Confessions of a burrito lover

Sure, Chipotle’s a chain. But there’s no guilt in this pleasure.

I love Chipotle — there, I’ve said it.

Wait, wait: I’m not a sellout. Neither am I an enabler of guilty pleasures. First, I remain opposed to most national chain restaurants on both moral and gustatory grounds. And second, I’m a disciple of eating healthfully.

Both of which, ironically enough, are why I’m smitten. Yes, I love Chipotle. Sure, it’s a chain founded by a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America — the chef’s equivalent of Harvard — who also has a degree in art history. More importantly, he is  a guy who walks the talk. His corporate motto is “Food with Integrity.”

I’m a sucker for the carnitas burrito, so it makes me feel good to trade a couple of bucks for pork that’s been raised naturally — no hormones, no antibiotics — and allowed to waddle freely through the fields of a farmers’ co-op known as Niman Ranch. (Bonus: Every Chipotle outlet that opens allows one more family farm to join the Niman fold, giving agribusiness another body blow.)

The same boost is given to Minnesota farmers, for Chipotle is able to buy at least one-third of its produce locally. And we’re talking romaine, not plastic, fast-food iceberg. Cilantro. Jalapeños. Tomatoes, onions and corn, and the list goes on (unfortunately, the growing season doesn’t). Soy is the oil of choice around here and has been long before “heart-healthy fats” was a buzzword.

And the guac? Don’t get me started. Not only is there no — repeat, no — freezer in the kitchen, but very few cans. This guacamole doesn’t come off a Kraft truck, it’s mashed from those little green geezers. In fact, 48 avocadoes give their lives for every single batch.

Here’s what I like, too: When I walk into Chipotle, I don’t have to order by number, nor am I treated like one. It’s all about choice: rice (perky with cilantro)? Black beans or pinto? Cheese? Sour cream? Lettuce? And any or all of the four salsas, ranging from mild and mellow to take-your-tongue-out hot. Extra corn? You got it. Extra charge? Not on your life. Plus, nowadays you can order a Mexican beer or a margarita for around $4.
(Just try that down the street.)

The chicken burrito is the best seller, they tell me, but I’m partial to the juicy pork, infused with thyme, bay leaves, juniper berries and cracked pepper as it simmers until tender enough for a toothless newborn. But the barbacoa’s pretty darn tasty, too — beef braised until melting along with cumin, cloves, garlic, oregano and adobo. The tortillas that wrap the whole mess together are thin as a wedding veil; but if you don’t choose to chance lockjaw when weight-lifting that sumo-burrito, order it in a ladylike bowl. Then give me a wave; I’m the one with the spots on my sweater and the grin on my face.