There is a disturbing and pernicious mass delusion floating about that the Chipotle restaurant chain is a good place to get food — that customers should go out of their way to get more of Chipotle’s food from Chipotle — that maximizing the amount of Chipotle-borne roughage inside of a foil packet is a desirable way to behave. I cannot possibly let this stand.
I will not get into issues of authenticity and who does or does not have access to real burritos; I have no quarrel with Americanized fast food. Chipotle was once described to me as “the Subway of Mexican food,” which is a perfectly acceptable thing to be. I am not above eating at Subway (I wouldn’t get one of their sandwiches with meat on it, if that’s what you mean, but that just seems like common sense) if I am on a road trip.
The inside of a Chipotle is always too cold. Too cold and too sterile by half. There are always at least six enthusiastic young Christian college students finishing a meal inside of every Chipotle. No matter where you are on earth or what time of day you walk through the doors, they will be there, spread across four cabaret-style tables (why are the burritos so offensively large and the tables so comically small?), laughing and flinging crumpled-up foil balls at each other’s heads. They are always having a great time. Christian college students go to Chipotle to have fun; they go to Starbucks to have serious conversations about theology with their accountability partners. This is neither here nor there, however; let us return to the burrito line.
I have no quarrel with their tortillas. Their tortillas are made of flour and ingredients and give no offense. They are indescribably large, but this would not be a problem if the burritos about to be shoved inside them were any good. It is at the very next stage that our problem begins: the rice.
Leaving aside whether or not it is acceptable to siphon a hundredweight of plain white rice into a burrito (IT IS NOT; Mexican- or Spanish-style rice is the only acceptable option. I think saffron makes it Spanish-style and cumin makes it Mexican-style, although I am open to correction here. The point is that rice must first be cooked with tomatoes and onions and garlic and spices before it is ready, not flung in bare and naked and shivering), Chipotle makes it physically impossible to order a standard burrito without cilantro. Mandatory cilantro! What of freedom? What of choice? What of the thousands of us who would love to enjoy cilantro but taste nothing but the sharp sting of hand soap in it, who flinch when we see the tell-tale green flecks winking up at us from the bed of glistening, glutinous, bone-white rice? There is nothing for us to do but sag, and mutter “no rice, please,” and move along down the line.
Would you like refried beans in your burrito? You may not have them. You may have either pinto or black beans swimming in a water sea of their own foul and repugnant juices — juices that will damage the structural integrity of the tortilla within the first minute of burrito completion — but you may not have refried beans, because Chipotle refuses to offer them.
Next you will come to a selection of meats. I have nothing to say about them. There they are. They have not been filled with hormones and medical whatnots, as Chipotle is quick to remind us at every turn, and that is the extent of what can be said about them. Truly they are as the church of Laodicea in the book of Revelation:
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
If you folded me blind and placed before me a plate weighed down with every different meat Chipotle offers and asked me to distinguish between them, I would weep in despair. It cannot be done. Their barbacoa is indistinguishable from their carne asada is indistinguishable from their shredded chicken. What do they taste of? Salt. Sharp, bitter, angry, insistent salt. The salt seethes through the tongue and settles in the fat reserves of the cheek. We are salt, it whispers from the inner recesses of your face. You will taste us til you die. And yet death does not come.
Next you may find yourself presented with an assortment of fajita-style vegetables. They have not been cooked. They are raw as fuck. Put them in your burrito; what does it matter at this point? The texture of the entire structure is now flimsy/pliant/mushy/yielding/bean juice/THE CRUNCHIEST GREEN BELL PEPPER IN THE WORLD, but why resist? Tell them to pile it on.
For an additional forty-seven dollars you might add a spoonful of the runniest sour cream ever produced by a chain restaurant. Your burrito, between the bean juice and the meat liquids is already threatening to become a liquid rather than a solid. Dare you insert additional moisture? What will become of you? Nothing; nothing.
Would you care to purchase a thimble of cold and slippery guacamole — cold — for a mere nineteen gold coins? You would? How very odd.
Then the wrapping comes, then the inevitable end. Watch your burrito-maker nearly throw her back out trying to wrestle your briny beast into submission, then cage it in a sheath of foil to liquefy until you take your first distressing bite. Here it is. Your eleven-dollar burrito, a mess of incorrect rice and oozing juices and meat with no sense of self. You have made your choice, and you do not even have the consolation of the Christian students to amuse you; they have left to play Ultimate Frisbee. But there is nothing Ultimate for you here.
They serve margaritas now, did you know that? So go ahead and try that, if you still have hope beating within your chest.