The best of the burritos

Dec. 20, 2005, midnight | By Mary Donahue | 18 years, 6 months ago

Determining the best burrito in Blair area

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.


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.

Last updated: April 23, 2021, 1:01 p.m.

Mary Donahue. Mary Donahue is an 11th grade, vegetarian Honors student who is addicted to sugar. Whatever free time she can find is quickly swallowed up by Doback, "her" horse, or her crazy friends, with whom she scares mortals. She isn't happy unless she is moving, which … More »

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