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Dec. 20, 2005

The best of the burritos

by Mary Donahue, Online Managing Features Editor
Americans like their food. More specifically, Americans like to eat out, spending an average of over $2,000 a year on food away from home. Three new, cafeteria-style Mexican restaurants in the metro area offer students a chance to put more money towards eating out.

Fast Mexican food incorporates many of American's Tex-Mex favorites, but the basic burrito sets the standards for this particular cuisine. The renovation of downtown Silver Spring has welcomed Chipotle and Baja Fresh, while inside the new Burnt Mills shopping center is California Tortilla, another fast food Mexican restaurant. Now it is time to decide which of these new restaurants serves the best burrito.

Chipotle

At Chipotle, it's all about instructions. There are instructions on how to order, instructions on how to eat your burrito and even instructions on how to throw out your trash.

Where Chipotle fails, though, is with their interpretation of a burrito. The messy combination of a doughy tortilla and vast amounts of rice just doesn't cut it. The white rice in the burrito is misplaced and its cilantro-lime flavoring overpowers what little of anything else there is.

Chipotle's modern interior compliments its cuisine. The general theme of the furnishings is eclipsed by the modern and futuristic metallic décor.

The taste of the meat itself is almost indeterminable, due to the lack of quantity and overwhelming cilantro flavor. The chipotle pepper adobo sauce that marinates the meat does not have a strong flavor despite the pepper.

What Chipotle does do well, though, is options. Their motto "two things, thousands of ways" is true to the "t"s. They take the simple idea of a burrito and create thousands of different ways to prepare it. While going down the line, you can pick and choose what you want and what you don't. Of course, you have to act fast if you want to eliminate the rice, since it is the first thing they mound on, in copious amounts.

The prices at Chipotle are, initially, not too outrageous. Ranging from $4.95 for a vegetarian burrito to $5.60 for a steak burrito, the price of a burrito and a drink won't break the bank. However, the extras and different combinations of extras all vary in price and by the time your burrito reaches the cashier, a once simple burrito can become expensive.

California Tortilla

While Chipotle is all about instructions, California Tortilla is all about deals. A small burrito is $4.89, but California Tortilla offers many deals that lower this price. Monday night is "mystery price burrito night" where a spin on a wheel determines what you pay. Wednesday is "burritos for a buck night" and there's always the "bonus burrito card" which offers one free burrito for every seven purchased.

The funky appearance and jovial atmosphere of the restaurant compliments the creative deals offered. The walls are lined with over 75 different hot sauces, most of which you can sample, and the ceiling is strung with tasteful chili-pepper lights. The walls are splashed with bright yellows, oranges and reds that manage to be shocking without being tacky. Block arrows lead you up to the cash register, where the menu is clearly displayed, but the paper take-home menu is much easier to understand.

The burrito is layered with the individual ingredients that make every bite result in a new combination of flavors. There is an equal amount of beef, beans and Mexican rice, along with lettuce, sour cream and Monterey jack cheese. The combination of these ingredients creates a mouth-watering meal. The tortilla may be doughy, pale and flaccid, but the overall flavor makes up for it.

The best thing about California Tortilla is that it is the only restaurant that offers dual sizes: small and large, though the regular size is quite large.

The worst thing is the location. It is nearly impossible to navigate the Burnt Mill's parking lot and with the daily traffic jams, the congestion on Columbia Pike leads to an undesirable location. There's also one in Bethesda, National Airport and Rockville, though.

Baja Fresh

All hail the winner of the tortilla wars! Out of all three restaurants, Baja Fresh is the only one with a decent tortilla. Instead of the thin, wimpy tortilla that encases the other two restaurants' burritos, Baja Fresh gives their customers a hearty and chewy one.

Except for their tortillas, though, Baja Fresh is ordinary. From their bland color scheme to their basic burritos, Baja Fresh provides mediocre service for outrageous prices.

The black and white checkerboard floor and bright splashes of red and green are tasteful, but lack the creativity of the other two restaurants. And at $6.10 for a regular "Baja" steak burrito, the least they could do is offer a variance in sizes and prices. The burrito itself is not bad, but not worth it. The flavor is there, the texture is there, but the heat is not; both the burrito and the chips that come with it are lukewarm.

The cheddar cheese used on the bean and cheese burrito has a prominent, but not overwhelming, flavor. Baja Fresh is also the only restaurant of the three that offers a choice between black and pinto beans.

The handful of complimentary tortilla chips that are thrown into the bag with the burrito taste as if they have been sitting around for a couple of days. The addition of the chips is thoughtful, but the flavor fails to impress.

The Overview

Though all three restaurants offer a distinctive spin on the classic burrito, a decision must be made. The award for best decor goes to California Tortilla; the award for best organization is Chipotle; the award for best tortilla goes to Baja Fresh and the award for best burrito goes to California Tortilla.

Chipotle, Baja Fresh and California Tortilla all display the versatility of the burrito. All the burritos offered are original and flavorsome, but even in the burrito world there is a pecking order.

Chipotle is located in 907 Ellsworth Dr. Silver Spring, MD 20910. To contact Chipotle, call 301-608-3688.
California Tortilla is located 10721-A Columbia Pike Silver Spring, MD 20901. To contact California call 301-593-3955.
Baja Fresh is located 8515 Fenton St. Silver Spring, MD 20910. To contact Baja Fresh call 301-587-6542.



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  • Colin on December 20, 2005 at 4:43 PM
    Is Chipotle the only one with a veggie burrito?
  • baja fan on December 20, 2005 at 4:49 PM
    burrito ultimo is king.
  • 09 on December 20, 2005 at 5:52 PM
    You can totally choose between black and pinto beans at Chipotle. Gosh!
  • hmmmm on December 20, 2005 at 6:04 PM
    great article, it shows alot of effort and not only that it's really interesting.
  • David White on December 20, 2005 at 7:07 PM
    GO CALTOR! In your face, Chipotle.
  • yay on December 20, 2005 at 7:29 PM
    awesome article, i love burritos, and california tortilla and baja fresh are the best. down with chipotle
  • Closer Cal Tor? on December 20, 2005 at 7:34 PM
    There is a California Tortilla DOWN THE STREET from Blair (go North on Route 29, it's in the new Burnt Mills shopping center).
  • chipotle lover on December 20, 2005 at 9:57 PM
    i think the review simpley didn't like cilantro

    i once ate at chipotle 4 days in a row
  • mcdonalds on December 21, 2005 at 1:13 PM
    chipotle's burriots are by far the best...who could resist succulent carnitas or spicy steak cubes? It's also the most conveniently located, who would go to Caltor?
  • Jeff on December 22, 2005 at 9:50 PM
    to Closer Cal Tor:
    if you had read the article, you would know that you're talking about the same one as in the review. it's located in the burnt mills shopping center on route 29 (columbia pike). and it's not exactly "right down the street." it takes at least 5 minutes to drive there and about 10 to walk to from the school.
  • chip on January 6, 2006 at 2:01 PM
    chipotle is by far the best. There isn't even a contest. The lemony rice and the meat and whatnot? its a garauteed hit. Cal tor is better for families though, and looks more inviting to kids of a younger age. But once you are old enough to see past the brightly coloured tables and masses of hot sauce (their main schick), you realize that chipotle is so much less commercial. Although, you get some great deals at cal tor, chipotle is just better tasting.
  • pratik on January 15, 2006 at 10:11 PM
    as a vegetarian burrito lover Colin, I can accurately say that CalTor does indeed have a veggie burrito. And it's really good :-)
  • jc on January 28, 2006 at 4:30 AM
    chipotle veggie burito owns everything else.
  • Judith Franklin (View Email) on February 4, 2006 at 9:16 AM
    I am a fan of Tacos... and the best tacos are at Chipotle. Their chicken flavor is my favorite and the crunchy taco shell are the best, they do not fall apart in your hands.
  • word on February 5, 2006 at 11:38 AM
    dawgs, what you have to realize is that the Baja Fresh quesadilla kicks every burrito sqaure in the butt. Whether it's chicken, steak or savory carnitas, the quesadilla's crisp tortilla and melty, succulent cheese is better than any burrito I've ever had. Now you all can argue over the best burrito, but even a godly burrito couldn't even come close to comparing with a quesadilla. and anyone who says otherwise is a communist.
  • yo on March 1, 2006 at 6:18 PM
    Chipotle rocks I dont no what these losers are talking about.
  • daburritoman on May 15, 2006 at 4:52 PM
    Baja Fresh kicks azz..the best in the house. fresh ingredients, cheap, and fast. the salsas are also great tasting and not bottled. The grilled flavors are definitely accentuated in the chicken burrito ultimo...mosdef lives up to it's name
  • yo on May 20, 2006 at 6:58 PM
    to jeff:
    caltor is not a 5 min drive from blair. more like a 2 min. and if it was a 5 min drive, then wouldnt walking there from blair take much longer then 10 min?
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