Fast Food That’s Worth It (Chipotle, West Hartford CT)

*

To begin with, this is four star fast food. But it is just that. Fast food. The restaurant does not strive for an upper echelon dining experience. Chipotle is not Jean Georges, not even Kogi, and it does not want to be. It serves the masses, and it serves them well. So why then is it being reviewed alongside more ambitious establishments? Well, because it is damn good.

The room is stark, with high ceilings and bleached white walls, an accent of metal siding runs the floor. The tables, for the most part are communal and made of blonde wood. The music is loud enough to hear (and good enough to want to) but quiet enough to not be bothersome. The crowd shuffles in, all shapes and sizes, and walks of life — people congregating for a quick fix of delicious Mexican favorites.

In an environment like this, the food is the only attraction. Owner Steve Ells has built Chipotle in an uncommon mold for fast food; natural ingredients prepared with respect. In my trips I enjoyed two separate burrito’s, the pulled, and adobo-marinated chicken, and the carnitas pork. I opted to try different burritos instead of tacos. Something about tacos has never appealed to me, though my companion did love his. The assembly line starts with lime-cilantro rice and a choice of black or pinto beans. Then meat. Copious amounts of meat. Then customization. Three types of salsa, cheese, house made guacamole, sour cream, lettuce, and corn. For my chicken, I went with black beans, medium salsa, cheese, guacamole, lettuce, and sour cream. I underestimated the medium-spiced salsa, but the cool guacamole and sour cream put the fire out. On my second visit, I opted for the stripped down, simpler burrito, going with the slow roasted carnitas pork, pinto beans, mild salsa, cheese, and corn. The two variations were both excellent, though I preferred the chicken, with the pork being a touch dry. While it is always a problem to get a bit of everything in every bite, these burrito’s stand well above the rest. The flavors mingle well. I get rice, meat and beans in one bite, then add in salsa, cheese, guacamole in another bite, from the other side of the wrap. I happily alternate as I go, and am sad when the last bite (a glorious combination of everything inside) disappears from my grasp.

The service is counter only, the drinks come from a fountain, and it feels a lot like a college student center. But perhaps that is part of the charm. One can run in, as I did most recently, on the tail end of errands, grab a burrito, soda, and chips, and enjoy it quietly before returning to the world, feeling remarkably good.  Chipotle is fast food, though while in the midst of enjoying their burritos, it can be hard to remember it.

Price Range: $
Ambience: Young and old mix together, occasionally getting loud
Cuisine: Mexican
Payment: Cash, Major Credit Cards

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