The Burrito Manifesto

I hold this truth to be ludicrously self-evident (and am thoroughly baffled at any dissention), that not all Burritos are created equal. The proliferation and American bastardization of the “Mexican” staple, the Burrito has become a taste sensation throughout the United States, garnering an unprecedented devotion among college students and a bemused and begrudged acceptance among their elders. While many franchised and local establishments exist throughout our great country and the world to cater to our Unquenchable Thirst for Burritos, there are two that set themselves apart in the minds of the constituency.

Given my current residence in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I am most intimately acquainted with the Burrito scene of its hallowed grounds spreading from Main to State street and all the way to the outskirts. The popularity of the Burrito only second here to that of the Pizza, I have had the pleasure of sampling and pontificating about the merits and disadvantages of each fine establishment. Moe’s Southwest Grill might as well not even exist; their wide selection of various unlimited mediocre salsas being their only bragging right. Their salsas are bad, forcing Moe’s into irrelevance. One step above Moe’s is Panchero’s, who boasts freshly-made tortillas on the regular. While the tortilla is imperative in guaranteeing Burrito cohesion, there is a large population who prefers an unwrapped or naked Burrito, rendering such quality tortillas obsolete. By this logic one can deduce that, just like humans like to say about other ugly humans, it’s what’s inside the outer protective shell that is most important. Such a heartwarming deduction leaves us with few establishments whose substantive Burritos are worth debating: local favorite BTB, centrally-located Chipotle, and our off-the-beaten-path lovable underdog, Qdoba.

While BTB holds a special place in any wolverine’s heart, its reputation as drunchies and limited scope force it off of our radar, which caters to the national (at the very least regional) population in its quest to ascertain the best franchised Burrito around. Prepare yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, for the two heavyweights to square off, and understand that my opinion is thoroughly and unabashedly biased. While normally such admission of partiality would minimize my credibility in your eyes, dear Reader, I implore you to recall my expertise in all things Burrito and also encourage you to believe that anyone possessing such chutzpah as to pen a Burrito Manifesto is probably correct by default.

To begin with the more logistical aspects of any burrito decision, one must consider the cost associated with IMG_3205each and every burrito. Given that numbers turn my brain off, I will deal with rough estimates and let you do the rest. Chipotle ~$10, Qdoba ~$8. Whew. Not only is Qdoba cheaper to begin with, BUT it also offers a decidedly kickass rewards program, featuring a signing bonus of free chips and guac (or salsa, but if you make that decision…sigh), AND a free entrée for every ten you buy. I consider it a point of pride not shame that I probably could not count high enough to keep track of all the free entrees I’ve enjoyed in my six years of marital bliss with Qdoba. Maybe I’m always just blindsided by the price of guac while I’m at Chipotle, but I’ve never noticed any rewards program available. Loyalty is the foundation of any successful love story, and Chipotle just doesn’t seem to get it.

Moving on to more important matters, I am going to boldly assume that, like me, many of my fellow burrito consumers are more concerned with taste than health. To be fair, we’re eating a flour sack filled with carbs mostly, traces of usually questionable meat, and an inordinate amount of “healthy fat” in the form of guacamole. For this reason we will continue onto a close analysis and comparison of the taste sensations and completely dispense with bringing up the whole GMO scandal of which Chipotle has recently been made victim. (A thinly veiled attempt to point out that Qdoba has virtually no bad press to speak of. Just saying.)

Chipotle’s oblong serving container…you see the difference? Also, megakudos if you can win the game of Where’s Waldo with the guac.
Qdoba, giving you an almost fully spherical burrito experience since 1995.

Even for us more seasoned veterans of the world of Mexican food, too many options can be paralyzingly confusing. BUT they are still necessary for the democratic society in which we live. So why would I go to Chipotle for the obligatory burrito or tacos when I could go to Qdoba and choose between a burrito, nachos, tacos, quesadilla, OR my personal favorite, the Mexican gumbo (or any combination thereof)? Furthermore, Qdoba has more options for tasty things to put on any of these vessels; like ground beef (which doesn’t exist at Chipotle), quesomole, several options for queso (LIKE BACON JALAPEñO), and six salsa options to Chipotle’s four. While taste is important for any foodstuff, many of us turn to burritos for the portion size. Coincidentally, this is another arena where Qdoba is victorious. Chipotle, with its oblong serving vessels attempts to dupe the consumer via optical illusion, but the savvy consumer knows better. The rounder, the taller, the better, and in that regard, Qdoba wins every time.

Chipotle’s sorry-ass excuse for a supplementary chip supply.
refill #2 at Qdoba

Aside from the burrito’s taste and size itself, the accoutrements are always imperative to nail for any hopeful successful burrito chain. Which brings us to chips, the perkier, more portable counterpart to the tortilla. At Chipotle, you get a half-full (like, even less full than that last bag of Ruffles you bought), room temperature chips with an iffy-at-best crunch. Qdoba? Bottomless (when you eat in the restaurant and I mean why would you not? Ain’t nobody got time to wait when you have a burrito in your hand) full trays of warm, thin-but-crunchy ones, even kissed with a hint of lime. Besides these superior menu choices, tastes, portion sizes, and tortilla alternatives, the fact that Qdoba boasts the most concentrated Sprite I have ever tasted is just a perk.

My last and certainly most potent argument will stand alone in all its splendor. It should be magic to any college student’s world-weary eyes:

Bless you, Qdoba, may all the Mexican gods bless your fucking souls.

Need I say more?


2 thoughts on “The Burrito Manifesto

  1. I really enjoyed reading this essay, and I’m blown away by your analysis of Qdoba vs. Chipotle, (it literally changed the way I see the burrito industry, but more on that below). However, I feel an obligation to come to bat for my own personal favorite burrito joint, Panchero’s. I appreciate your acknowledging of their vastly superior tortillas, but feel you may have sold them short on many of their other amazing qualities.

    I’m going to start by extending my own praise of Panchero’s tortillas. It pretty much breaks my heart to see Qdoba, Chipotle, Moe’s, and BTB run out of tortillas and pull out a “fresh” bag full of the suckers, (I’m pretty sure all of these establishments do this, but I could be wrong), when I know that just down the street, Panch is hand-pressing each magnificent tortilla with a tender love the other spots won’t even attempt to duplicate.

    And that brings me to a second point that proves to me that Panchero’s cares deeply about the customer. Panch alone seems to understand that there is nothing more disappointing than sitting down with your long awaited burrito, taking your first bite… and tasting nothing but tortilla and a massive glob of sour cream or rice. By using their wonderful “Burrito Mixing Tool”, Panch acknowledges that it is simply too difficult to prevent this unfortunate circumstance of burrito making without intervention. They’ll mix the contents of your burrito for you to prevent the dreaded “One Dimensional Bite”. It is an exceedingly simple gesture, but one that shows a true understanding of the customer’s desires, and one that only Panch will offer.

    There are a few other things I would like to plug about Panchero’s before moving on. The ability to upgrade to a “Gordo”, a burrito with literally twice the rice, beans, and meat of a standard burrito, for a mere dollar and change is incredibly cost efficient, and will keep you full for the rest of the day. The signature “Flavolcano” hot sauce is wonderful, and I’m pretty sure it’s the only attempt by an Ann Arbor burrito chain to supply a unique hot sauce, (I believe Qdoba and Chipotle both stock Cholula, which is good, but hardly original). Finally, while the meat options may be more limited than it’s counterparts, the Panchero’s carnitas is, in my opinion, the best tasting in it’s class.

    I’ve never ordered a burrito bowl at Panchero’s, (because let’s face it, with tortillas like that, why would I want to?), so when I am in the mood to be mildly healthier and avoid the calorie bomb that is a burrito shell, I seek out other establishments. In this regard, I think we’re pretty much in agreement.

    You are right on the money with Moe’s. The salsa’s are so mediocre that they make me want to throw out about half of my tortilla chips, (which, admittedly, are homemade and free with your burrito). Besides not tasting good, the salsas and corn that they put in their burritos are much too thin and wet, weighing down the burrito and causing the shell to literally drip liquid, (this is gross).

    The only reason I’ll ever even consider Moe’s is for their nachos. Their tortilla chips are good, and their portion sizes are generous. Those are probably Moe’s only strong suits, and the nachos play to both of them. I avoid their burritos like the plague. (Also, I seriously can’t stand hearing their entire staff halfheartedly shout “Welcome to Moe’s!” when I walk in. I cannot stress enough how uncomfortable that makes me.)

    BTB makes a good burrito. They have a decent value and their “Off the menu menu” has some interesting and tasty options, (Gringo Burrito and Fire and Ice are both good changes of pace from the standard fare). My biggest problem with BTB is that, (as you’ve already pointed out), it’s reputation precedes it. On a drunken night, I don’t really care, but when I’m sober, I feel dirty just being inside. And I’m not sure if it’s a mental roadblock or the actual truth, but the quality of their ingredients just feels a notch below those of the other burrito joints in town.

    So, (as far as burrito bowls are concerned), I’ve come to the same conclusion as you; a Chipotle vs Qdoba death match. And while in the past I’ve always considered myself a Chipotle lean… I have no rebuttal to your many strong and well reasoned arguments. You have systematically destroyed (almost) everything I had held dear about my former favorite burrito bowl, while elevating Qdoba to unknown new heights. You have truly made a Qdoba believer out of me.

    I do have one argument for Chipotle, (but it’s not nearly enough to overcome the hole you’ve dug it into), and that is that their barbacoa is delicious. I believe it is the best meat filling that any of the burrito chains in Ann Arbor have to offer. It has always bummed me out going into Panch or Qdoba and seeing that they don’t have a countering barbacoa on the menu, (Panch has it as a promotional item sometime, but far too rarely). Qdoba tries to counter with pulled pork and shredded beef, but neither of them match the delicious spiciness of Chipotle barbacoa.

    But that’s all I’ve got to argue with. Qdoba has, (other than the barbacoa example), far more options to customize a burrito with than Chipotle, as you said. The ability to add those items to your burrito at no additional cost is wonderful, and I was never in the know about their bottomless chips. I had also never realized that Chipotle was fooling me with their portion sizes, (Damn you Chipotle!) but it makes a lot of sense now that you mention it. And like you, I’m also a big fan of the Mexican Gumbo.

    One last Qdoba advantage that I didn’t see you mention is their inclusion of a new, top of the line Coca Cola “Freestyle” Soda Fountain. Giving the customer the ability to add flavor shots to their carbonated beverages is right up my alley, and goes another step further to offer Qdoba more options than the competition. (Moe’s also has one, but seriously, screw those guys). Quick disclaimer, though. I’ve always found the flavor shots to be slightly too concentrated, so my beverage of choice is one half Barq’s Root Beer, one half Barq’s Root Beer with Vanilla.

    And that’s about it. I think if I could sum up my new stance in one concise thought, it would be that Panchero’s makes the best burritos, and Qdoba makes the best bowls, with a quick shout out to Chipotle barbacoa.


  2. Strong assessment, but you should be aware that on the West Coast BOTH Chipotle and Qdoba charge for their guacamole, and if I remember correctly it is not two but THREE WHOLE DOLLARS. Then again, thanks to a direct connection to Latin America via I-5 there are many more quality local burrito people on the scene in these parts, so these two wouldn’t even have a chance in hell to be competing in a Western face-off. Good post though! Follow for follow?


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