Burrito Chain Smackdown

by Stephen Hebert on Wednesday - 30 April 2008

in Reviews

This post had been sitting in my drafts for quite some time. So, I decided to polish it a bit and put it out there. It’s only an opinion…deal with it, I guess.

Introduction

Someone told me a while back that they preferred Freebird’s to Chipotle. Hmm. I decided to investigate.

DISCLAIMER #1: This is a totally subjective review. Go with what you like. Just know that if your opinion differs from mine, you’re opinion is probably wrong.

DISCLAIMER #2: In terms of burrito yumminess, neither of these places can hold a candle to Cambridge’s “Boca Grande” on a good day (though, there have been bad days…beware). If you are from the Boston area, and you start talking to me about Anna’s Taqueria, realize that you are wrong before you start.

The Options

OK, the person who told me he preferred Freebird’s to Chipotle said that he felt like he had more options at Freebird’s. That was as far as I was willing to press the issue. So, let’s look at the options.

If you are interested in something other than a burrito, then I think Freebird’s is probably your place. Chipotle, as far as I know, has nothing beyond burritos, the “Burrito Bol” (carb friendly by removing the tortilla), and tacos. I could be wrong here. It doesn’t really matter because this post is about burritos. If you’re looking for something other than burritos…then you don’t need to read any further.

In terms of numbers of options, I think things are fairly equal. Freebird’s has some more tortilla options, and maybe another bean option. Chipotle has more meat options. As far as I can tell they have the same number of salsas, unless you count Freebird’s “BBQ” sauce — which you shouldn’t because it is wrong to put BBQ sauce on a burrito.

So, I’ll call it a draw here.

Tor-Tor-Tortilla

I mentioned above that Freebird’s has tortilla options a-plenty. Chipotle has only one. At Freebird’s you can reach for the Wheat, Flour, Cayenne, or Spinach. “Wow!” you might exclaim. Freebird’s must win this one hand down.

Heck no.

What’s the use of having all of these tortilla options if none of them measure up to the Chipotle tortilla? I’m definitely a proponent of “do one thing and do it well.” Chipotle gets the right amount of chewiness out of their flour tortillas because that’s all they make. Further, I’d say that the flavored tortillas at Freebird’s do not contribute to the flavor of the burrito significantly…they’re just eye candy.

Big Fillin’

Now, this is totally subjective, but I much prefer what Chipotle has got goin’ on. For my money, nothing says “awesome burrito” like a huge pile of pork. For the folks at Chipotle, pork is the flagship meat. If you haven’t sampled the pork at Chipotle, then you aren’t really eating the standard Chipotle burrito — at least give it a try.

Unfortunately, recent dietary restrictions have prevented me from biting into a big, fat, pork burrito — Natalie and I are opting for the lighter veggie fare these days. Chipotle typically delivers here. Fresh onions, bell peppers, and whatnot grilled over the open flame that you can see back there. Quite a bit of flavor, quite nice.

Freebird’s, in terms of the veggie option, is not a lot different. Looking at the meats, however, there is a greater difference. Again, the pork at Chipotle is so dynamite that it just overshadows whatever Freebird’s might try to throw at me.

Guac and Li’l Fillin’

Our standard burrito these days looks like this:

* Rice
* Beans
* Veggies
* Guacamole
* Corn Salsa
* Pico De Gallo

Quite a yummy combination. At Freebird’s this comes out quite well, although the bang for your buck is not really positive — you get less for your money than over at Chipotle.

Of these items, there is really only one major significant difference: Guacamole.

There is no fast food chain that comes close to matching Chipotle’s guacamole. I’m a total fan boy when it comes to this. It really is quite good. Sure, it suffers from being mixed a little too vigorously (a good guacamole should have some nice chunk to it). But, it tastes fresh, limey, and delicious. I really can’t say enough about how good it is — you’ve got to go to a good Mexican restaurant in order to purchase guacamole that exceeds Chipotle’s.

Atmosphere

When you walk into Chipotle you are greeted by interesting little Aztec sculptures (dudes holding burritos), and some very nice black and white prints of Chipotle restaurants. For the most part, it’s pretty laid back and subdued. The focus is on the burrito.

Freebird’s is different. The Freebird’s in my area has seen fit to decorate with garbage on the wall (usually unappealing in a restaurant). It seems to be a requirement at Freebird’s that the person building your burrito have various tattoos and piercings (I rather like this punky aspect of Freebird’s). Lastly, I was disappointed to see words like “ass” emblazoned across ads on every table (a no-no at Chipotle…nothing on the table but what you bring to it!). I’m not offended, but, if I had small kids who were fond of sounding out words, I might be annoyed.

Verdict

So, which is better, Chipotle or Freebird’s? In my opinion, Chipotle wins in three important areas:

* Guacamole — head and shoulders above the competition.
* Tortilla — far chewier and more delicious than Freebird’s (which can sometimes be stale).
* Atmosphere

There you have it. Chipotle wins, in my less-than-humble opinion.

Update

My friend, “John”, who apparently went out and spent some cash at Chipotle this afternoon after reading this post (perhaps Chipotle will send me some sort of thank you for my referral), made an excellent point: Freebird’s has many different sizes. In my mind, I was comparing the “Freebird” to the standard Chipotle burrito, but I did not make that clear. Freebird’s has many different sizes which is especially important if (a) you are splitting a burrito, or (b) you are a teenage male. Thanks John!

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