The Food and Wine Hedonist

leave your inhibitions at the door

Introducing The Burrito Guide

As I mentioned in my introduction, I consider myself an aficionado of burritos.  Check that, I’m the King of Burritos.  I think Sarah McLachlan wrote “Obsession” about me and burritos.  I’m talking about big, fat, Shane Diesel monsters that’ll fill you up for a good 14 hours.  Burritos that don’t need any side dishes because they count for two full meals.  Growing up in areas that were decidedly on the cracker side, my only exposure to burritos were at Taco Bell.  While I have a soft spot in my heart for the “Mexican Phone Company”, their burritos are not true burritos.

I clearly remember having my first real burrito epiphany way back in high school at El Farol in Chicago.  Although it was in an unsavory neighborhood, it was open 24/7 and most of the time there was a line out the door.  Many a night ended up there (sober and in other states), eating burritos and playing shitty Ranchero music on the jukebox.  When we’d come home from college, El Farol would be the first place we’d go.  We used to pick up several of those bad boys before heading back to campus where we’d feast on them for three straight days.  (If you ever want  a good laugh, buy me a beer and I’ll tell you about the world of hurt that Jimi B, a roommate, put on the El Farol bathroom.)   At the time, it was $2.50 for one of these behemoths, and to this day I rate them as one of the best ever – size, flavor, value, as well as restaurant ambiance.

In the quarter century or so since then, I estimate that I’ve eaten about 25,000 burritos and I’m always on the lookout for new ones.  So I know a little bit about them and will share my experiences with you here.  As a service to you, gentle reader, I’ve also created The Burrito Guide which will give you an at-a-glance reviews of different burritos and Power Rankings so you can see what’s trending as the best around.

This tool is for everyone’s benefit, but I can’t do it alone.  It’s been a struggle to keep my chiseled physique, and if I do extra “research” for this silly blog, I’ll end up looking like current day Aretha Franklin.  So if you find a burrito not listed here, please submit your ratings.

The Hedonist’s Burrito Index (HBI)

Burritos are like sports – guys can sit around all day debating what’s best.  Using my keen MBA skills, I’ve put together a scoring system to cut through the crap.  Scores are based on five categories – atmosphere, taste, heft, messiness, and intangibles.  Each category is given a score of 1 (worst) through 5 (best) and a cumulative total is calculated to get the HBI.

(By the way, if there are any patent lawyers out there that can get this patented or trademarked for me for free, there’s a bottle of wine in it for you.)

Now I realize that this system is not 100% objective; and there’s going to be accusations of bias or inequity.  First, people are totally fine with Olympic medals in gymnastics and figure skating being awarded solely on the opinions of others – even shifty Russian judges.  What’s the difference here?  Second, make no mistake about it – I’ll definitely trade higher scores for free burritos.  It’s a damn blog, not the New York Times.

Burritos will be judged on a standardized burrito consisting of steak, pinto beans, rice (if available), cheese, lettuce, guacamole, sour cream, and their hottest available sauce.  This is going to be very tough on me as I’m a big fan of pork and chorizo.  I guess I’ll have to order two – one to enjoy and one to review.  It’s a sacrifice, but I’ll do it for you.

Finally, although I’ve had many excellent burritos and many awful ones, I’m going to start with a clean slate.  That means several of the places that I’ve deemed as absolute crap will be at the same starting point as the most sublime.  Each burrito is like a child, special in every way.  Except, I don’t eat kids.

Gotta start somewhere, so let’s go with two of the most popular…


Restaurant Description: Massive chain, but focus is on quality ingredients, including sustainable Pork.

Price: $6.25 before tax

Atmosphere =3.  Nice and clean because it’s a chain.  Industrial look is unique, but it’s still a tad soulless.

Taste = 3.  A little salty, but beef was bursting with flavor.  The guacamole was tasty with nice chunks of avocado.  Would’ve been a 4, but some bites of steak were gristly.

Heft = 2.  A little on the light side

Messiness = 3.  Tightly rolled, nice and dense.

Intangibles = 3.  Pluses for quality of ingredients,  minuses for the Subway-like assembly line.

Overall Score = 14


Restaurant Description: Chain with many menu choices beyond burritos and tacos – quesadilla, soups, salads.

Price: $6.39 before tax

Atmosphere =1.  Clean, but where Chipotle has the industrial look working for it, there’s nothing to separate this place from Arby’s or Baskin Robbins.

Taste = 3.  Sensed guacamole presence, but barely tasted it.  Meat had some nice texture, but was bland.  Habanero salsa had some nice heat. Shell was rubbery.

Heft = 3.

Messiness = 3.  Steaming the shell let’s them stretch it to get it tight rolled.

Intangibles = 2.  As boring as they come.  It’s a crowd pleaser with all the menu choices, but I wouldn’t choose to go there.

Overall score = 12


Contact me if you want to know who Shane Diesel is…

About thefoodandwinehedonist

I don't know everything about the world of food and wine, but I'm not going to let a small detail like that stop me from blogging about it.

14 comments on “Introducing The Burrito Guide

  1. burritowizard
    July 13, 2011

    I’m siked to see more of the HBI in action.

  2. Mike Mc
    July 14, 2011

    Now this is definitely worth a read. Nothing compares to El Farol…a true 25.

    Perhaps a 6th category could be added to your scoring system…heat. What I have noticed (at least here is Florida as well as Boulder, CO) is that the meat is not always hot. Unlike El Farol, where the meat stays on the heat, places like Qdoba and Chipotle fry the meat and then stick it in a little pan. No good as the meat loses heat and then you have luke warm (at best) meat in burrito. Here is Florida, we have “Moe’s” (as well as Chipotle). Moe’s is not a bad burrito (but certainly not El Farol) as long as you request they slap it back on the grill, after it is rolled, to brown the tortilla. This heats the meat and all is once again right with the world.

    Perhaps you can speak with El Farol about franchising!!!!

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      July 14, 2011

      I knew this’d catch your attention. I think I was with you for a good 500 of those burritos. We have Moe’s here, too. You bring up a great point with putting them back on the grill. With the chains, it’s all about getting product out the door, so they steam the tortillas to soften quickly. The result is a rubbery shell. It’s like performing oral on a condomed johnson – not that I have intimate knowledge of it. THe other thing I don’t like about the chains is that they made buying burritos like an assembly line at Subway. It’s a cluster f**k when I go there with the kids. I kinda like it when the purveyor says – “Here’s your burrito as I intend for it to be”… Thanks for chiming in.

  3. The Sicilian
    July 18, 2011

    Don’t understand why there are not any great mom and pop burrito places in the Ann Arbor area, since we have a decent Mexican population (small but growing) in metro Detroit. Nothing beats the real stuff, and it’s all about how they season and stew the meat. Chipotle is probably the best around here, but still lacks soul.

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  8. lolabees
    April 27, 2012

    We live a few blocks from the original Chipotle! It’s a tiny little spot that I suspect all of the other ones were modeled after. It’s an old standby meal for us when we don’t feel like cooking. They do make an excellent guacamole, and it’s nice that the quality of the food is good. Rice bowls for me though– no tortillas. 🙂

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This entry was posted on July 13, 2011 by in Burritos, Dining and tagged , , .
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