Saturday, September 25, 2010

Baja Fresh VS Chipotle: Which one is really the fast and casual champion of south-of-the-border cuisine?

Baja Fresh Mexican Grill - Silver Spring on Urbanspoon

This question has been on the minds of humanity since the dawn of ‘fast and casual.’  Is one chain more preferable than the other?  If so, which?  More importantly, why?    Well, ponder no more!  Yours truly went to great lengths to take on this previously thought unanswerable question of the quick cuisine.  Not only will I tell you which restaurant is better, but also the ever ponderous ‘why’ behind my final decision.  It wasn’t easy, but history will thank me.  So much like Buitoni vs. P.F. Chang’s and Bonefish Grill vs. Red Lobster, these two will duke it out, round by round.

Round 1: The selection.
No question about it, the Baja Fresh clearly has a wider selection than Chipotle.  Chipotle seems to have different variations of a one trick pony, but it’s a trick that’s done very well.  When we walked into Baja Fresh, there was one word on the menu that a sliver of divine light from heaven burst from the clouds and highlighted from the surrounding lesser words, “Shrimp.”  After the hallelujah chorus ended, I ordered myself a Diablo Shrimp Burrito with extremely high hopes and expectations.  To have a fair basis of comparison, Ms. Classy ordered a Burrito Mexicano with pork.

We were also impressed with the self-serve salsa selections and we scooped a few take-home plastic cups full of a few flavors that intrigued us.

Round 2: The wait.
When we entered Baja Fresh, there was no line and we were able to place our order as soon as we made our selections.  The wait, however, was a bit longer than expected.  I understand this is not the assembly line model like Chipotle, but I’ve had more than ten people in front of me at Chipotle and still received my food faster than having no one in front of me at Baja Fresh.  There are plenty of people, and understandably so, feel the wait is worth it, but I’m judging each element as a stand-alone and Chipotle wins this one.

Round 3: Amount of food per dollar.
Just as Baja Fresh was the undisputed winner as far as menu selections, Chipotle was wins this round, hands down.  I’m quite budget conscious (read: cheap) and saving a few dollars here and there does add up.  I was expecting to pay more for the shrimp selection at Baja Fresh, and I did, but in addition to the higher price tag, the portion size was smaller than the Chipotle Burrito Bol.   The pork Burrito Mexicano also had a higher price tag with a smaller serving as well.

Round 4: The flavor.
Well, this is probably the most important round.  I will say I loved the Diablo Shrimp Burrito.  I could taste the slight charred flavor of the grill on each shrimp and that smoky chipotle sauce was the perfect amount of spice – a heat that stayed with me after each bite, but not so hot it deterred me from taking another.  However, the pork Burrito Mexicano was a different story.  I found the pork at Chipotle juicier and seasoned more to my liking.  Between the pork offerings at the restaurants, I find Chipotle the better selection.

The winner: Chipotle.
Now, this wasn’t an undisputed K-O.  I can see why people like Baja Fresh, but if I were forced to choose one for the rest of my days, I would choose Chipotle.  It’s very tasty, cheap, filling, and I can get in and out rather quickly even if there’s a sizeable line.  If you would choose otherwise, fine, I can see why.  Actually, if you disagree with me, post what you think is Baja Fresh’s best menu item and I’ll try it to see if that will change my mind.

Chipotle on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. I'd have to disagree with this. There is so much more flavor/variety when it comes to Baja (they have a salsa bar with everything you'd need) and at a cheaper price than with going with Chipotle.

    Also, yes, the burritos are bigger at chipotle, they come with a bigger price tag. I can get the same amount of food at Baja for less especially if you eat at the restaurant. You get endless chips with every meal, chipotle charges 1.25 for each order of chips.

    I can't believe you chose Chipotle as the winner of the "flavor" section. How can that be when there is no Salsa bar and they don't serve fish or shellfish at chiptole? Last time I checked fish and shellfish add "flavor" to the meal (not including the endless salsa bar).

    I love both places but when it comes to getting the most bang for your buck, I'd choose Baja everytime. Chipotle is just there if there are no baja's around. If there were a baja across the street from chipotle, I'd choose baja 100% of the time.