Because chain restaurants are for pussies.

Cincinnati Bites
Painting from inside Jalapenos Mex-Mex

Posted Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The phrase, "fast casual" was first coined in the 1990s, describing small restaurants lacking table service and serving a very limited, specialized list of ingredients. Panera, Boston Market, Fuddrucker's and Noodles & Company were among the earlier incarnations, but it was Chipotle that set the stage and tone for the future of fast casual dining. Chipotle is simple, sleek and hip, with an easy-to-order menu and food display bin concept that's probably one of the most copied in the industry.

Cincinnati has seen its own share of fast casual restaurants, including Fusian and Tom + Chee. Fusian's meteoric rise began as "Soho Sushi" downtown before rebranding and multiplying to nine locations in three cities with a tenth slated to open in Clifton this year. Tom + Chee, the Cincinnati-based soup and grilled cheese eatery that enjoys seed money from the show, "Shark Tank," now has more than 30 locations nationwide. Fusian and Tom + Chee owe a lot --if not all-- of their success to Chipotle, as do other regional fast casual chains like Currito, Qdoba, Cucinova, Piada and Five Guys.

But what happens when the business model these restaurants have copied falls from grace? As of this writing, most major financial analysts have downgraded Chipotle investments following the company's disastrous E. coli and norovirus outbreaks last year, which shut down 43 Chipotle locations across four states. Stock in the company dropped 39%, from a ridiculously high $750 per share to its current price of a still-overvalued $455 per share. Chipotle is trying to restore its reputation with reassuring commercials from the CEO and a massive employee re-education campaign that included closing all its stores for one day.

free burrito Free burrito coupon. Thanks, Chipotle!

Now Chipotle is spending $70 million on free burrito coupons sent to anyone on its apparently random mailing list. I received mine last week, and it'd been burning a hole in my wallet. And while I'm not the biggest fan of food chains, I also can't claim to avoid them outright. In fact, I grew up on regular doses of Taco Bell, McDonald's, Lee's Famous Recipe, Long John Silvers and, later in life, Skyline. So let's return to the home of "Food with Integrity".

I alternate between two kinds of burrito bowls, having long since abandoned the 300-calorie flour tortilla. My first is the barbacoa, with white rice, pinto beans, fajita vegetables, tomato salsa, roasted corn salsa, red-chili salsa and romaine lettuce. This comes to 650 calories and an extraordinary 2725mg blast of sodium and 19.5 grams of colon-blowing fiber. My second option is a vegetarian burrito bowl, with everything previously mentioned, minus the barbacoa, and plus guacamole. This version is actually worse for me than the meat version in terms of calories, but slightly less salty, at 715 calories, 2570mg of sodium and an ass-ripping 24.5 grams of fiber.

barbacoa Barbacoa burrito bowl

My latest visit to Chipotle proved uneventful. There was surprisingly no line, though I visited during an off-peak period in the afternoon. I selected my ingredients and watched the pleasant "burrito stylist" pile them into the bowl with abandon. I presented my free coupon and they happily accepted it. Freebie guilt flowed through me so I placed a bill in the tip jar.

The aroma from the barbacoa beef and fixins wafting through my car cabin was as strong as it was relentless on the way home. It's interesting how every fast food and fast casual restaurant item offers reliably identifiable, trademarked smells.

After tearing through my burrito bowl in mere minutes, carefully budgeting morsels of tender beef into each bite, I was overwhelmed by an extreme thirst induced by the bowl's four-digit dose of sodium. But after several hours, I can happily report that there is no sign of pending food-borne illness.

Time will tell whether Chipotle will bounce back from its woes, but given our culture's short attention span, I wager the odds are in the company's favor. Fast casual is here to stay.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Chipotle Hyde Park

Price: Cheap (under $11 per person)
Service: Good
Rating: 3.0 out of 43.0 stars






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Ratings Legend
four stars = Outstanding
three stars = Good
two stars = Fair
one star = Poor
  • From Tabitha about Tickle Pickle:
    Haha, love your comment: " If you were deemed "different" in high school, dressed "weird" or regularly got beat up only to go on to have a decidedly higher net worth and confidence level than the rest of your abusive, judgmental peers, Northside is your home away from home." I know I saw a Groupon for Tickle Pickle recently - might have to check if that's still available!
    posted: Fri., Apr 14th, 2017 @ 12:33 PM
  • From Tabitha about Chilango Fresh Mexican:
    This is definitely going on the list. Thanks for posting. Do they also have margaritas?
    posted: Fri., Apr 14th, 2017 @ 12:23 PM
  • From holly may about Urban Grill on Main:
    This is Israeli couscous, the super tiny stuff is Moroccan. I personally prefer the Israeli (also known as "pearl".)
    posted: Fri., Mar 24th, 2017 @ 4:28 AM
  • From Sommer about Chilango Fresh Mexican:
    We really love having Chilango so close to us in the Kings area!!! We have gone a few times and you are right - the Chicken Tinga is the best chicken taco you can get in Cincinnati!!! Thanks for reviewing this little neighborhood gem!
    posted: Tue., Mar 21st, 2017 @ 9:12 AM
  • From Tabitha about Lalo:
    But...do they have margaritas?
    posted: Thu., Jan 12th, 2017 @ 12:32 PM
  • From Cincinnati Bites about Swad Indian:
    @MJ: I heard family members of those who'd run Dusmesh now work out of the former Amol India in Clifton. It's called, Grill of India (http://grillofindiaoh.com/).
    posted: Thu., Dec 29th, 2016 @ 11:45 PM
  • From mj about Swad Indian:
    It seems Swad has changed hands. Have not see the former Dusmesh owners in my last visit (10/1/2016) and the food is just ok. Wonder where they went this time?
    posted: Wed., Dec 28th, 2016 @ 8:22 AM
  • From Rachel about Bamboo Kitchen:
    Hey there,
    I would recommend Basil Thai and Bangkok Terrace. They have wonderful Thai foods there :)
    posted: Sat., Nov 19th, 2016 @ 11:28 AM
  • From Tabitha about Maplewood Kitchen and Bar:
    Looks good - I definitely have been wanting to try this place!
    posted: Wed., Nov 9th, 2016 @ 2:55 PM
  • From Georgia about Maplewood Kitchen and Bar:
    So you order and pay at the counter before you get your food and they expect you to tip? That's not right.
    posted: Tue., Oct 25th, 2016 @ 10:19 AM
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