OS Staff Picks: The Battle Of The Burritos
We know that there likely won’t be a debate as contentious as yesterday’s breakdown of the best hoagies/subs/grinders/etc. in town. Sure, that debate ended up being a lot more about the various regional names for elongated sandwiches, but that’s not the point. The point is that this town deserves a legitimate discussion on burritos.
There’s really nothing like shoving every Mexican food item you can imagine inside of a tortilla wrap and rolling it in tin foil. But which State College burrito haven has the best burritos? That timeless question is debate by four of our writers here:
Zach Berger — Chipotle
Before you glance at the eateries that our staff members selected and jump straight to the comments to lambast us for not mentioning any real, authentic, sit-down Mexican restaurants, let me explain: There aren’t any. I wish that I could get a legitimate, bona fide Mexican burrito somewhere in State College, but I can’t. In fact, I wish I could get an authentic San Francisco-style mission burrito in State College, but I can’t. Instead, I settle for the next best thing, the closest thing I can find to a real burrito: Chipotle.
Sometimes, coming in first place doesn’t mean that you’re actually the best, but Chipotle is. The selection might not be as vast as its competitors, but Chipotle has the best, the freshest, and the tastiest Mexican food in town.
The rice! Ah, that glorious Chipotle rice, subtly contrasted with the lime and cilantro mixed in to its fluffy goodness. All four meat options (and even the shredded tofu!) are juicy, flavorful, and tender. The carnitas and barbacoa are braised to pull-apart perfection while the chicken and steak are expertly cooked on a grill you can see from the line. From a mild pico de gallo, to the medium green tomatillo salsa, to a tastefully-spicy red chile sauce, there’s a choice for everyone. The toppings range from a roasted-corn salsa, to an aged white cheddar and jack blend, to some of the best damn guacamole on this planet.
But that guac isn’t best-served on a burrito, because it goes even better with Chipotle’s house-cooked tortilla chips. The burrito chain makes them fresh in shop on a daily basis, complemented with a liberal sprinkling of kosher salt. When you scoop that magical blend of avocados, onions, jalepnos, cilantro, lemon juice, and lime juice with those chips, everything is right in the world. I do a lot of exaggerating when I talk about my restaurants of choice in these Onward State Staff Picks, but I mean it when I talk about Chipotle and its chips.
And lastly: Mr. Pibb. Enough said.
Jon Deasy — Qdoba
Chipotle has a lot of great stuff going for it. The guacamole is greener than the hills, the ingredients come in fresh daily, its service is fast, and its stock closed at $665.03/share yesterday. Sounds like an amazing burrito joint, right? Wrong. Remember when the local shop shut down for nearly an entire day because it allegedly mistreated its workers? Remember when you showed up to get a burrito yesterday and the line was out the door when it was 20 degrees? Remember when they raised the price of steak?
Those were dark times indeed but yet, the company perseveres. Personally, I’m tired of long lines and expensive burritos. In my old age, I am willing to settle for a more convenient eatery, one that’s a littler closer to West College, and where the extras aren’t extra. That’s right, I’m talking about Qdoba.
I see Qdoba as Chipotle’s less popular twin sister and I am perfectly okay with that. There’s never a line. In fact, the only time I waited in line was on a Friday during Whiteout weekend. I waited about five minutes. The service is just as fast as Chipotle, but I must admit that the ingredients are not as fresh. However, what it lacks in quality, it makes up for in its burrito diversity. Between the Mexican gumbo, any one of its three quesos, or the fried tortillas, there is no such thing as bland Qdoba burrito. Needless to say, Qdoba’s variety and choices blow Chipotle’s out of the water.
Qdoda is a restaurant that is constantly overshadowed by the Chipotle bias in this town. It deserves a chance because it has so much to offer. I mean where else can you get a burrito bowl loaded with rice, steak, salsa, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, queso, Mexican gumbo, lettuce, and tortillas for under $10? Not at Chipotle.
Jack Lukow — Moe’s
When California Tortilla was announced, it was a welcomed change. Too long had the burrito giants rested without challengers, dominating the halves of downtown State College. On the east side, Chipotle reigned king, west, Qdoba had its stake, and neither had any ability to challenge each other’s customer base. California Tortilla was supposed to be that challenger, but instead we got bland burritos, and a wall of hot sauces.
What I want, what I think would be the best burrito place in town, is a Moe’s. And I know what you are saying, voice in my head, “That’s cheating.” Well no, it’s not, and my doctor told me to stop talking to you, and Moe’s is on the way to town, so it counts.
Moe’s will bring the challenge to Chipotle’s doorstep, and although I agree with the mantra that “a burrito is a burrito,” the Moe’s vs. Chipotle debate is timeless. Moe’s has better portions and employees, but Chipotle does have an edge on overall taste, and it is not my place to decide between the two. What I can tell you is that my first chain burrito was at a Moe’s, standing in line after being assaulted with kindness by the cashier.
“Hey guys, welcome to Moe’s!” she said, and I did indeed feel welcome. Shortly after scanning the menu I laid my eyes on the prize, a burrito called the “Home Wrecker.” Suffice to say it was delicious, and with all of the wonder and do-it-yourself construction that Subway and Chipotle share. Yes, I want guac. Yes, I want extra beans. Yes, I want sour cream. Moe’s has an edge on the “chef-inspired” methods that CalTort carries.
Ben Berkman — Taco Bell
What’s your State College burrito of choice? Let us know in the comments.