This week I have two burrito-related endorsements, because apparently that’s all I care about. First, I should probably confess to you all that despite being born and raised here, understanding the importance of small businesses and the evils of large ones, ETC ETC I am a Chipotle die-hard. This is my secret shame, except I’m not actually ashamed because come on it’s sooooo good. And its app is basically magic: Not only does it help you find the closest Chipotle to you, look up allergen information, stuff like that, it actually enables you to ORDER ONLINE and skip the line. Available in the app stores and anywhere else fine apps are sold and/or given away FOR ABSOLUTE FREE, as this one is. Second, I’d like to direct your attention to Bay Area Review of Burritos, where a crack team of burrito fanatics have undertaken the saintly task of reviewing every burrito place in the Bay Area. The site’s still pretty new, but it’s already gotten several reviews in, all executed with wit, rigor, lyricism, and the gimlet eye of a true burrito fanatic. Get into it. — Ellen Cushing
Mission Burrito: Why Replicating It Outside of San Francisco Is a Problem
|The original Mission burrito from El Faro (Image via Flickr/wallyg)|
"Maybe it's just something in the water?" muses Charles "Beano" Hodgkins of Burrito Eater, a site that tirelessly scours San Francisco for the best specimen in a pursuit known as the Slab Scrum. "Is that why a lot of bagels in San Francisco kind of suck, too? Either way, San Francisco and the Bay Area's clearly got that certain yo no se que when it comes to burritos."
But why? Another local burrito blogger might just have the answer.
"If there's one overarching difference between SF burritos and reproduced SF burritos with regard to method, it would be blending," asserts Casey Deeha of Bay Area Review of Burritos. "Chipotle, for example, along with chained burritos restaurants such as La Salsa and Salsa Fresh, all produce burritos that are what I like to say compartmentalized in that they there always seems to be clear compartments of ingredients. Take a Chipotle burrito and cut it in half and you'll see a section for sour cream, a section for al dente-non-Mexican-rice, a section for lettuce, etcetera. Biting through such a concoction only highlights the collection of these ingredients rather than a blend of these ingredients."
Deeha finds it ironic that Chipotle founder Steve Ells took his ideas from the Mission, something he discussed in a recent interview with Hugo Ontiveros of El Faro. He also thinks it could be a matter of cultural heritage and sense of place why a Mission-style burrito is thought to taste the best in San Francisco.
"Anyone who's traveled to any destination and sampled the local/canonical/signature cuisine will vouch for this argument," he says. "I can't explain this concisely other than to say that I believe that we share a complicit relationship with our environment which affects our perception."
This doesn't sit well with San Francisco's burrito lineage, who played an untold role in building the 11 billion dollar company. Casey Deeha of the Bay Area Review of Burritos (a must read for anyone remotely interested in foil-wrapped tube food, by the way) caught up with El Faro's Hugo Ontiveros, the son of Mission-style burrito forefather Febronio Ontiveros, for some background on the matter:
If you navigate your way to the 'Chipotle Story' tab on theirThe resentment doesn't stem from Ells' lifting of El Faro's "classic" burrito-building methodology, according to Deeha. Instead, the absence of any mention of the Mission in 'Chipotle's Story' is what really bothers Ontiveros.
website, you'll find three sections: 'The Chipotle Story', 'Where Did We Come From', and 'Steve's Story'. Clicking on any one of them will reveal anything from neat little animations showing the beginnings of the chain to a piece of lined school paper on which Steve Ells writes a first hand account of his humble story - in courier type font no less. In all instances, Steve Ells and Chipotlesauraus begins in Colorado when Steve used an $85,000 investmentfrom his father to convert a Madison ice cream parlour into a taqueria. And this is true - he did begin in Colorado. However, "beginnings" are never as straight forward as one thinks and Ells' pre-beginnings place him in San Francisco, where according to Hugo, he frequented the taquerias of the Mission while working as a line chef at Stars in the Civic Center shortly after attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York. Hugo went on to explain that there is no doubt that Ells often visited the taquerias of the Mission, including El Faro, to not only enjoy the burritos, but also to "study" the methods says Ontiveros. Hugo, of course, is not alone in making this suggestion. David A. Kaplan from CNN writes, "Ells loved the little taquerías in the Mission District and decided to open one back in Colorado, where he'd grown up." Ells himself, in an interview with Jessica Shambora with CNN Money, stated:
"One day, while sitting in a taqueria called Zona Rosa close to my house, I watched how the line crew took care of people in very short order. I took out a napkin and jotted down what I thought the average check was and how many people were going through the line, and I timed it. I thought, Wow, this thing makes a lot of money -- it could be a little cash cow that could fund my real restaurant. My dad gave me $85,000 -- part loan, part equity. I packed up within a couple of weeks and drove back to Colorado. It was the summer of 1992. The first Chipotle opened in Denver on July 13, 1993."
While Zona Rosa, as we all know, is on Haight St. and not the Mission, Ontiveros goes on to say that Ells frequented many taquerias in the Mission with the same purpose in mind. Ontiveros goes on to point out that, 'there was no competition in Colorado' as far as quality taquerias were concerned, which propelled Chipotle to quickly gain the revenue to attract investors such as McDonalds and then rule the mexican fast food chain world.
Meanwhile, on Cinco de Mayo, Chipotle was found on Market Street in the Castro, "bribing" passersby with brownbags of chips and guacamole in exchange for signing a