Chipotle’s Free sofritas: review

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Free chipotle?

Yes, I will sample your hippie vegetarian cuisine in exchange for a real meal at a later date.

I am known for a few things (at least what people say to my face). Loving burritos, and particularly Chipotle’s offerings, is the primary thing. Having the metabolism of a humming bird is the other.

As soon as Chipotle announced their promo, I received emails, texts and calendar reminders from my burrito buddies. Why they didn’t alert me first is the subject of future investigation.

I sampled their sofritas about a year ago from a mini plastic cup. It wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t flavorful meat.

When I eat at chipotle, I eat at the speed of feral wolf. The food is delicious and it may be one of the few times I eat quickly. Perhaps it’s the sterile seating and ambiance, but when sitting with a salad or burrito before me, you best stay on your side of the table.

My girlfriend texted me to remind me of today’s near holiday. Free (in the future) burrito day was here! Discussing it at work generated mixed reviews.

“Soy? Yuck.”

“Tofu? I’ll pass.”

I was undeterred. Chipotle had yet to lead me astray. At the very worst I’m getting 1.5 meals for the price of one. But my coworkers weren’t like Wimpy in Popeye. I am willing to try it today for a burrito tomorrow.

Anticipating an increased rush to snatch some meat alternative, I used their mobile app to order my salad. My attempt to secure the sofritas was foiled due to meetings. I called Chipotle to see if they’d save my order for 5 PM. They said they would. Note: the only things I have purchased via my phone are burrito related.

I grabbed it on my way to the train home and sat with it on my lap a la the Blues Brothers’ briefcase full of blues. Having suffered through jealous rage of other people bringing Chipotle onto the train, I noticed this bag of food didn’t have the same aroma.2015/01/img_6923.jpg
Once home, I grabbed my burrito salad fork (you don’t have one?) and started eating. Getting a salad wasn’t the best way to highlight the flavor of the sofritas compared to taco’s. The salad, burrito bowl or burrito have many strong flavors to contend with. Usually the meat overpowers or works well with the myriad of flavors. The sofritas faded to the background for me. The cheese, sour cream and salsa all trumped the meat alternative.

Did I finish it? Of course. Will I get it again? Probably not. I paid nearly 8 dollars for romain lettuce, tomatoes, rice, pinto beans, grilled peppers and some scoop of reddish material.

I’m curious to see the power of free. How many people tried it? How many people went along for a frugal friend? Did sales numbers spike today versus typical Monday numbers? Am I part of some grand social burrito experiment?!

Who else took a chance today?

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9 Bites at Big Star

big star, chicago, tacos, wicker park, pork belly, al pastor, fish taco

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The adage “always leave them wanting more” is attributed to P.T. Barnum and Walt Disney. But neither of them had the chance to dine at the taco sensation known as Big Star in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood.

Big Star’s, well, big star, shines in the night summoning all the hipsters the small, standalone taqueria can hold. Here are things I can promise you you’ll see:

  • Pants so tight they make you uncomfortable
  • Funky glasses that probably don’t even have a prescription
  • Tattooed folk
  • Chuck Taylors
  • Vintage bicycles locked outside.
  • If you’re lucky, maybe a Vespa with a helmet on the seat.

After a meeting in the city, I met mi amigo de tacos at Big Star. At this point in my life, everyone knows how I feel about Mexican food. I think about eating mas Mexican food WHILE eating Mexican food.

“Know what would be good with this?” I ask myself or whoever mistakenly decided to listen to me. “More tacos.”

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My preference is burritos instead of tacos, but the gran estrella only serves tacos. I opted for an array of three tacos to get a taste of their different flavors: al pastor, de panza (pork belly) and de pescado (fish).

I started with al pastor, which is my preferred meat at taquerias. Their tacos are served on small, white corn tortillas and garnished with more authentic-leaning toppings than cheddar, sour cream and shredded lettuce. The al pastor was good, but I had better at several other spots.

Next was the pork belly. A favorite of mi amigo de tacos. This was better than the al pastor and may cause you to scream “Get in my belly!”big star, chicago, tacos, wicker park, pork belly, al pastor, fish taco

I closed with the breaded fish taco with chipotle mayo. The fish was a good size for the tortillas and it was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Everything you look for in a fish taco.

The final two were the best of my trio, but here’s the thing. Each taco was $3. Each taco was also 3 bites. That equates to a dollar a bite. Thinking back, I keep envisioning myself eating a crumpled dollar. I’m frugal when it comes to food. The bang for the dólares is usually very high with Mexican cuisine. But for single-tortilla’d tacos at a buck a bite, it’s hard to justify the expense.

My gold standard (or aluminum foil) is Chipotle. You get a massive amount of food for a reasonable sum. The food IS good. The people watching is unrivaled. If you’re new to Chicago, or visiting, Wicker Park is a great area to wander around and get drinks. I saw one man eating out of a dog bowl at the corner of Damen and Milwaukee. I found it best not to ask.

Big Star is also cash only, so depending on your wad of cash, Big Star may leave you too wanting more.

Ain’t No Party Like an Al Pastor Party

20130713-193943.jpgHow do you kickstart a conversation?

Person #1: Hi. I’m Mr. So-and-So.

Me:  Hi, I’m Andrew.

Person #1: Where’d you go to school? What do you do?

After everyone in the small group answers, an awkward silence results. We have all been in one of these dead end conversations. It’s painful. You look down at your glass, wishing the libation were stronger or that there were more of it. I tried unsuccessfully to spark the conversation asking about upcoming summer travel, passions, and any recent good reads.

You can read all the books and blogs about networking or developing your inner extrovert, but I discovered a secret yet to be enumerated. And it goes against all conventional wisdom. Continue reading Ain’t No Party Like an Al Pastor Party