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Dining out: Chipotle

Published: Friday, Sept. 28 2007 12:41 a.m. MDT

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — That big foil-wrapped lump prominently pictured at the top of the menu is one of the three meals available at Chipotle: a burrito rightly referred to as "giant" on the menu.

The other two things on offer are tacos or salad — and I suppose you could include the "burrito bowl," burrito fillings in a bowl with no tortilla, as a distinct item.

The whole thing will be instantly familiar to anyone who's ever eaten at this type of place. In fact, as we stood in line, I heard a young man telling his date, in a reassuring tone, "It's basically Cafe Rio."

That it is. Or Costa Vida. Or Bajio. Or any of the other "giant-burrito" restaurants that dot strip malls everywhere these days. As we parked outside Chipotle, I reflected that within one mile of that spot, I could count at least three similar restaurants.

Of course, if you've visited any of them, you'll suss out a few differences. Costa Vida has some tasty desserts; Bajio has more items on its menu.

And at Chipotle, they'll have you know that the difference is "Food With Integrity." That's short for the company's commitment to hormone-free sour cream, organic beans and animals raised "naturally," without antibiotics and in pastures, until they're whacked and processed into chipotle-marinated grilled chicken, adobo-marinated steak and braised thyme-and-juniper-seasoned pork.

Oops. Some cynicism leaked out. I really do agree with many of Chipotle's practices. I did, however, find the priggish, self-congratulatory little stories on the drink cups — "We think some things should be sacred. Like sour cream" — a bit much.

More important to me is how the food tastes, and Chipotle succeeds on this score. The emphasis on quality shows in such areas as the delicious, simple and bright-green guacamole, wonderful salsas and the cilantro-lime rice. On the weekend night we visited, the rice was a tad undercooked, but the fresh, sour-earthy flavors and high quality shone through in every grain.

Our friend, Ryan, and my husband had burritos. The nice thing about all of these big-burrito places is the endless ways in which you can personalize your meal: choice of meat, choice of black or pinto beans, choice of salsa, plus cheese, sour cream, rice and guacamole, if you want it. It adds up to loads of combinations.

Ryan's mild-and-hearty burrito had pinto beans and carnitas, lean and sweet with flavors of thyme, bay, juniper berries and pepper. My husband's burrito was more assertively flavored with black beans, plus shredded beef braised with adobo, cumin, cloves, garlic and oregano.

Our friend Manuela had a romaine-lettuce salad with black beans, salsa, cheese and vegetarian-fed chicken, also marinated in chipotle adobo. This results in strong and well-seasoned, but not fiery, flavor. For the latter, you'll want to rely on the very nice tomatillo-red chile salsa (or, if you're not quite such a fire-head, the medium-hot tomatillo-green chile blend). We also tried and liked the mild "fresh-tomato" salsa.

As for me, I hardly ever get the massive burritos. I've never gotten through more than about a third of one, so what's the point? Instead, I enjoyed three soft flour tortillas filled with carnitas, with medium salsa, sour cream and guacamole.

Burritos, bowls, tacos and salad $5.50-$6.10, chips and sides 75 cents-$2.25.

Rating: ** 1/2

Where: 6924 S. Park Centre Drive, Cottonwood Heights

Hours: Daily, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Payment: Major credit cards accepted; no checks

Phone: 943-3525

Web: www.chipotle.com

Wheelchair access: Easy (a bit complicated by the long, twisty, Disneyland-style line)


Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News. E-mail: skratz@desnews.com

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