Ah, Chipotle, the Mexican eatery known for it’s massive burritos, sustainably sourced ingredients and well publicized E. coli crises. I have a deep love for Chipotle. I estimate that I’ve eaten it 1-3 times per week for the past 5 years. The E. coli outbreak of 2015 sent a lot of so-called Chipotle fans running scared. I didn’t even flinch. I rather enjoyed the shorter lines and ample seating that appeared at their locations nationwide. I ignored the threat to my health and stuck it out like an old salt with oceanfront property, chuckling at his neighbors as they evacuate before a hurricane. “Suckers” I thought.
Truth be told, when my burrito eating career began back in high school, I was a Moe’s guy. I know, right? Moe’s Southwest Grill is like the T-Mobile of this category. It’s barely even in the conversation, vying with Qdoba for the title of tex-mex bush league champion. Once I graduated to Chipotle, there was no looking back.
Chipotle sits in a space somewhere between fast food and sit-down restaurants that the industry has dubbed “fast casual”. For a long time I thought it might never be rivaled by another fast casual Mexican spot.
Then I moved to Manhattan where I was introduced to an unknown purveyor of southwestern cuisine. This mysterious new challenger goes by the name of Dos Toros. Not only is it worthy of comparison to Chipotle, it demands it. It is defined by it.
The first time I heard of Dos Toros was when I mentioned my love of Chipotle to another comic, born and bred in NYC. Filled with contrarian pride, he asked “Dude, have you had Dos Toros? It’s so much better than Chipotle.” Its position as a Chipotle slayer is undeniably woven into Dos Toros' identity.
Understandably so. Superficially, it looks like they’re serving the exact same food the exact same way. Both offer burritos, bowls, salads, and tacos. You follow your choice down a sneeze-guarded assembly line selecting toppings along the way and at both eateries, yes, guac is extra.
But for everything they have in common, there’s plenty that separates the two. One is a publicly traded company with former ties to McDonalds and the other’s a much smaller NYC operation comprised of 11 locations. So this is something of a David and Goliath match-up. But it doesn’t matter because I don’t care about annual revenue or shareholders or the next fiscal quarter. I’m making this comparison based on one thing only; the food they provide me to put in my face. Let’s go point by point.
-OVERALL FLAVOR PROFILE-
More of a fresh, citrusy taste. Cilantro and lime have worked their way into almost everything. Generally more heavy handed with seasoning. Powerful flavors.
More of a meaty, savory flavor. If I were an insufferable food blogger I would use the term "umami". Overall Dos Toros lets the ingredients speak for themselves with less salt and seasoning. This creates simpler food that feels like you could have made it at home but in a good way.
Hands down winner of this category. It's no secret that Chipotle’s portions rival that of an Italian mother who thinks you’ve lost weight recently.
Not as generous as chipotle, but it's enough. Trust me, I like to eat a lot and seriously, it's plenty.
Chipotle - Chicken, carnitas, steak, barbacoa, chorizo, sofritas (vegan).
A wide variety, each thoroughly seasoned. Sadly, I've had to swear off the steak at Chipotle. Too many beautiful bowls ruined by chunks of inedible gristle. All the other animals can be trusted. It's worth noting that chorizo and barbacoa both provide options that Dos Toros lacks.
Dos Toros - chicken, carnitas, steak.
As is their MO, Dos Toros sticks to the basics when it comes to meat. These are all delicious, tender, gristle-free options. More subdued flavors than Chipotle's meats. You taste the meat and you taste that it's grilled.
White corn lime chips. This is a perfect example of how Chipotle likes to jazz things up just for the hell of it. Chips don't need lime but, sure, it's a welcome addition.
Yellow corn chips that are salty as hell, which is surprising coming from Dos Toros. They're so reserved with the salt everywhere else. It's like whoever made the salt budget allocated 95% of it to the chips.
A little more expensive. $16 for a bowl built to my ideal specifications. (double meat, +guac)
Not quite as pricey. $13 for my usual bowl (same specs as Chipotle).
This might seem like nitpicking but I've found a huge variation in the way the fajita veggies are cooked at Chipotle. Sometimes you get caramelized mush, which is my preference, and other times you find yourself crunching into a piece of raw bell pepper that's been lightly warmed on a grill. My solution: I never add these to my bowl until I've seen the product.
Another point- Chipotle is everywhere. This ubiquity has to be considered. New York City is a Chipotle lover’s paradise. You can find one in nearly any five-block radius.
A major source of flavor for Dos Toros are the pepper sauces. They offer mild, medium, and hot. Personally, I enjoy a mild/medium combo.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Dos Toros' complimentary "chippies". This is a dusting of chip crumbs over the top of your bowl as an edible garnish. I get that this is probably their way of making use of leftover chip dust that would otherwise be thrown out but it's genius.
AND THE WINNER IS...
I actually refuse to crown a winner. It sounds corny but you know who wins? Every New Yorker who loves fast, americanized Mexican food at a reasonable price. I'm glad to have both these options at my fingertips. Instead of wearing one out and needing a total break from burrito bowls, I can oscillate back and forth like a farmer rotating crops to replenish the soil.
That said, I have to admit, as I wrote this I found myself more excited to talk about Dos Toros. Probably because it's the underdog that many of you hadn't heard of until now. If you live outside NYC, you gotta check it out when you come visit. As its popularity grows I've noticed the lunch rush getting busier and the lines getting longer. I think Dos Toros is almost ready for its first E. coli outbreak.