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Soft Spot for Chipotle

November 28, 2011

It’s happened. I’m totally in Chipotle’s pocket. It didn’t even cost them any money. Well, I mean, I think they’ve bought me a few burritos over the years. There were those organic seeds they sent me that I gave away. I know there was a hat, and I’m pretty sure a t-shirt too.

Now they send me an email asking me to remind you all that there is a new restaurant opening up in Niskayuna tomorrow [note: the opening has been delayed, but it’s still coming], and guess what? Oh. It looks like I just spilled the beans.

But this is now old news. By now, you’ve likely heard it from Steve’s Table Hopping blog, Wendy’s blog Wendalicious, Irv Dean’s Food Forum column (tucked away at the bottom), Deanna’s Eat Local blog on the TU, Jerry’s DerryX blog, and even the editors at All Over Albany

However, I do have an ongoing promise to help support those restaurants that are engaged in commendable food sourcing efforts. And while there may be some who are skeptical of Chipotle and its “Food with Integrity” program, I continue to wish that many of our fancier restaurants would take a page from Chipotle’s book and sell better food at a lower price.

That said, Chipotle is doing something else that I’m very happy about.

A while back and without much fanfare, they started selling soft corn tortillas. This is a very big deal for several reasons.

1)    Tacos belong on corn tortillas.

They just do. Flour tortillas are in interloper from the United States. Mexican culture was built upon corn. And sure, Chipotle isn’t Mexican food per se, but that’s where it has its roots. Part of having integrity is respecting one’s roots. And I’m thrilled to see these corn tortillas in the restaurant.

2)    Those corn tortillas need to be soft.

There are Tacos Dorados, which are crispy-shelled fried tacos. Depending on the region those can either be rolled up in the form of taquitos and deep-fried with the meat already inside of them, or filled with meat before being folded and deep-fried. The latter involves carefully filling the crispy tortilla with all kinds of toppings. But fried corn tortillas aren’t particularly good for you. And you might not want to eat this delicious variant every day.

3)    Corn tortillas are a healthful option.

So here’s Chipotle’s dirty little secret. Their burritos are super tasty because their flour tortilla is super tasty. Why? The same reason all restaurant food is delicious: fat and salt. Seriously, just the tortilla on the burrito is 290 calories with 9g of fat, 3g of saturated fat and 670mg of sodium. Let’s contrast that with THREE soft corn tortillas, which weigh in at 180 calories with 1.5g of fat, no saturated fat and only 75mg of sodium. Plus the soft corn tortillas have 50% more dietary fiber.

The funny thing is that the last time I went to a local Chipotle, it wasn’t obvious that this better option was even available. I asked at the counter, and the fellow looked a little dumbfounded. He shuffled around, and finally found a pack of the soft corn tortillas, which needed to be opened. It seemed like I was the first person to ask for them all day.

However, I did just notice that these tortillas have made it onto the Nutrition Facts page of the Chipotle website while the brown rice option has not. That leads me to believe that the brown rice is still in a testing phase, or perhaps beyond that but still rolling out nationally.

The good news is that Chipotle continues to improve. Moving into the Mansion Square Shopping Plaza may not win it fans in historical preservation circles. But the mall was already built. Nobody was going to unbuild it and replant the trees that were removed from the property.

Maybe it’s better that I never saw the Stanford Mansion in its glory. I have only ever known it as is that mysterious boarded up building, perched on a hill in an empty lot, which kept watch over a busy intersection on the edge of Schenectady. Presumably somebody reached out to Stanford University’s endowment trust and was rebuffed.

But there is a lot of old architecture in the Electric City. If people are peeved that this site is now yet another strip mall, perhaps instead of spending their energies being angry at the current and future tenants, they should endeavor to save what is left.

Then again, I care more about tasty things to eat than buildings. So who am I to say.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 28, 2011 3:05 pm

    “But the mall was already built. Nobody was going to unbuild it and replant the trees that were removed from the property.”

    Thank you! I’ve been feeling guilty, knowing that I’m going to patronize them even though I’m still mad about all those trees, But you’re right, so I’m going to move on guilt-free. It’s Chipotle and I can’t stay away. I don’t want to stay away.

    And I LOVE the brown rice option.

  2. November 28, 2011 4:29 pm

    Just wanted to give your readers an update: I stopped by the new Chipotle today, for their pre-opening celebration. It was not open, and did the construction workers I spoke with said they’d be open “maybe next week”. They did not have power, gas, or food.

    I haven’t gotten a confirmation from Chipotle headquarters as of yet.

    • November 28, 2011 5:17 pm

      I just got a confirmation from Chipotle HQ:
      “Due to gas and electric issues at the new Schenectady Chipotle …we don’t have either… the restaurant will not open tomorrow as planned.”

      This one gets chalked up as an oops. Hey, at least I’m in good company given all the other media outlets that promoted the grand opening. I’m sure somewhere heads are rolling. Luckily I had no plans to be in the area until Sunday. Check back to this thread for fussy little updates.

  3. RealFoodMom permalink
    November 29, 2011 12:14 am

    I saw that brown rice at Chipotle — yay! But only for my “bowls.” Rice inside a burrito is an abomination, IMHO, and I always order mine with no rice.

  4. November 29, 2011 2:40 pm

    Thanks for the tip on the corn tortillas. They’re even hard to find at Hannaford. They have a giant rack of flour tortillas and one bag of corn ones. Although, I did spot some in the refrigerator section the other day…I’ll have to give those a go next time.

  5. Bill P. permalink
    November 29, 2011 4:28 pm

    Thanks for the heads up about the potential grand opening. I live around the corner from Mansion Square and haven’t heard a peep about it. Never had Chipotle, but I am looking forward it.

  6. Darren Shupe permalink
    December 1, 2011 9:10 am

    I guess I’d have to echo my comments on another excellent Fussy post and say that I just can’t get too worked up over the opening of another chain restaurant. Chipotle isn’t bad, but compared to a decent taco truck in SF or LA (or actual street food in Mexico) it’s pretty inferior. Soft corn tortillas are, of course, de rigueur… I can’t imagine anyone confusing a good cabeza or lengua taco on a couple of nicely steamed corn tortillas with something you’d get out of an Old El Paso box. Not to mention that the burritos at Chipotle, hefty as they are, don’t compare to the ones at La Cumbre in the Mission. For a local option, I usually choose the El Mariachi on Washington or that little Mexican place that, as you mentioned, no one seems to want anyone else to know about. ;)

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