Want good food? Don't let corporate identity fool you
People don't know why they go to restaurants. They think they do, but they don't. Try this out: Ask a friend why he or she likes going to his or her favorite establishment. You'll get something like, "I don't know. The atmosphere is really nice, and, well, I guess I just really like it there." Such a response is half-right. Liking a place is a good reason to go to a restaurant. Atmosphere, not so much. The atmosphere was nice inside the BioDome, but I wouldn't want to eat there.
There are two-and only two-good reasons to go to a restaurant: 1) It makes you feel better and 2) It has really good, really cheap food. Think of it as going to your mother's house. On the one hand, you will go to your mother's house when you lose a job, or a girlfriend, or a dog, or whatever. You go under such circumstances because your mother makes you feel better. On the other hand, sometimes you will go to your mother's house because she has much better food than you do and it's really cheap. All it costs you is an hour of conversation about why you never pursued your painting career and how nice that girl you used to date in high school looks now and how well she's getting along with that boy she married who grew up to be a thoracic surgeon.
The same general concept applies to dining out. Living all week is hard and eating your own swill makes it harder. Sometimes you're just bound to find yourself so down-in-the-mouth that you need to go blow a bunch of money you don't have at an establishment where a skilled waitstaff will put on a convincing performance of caring about how you're doing and gently stroke you to the point that you'll drop a 25-percent tip and think, "Damn, I feel a lot better about myself, and the prime rib wasn't bad."
Other times, however, you just need to eat. Although it hurts me to say so, at such times you should go to Chipotle. It hurts me to tell you that because, according to people who know about such things, Chipotle is still owned in part by the McDonald's Corporation. In my own arcane view of the afterlife, in the fourth ditch of the eighth circle of Hell, Pol Pot and L. Ron Hubbard are sitting on Ronald McDonald's lap being force fed an endless vat of Chicken McNuggets lightly fondued on lead skewers. But that's just me.
Despite my beliefs, Chipotle is the bomb and it starts and ends with the food. They offer a choice of four staple ingredients-chicken, carnitas, steak and barbacoa-each of which is prepared to perfection and served piping hot in your choice of a bean and rice burrito, a fajita burrito, hard or soft tacos, or a bowl of rice and beans. If you're a vegetarian, well, get over yourself, but you can get any of the above with guacamole instead of meat. You can't go wrong with anything on the menu. Trust me.
And to accentuate it all, they offer four types of salsa that are as good as any salsa you will find at any Mexican restaurant. That's no exaggeration. The drink selection is pretty standard, except that Chipotle is a part of what one calls the "fast-casual" restaurant movement. As opposed to a fast-food joint, a fast-casual place offers booze. You can go to Chipotle and get yourself roughly a pound of fantastic Mexican food with just a few minutes' wait and add in a bottle of Corona for $3.25. You could even have a margarita, as did my date and I. It won't win any awards, but, hey, it's tequila and something else. That's fine with me.
And here's the best thing-every entrée is under six bucks. We're talking about a big, healthy, heaping helping of fresh, quality ingredients, well prepared, tastefully presented and rapidly served for a fiver and change. My date and I shared a burrito, four hard tacos and two margaritas for around $15. Like I said, it's like going to your mother's house. And insofar as your mother probably lives way out in the ultraburbs, it's actually better than going to your mother's house, because there are seven Chipotles in the county and one of them is bound to be near you. If you find yourself in Hillcrest, I personally vouch for the one at Seventh and University.
And lest any of you think I have completely sold out, I am actually just ahead of the curve. I did some research, sort of. According to Wikipedia, that fount of authority, "On April 26, 2006, McDonald's, which at that time owned a 69 percent interest in [Chipotle], announced that it would be divesting its remaining interest by the end of the year." That's right. McDonald's is getting out of the Chipotle business. So go ahead and go there with a clear conscience. I do, and I have a food column.