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Cincinnati Bites
Shrimp and Grits from SmoQ

Posted Monday, April 11, 2011
Note: the following review is for a restaurant that has since closed.

Hot Head Burritos is a new local chain based in Kettering, Ohio, near Dayton. As of this writing, there are 16 locations with more on the way. Most of the franchises exist in the Dayton/Columbus area, but one opened last month in Oakley and another in Florence, Kentucky. We checked out the Oakley location on Madison Rd., the site of the former Fatburger.

Hot Head's business plan is obvious: they're riding on the coat tails of the Chipotle burrito phenomenon, hoping to divert a chunk of burrito enthusiasts their way. Assuming Hot Head can compete with Chipotle's quality and also come up with a unique angle, their plan isn't a bad idea at all.

Hot Head's menu is nearly identical to Chipotle's, with a few notable exceptions. You'll see the usual proteins: steak, chicken, pork and beef; the usual veggies and carbs: rice, pinto beans, black beans, tomatoes, corn, salsa; and familiar sides: quesadillas, tacos, guacamole and nachos.

What Hot Head Burritos brings to the table are their selection of (very) spicy signature sauces: their specialty is turning up the heat. I like spicy food, and my mouth was plenty tingly after trying both their spicy steak and spicy chicken options. You can pile on fresh jalapeno slices, or choose among 12 different sauces, most of which pack a substantially spicy, habanero-flecked punch, far hotter than anything Chipotle serves.

The most bizarre sauce, though, is their signature "Hot Head" sauce. It's a mildly spicy, mayonnaisey concoction that just seemed odd on a burrito, unlike those that are traditionally pepper or tomato-based.

After two meals there, we've concluded Hot Head Burritos is a solid --albeit inferior-- Chipotle wannabe.

Their ingredients simply don't seem to be on par with either Chipotle or Qdoba. For example, instead of romaine lettuce, they use iceberg lettuce; ground beef instead of Chipotle's slow-braised, shredded beef; plain, unseasoned rice that lacks any subtle cilantro-lime notes; and black bean, pinto bean and guacamole options that simply don't taste as flavorful as those from either top burrito chains or from local favorites like Habanero in Clifton and Taqueria Mercado.

Hot Head's meats overall seemed a bit mediocre. The steak and chicken we tried were a little dry and overcooked and the taste wasn't quite Chipotle-caliber. I'm guessing from the flavor that none of the meat came from naturally, humanely raised animals --and it shows.

Hot Head features some decent "2 for $10" specials that are hard to beat, and I wouldn't go so far as to say I disliked my Hot Head burritos. Yet, after I'd finished, I was left with the lingering regret of not having visited one of the bigger, better burrito chains.

If you're a spicy food fan and find Chipotle's spice levels lacking, Hot Head burritos may be a solid alternative. You'll certainly not have to contend with Chipotle's long lines. But if you demand the high quality ingredients Chipotle's audience have come to expect, you'll likely leave with an extra side of disappointment on top of your habanero-induced heartburn.

Hot Head Burritos on Urbanspoon
Hot Head Burritos

Price: Cheap (under $11 per person)
Service: Good
Rating: 2.0 out of 42.0 stars

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