and Fresh Tomato are all wunderbar.

To top things off, Chipotle makes their guacamole fresh by hand several times a day, along with great tortilla chips. A case of ice cold Mexican beers are available to wash it all down.

So why the big deal? Maybe because this place… a fast food place… nails all of the details. Why don’t other new stores (or older classics) get it? This average meal here will run you about $6.95, and in NYC, that is one helluva deal.

And if you can do the math, you can get your mind around this… you can get about 50,000 combinations with these 5 items. Uh, add sour cream please.

So, how popular is the place? There is a website dedicated to their fans… where you can chat, get coupons, find out about new locations and own the nutritional info (http://www.chipotlefan.com) . These guys are serious.

Otherwise, visit the real home at www.chipotle.com

Chipotle has smothered midtown Manhattan with a number of outlets… and more seem to keep coming. Do yourself a favor and hit one next time your hungry for something without the grease.

Oh yea, don’t forget the cold Modelo.

If you need the Guac now, here is the recipe!

Chipotle's Guacamole Recipe

1 large ripe Hass avocado, peeled,pitted
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped red onions
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 serrano chili, seeded,chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Mash up avocado with a fork.
2. Add lime juice.
3. Add all other ingredients and blend well.
4. Serve with tortilla chips.