January 15, 2011

Chipotle comes to Flagstaff

Steak burrito
Chipotle Mexican Grill
111 S Plaza Way, Flagstaff
928-774-4254 (for call ahead orders)
928-774-4162 (for fax orders)
Menu online at chipotle.com
11am-10pm daily

I'm normally not one for chains, nor do I usually cover them on this food blog, but the grand opening of the new Flagstaff Chipotle is the exception. Chipotle's exceptional quality and value makes them transcend the typical right onto my restaurant radar. Plus despite being a big national chain they have a local-based philosophy and the opening of this restaurant in big news in this mountain town.
Chipotle started as a single restaurant in Denver (near the Denver University campus on Evans) in 1993. The founder and CEO is a classically trained chef who found inspiration in mom and pop taco stands he enjoyed in California. He took that idea, mixed in his formal culinary training and turned it into that first Chipotle, of which now there are over a thousand. (No they were never owned by McDonalds as is the urban myth, though McDonalds did heavily invest in the company and help them expand.)
Chips and guac are both house-made
Today I got the unique opportunity to go on a pre-opening tasting buffet of goodness at the newest Chipotle location. (It's the 43rd in Arizona. The chain has been in the state since 1999.) On this tasting fun fest I learned more than I ever knew I wanted to know about Chipotle and found a new level of respect for the restaurant I already adored. (For instance - did you know there's over 60,000 possible flavor combinations of burritos available?) I've been dining at Chipotles across the country since 2002, pining for a Chipotle to come to Flagstaff all these years. (I'm told they were waiting to find the perfect location, and that they did - on Milton near Riordan Rd, basically across from the heart of the NAU campus.)
The atmosphere here, like all other Chipotle locations, is open, bright and modern. The music plays into that and is part of the planned ambiance. The locations may not all play the exact same songs but they all do fill the air with small music label songs and other works you won't hear in other restaurants. The idea is to be relaxing and atypical from other fast food and sit down restaurant experiences. They've accomplished that from the minute you walk in until you wipe that dripping last bite of salsa from your lips.
Chipotle's food is pretty simple. Pick your meat, your toppings and how you want that served. You can get it dished out in crisy tacos, hard tacos, a giant burrito, a burritto bowl, or as a salad.
Chipotle's meats range from the mild pork carnitas to the spicy steak.
There are four meat choices. The Carnitas are lowest on the spice rung. They’re seasoned with thyme, juniper berries, bay leaves and freshly cracked black pepper. The pork is then seared and braised until it falls off the bone. These are full of flavor sans any heat. Perfect for kids and those with sensitive stomachs or those who just love pork. These aren’t made in house. But are made fresh and delivered. There’s no freezers, microwaves or can openers here. So know that everything is fresh! Next up is the chicken. It’s marinated in adobo for 24 hours, grilled on site and sprinkled with kosher salt. Barbacoa is third up the spicy meat rung. I’d never tried this one here until today. Boy, is it a delish choice. I can see a barbacoa burrito in my near future! To prepare this one, the beef is marinated in adobo, cumin, chipotle, garlic, cloves, and oregano then seared and braised until super tender. These aren’t done on site. It's delivered and heated like the carnitas. Still, the barbacoa is quite amazing and not greasy in the slightest. Steak is the spiciest meat Chipotle serves. Like the barbacoa, it’s naturally raised. The beef is marinated in adobo on site for 12 hours then grilled to medium rare and sprinkled with kosher salt.
Vegetarian black beans, cilantro lime rice, pinto beans and fajita veggies

A super popular feature of Chipotle is the cilantro lime rice. It’s white rice combined with fresh cilantro, lemon and lime juice and kosher salt. It’s ab fab but if you want plain rice, just ask. They’ve always got some on hand for those who don’t like cilantro. High volume Chipotles go through 200 pounds of rice per day!
Beans and Veggies
Chipotle gets its beans and veggies from six thousand family farms across the country. They try to use as local, natural and organic as they can get. The black beans are vegetarian. The pinto beans are cooked with bacon but not lard. The fajitas veggies are cooked in a little soy oil with oregano and kosher salt.
The guacamole is made in house several times a day.  Cilantro, jalepenos and red onion are hand mashed together with lemon and lime juice and salt.
Salsas range from mild to flaming
Chipotle has four types of salsas – you can ask for a combo of as many as you’d like on your order. The mild is basically a pico de gallo salsa with big chunks of tomatoes. The Tomatillo Green Chile Salsa is made with tomatillos, tomatoes, red onion, and cilantro. It’s a bit warm on the taste buds and smoky tasting. The Roasted Chile Corn Salsa is made with sweet corn and provides a spicy and sweet taste to your entree. The hottest salsa here is the Tomatillo Red Chile Salsa. It’s made with pureed chiles do arbol.
Chips are made in house at every Chipotle. And boy do they taste it! They're cooked in soy oil then seasoned with fresh lime juice and kosher salt.
Flagstaff exterior
All dairy here is hormone-free. The cheese is a combo of jack and white cheddars with no colors added. Its grated fresh daily. The sour crème is made in Arizona for this location. The kids milk is also hormone-free.
Chiptole makes fresh margaritas on the rocks or blended with high-end tequila and triple sec. You can also get Dos Equis, Negro Modella, Corona and Coors Light beers.
Insider Info
Now that you know all that about the foods, here's some insider info about when to go and how to get freebies or discounts:
  • 12-1pm is generally the most busy time of day at Chipotles.
  • You can beat those long lines at lunch time by ordering ahead either online, by fax or even by iPhone app.
  • You can order a few things not on the menu - including quesadillas and nachos.
  • Follow Chipotle on Twitter and Facebook. You never know when you might hear about a special deal like a freebie burrito day or happy hour special.
  • Drop your business card in that fishbowl by the register. Every week each location treats two or three offices of people to a free lunch!
    Lines can get long, especially at key eating times.

On the line


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