Burritos de las Guerras
The battle is on to claim the title of BR’s Best Burrito
By Noel MarcantelPosted Jul 25, 2012
Years ago a man named Ozzie staked his claim in Baton Rouge as the proverbial sheriff of the roll-your-own burrito racket. This summer, amidst the heat and (metaphorical) tumbleweeds, a new gang rode into town to challenge the status quo.
Thus began Baton Rouge’s Best Burrito battle.
I decided to let the two warring camps – BR-based Izzo’s and capital city new-comer Chipotle – duke it out in a 10-pace shootout taste test at…you guessed it!...high noon. I brought in a few hired guns (all local, of course) to help me determine a winner. Allow me to introduce my gang.
Head Judge: Chef Jay Ducote is a chef, writer, food blogger, radio host, and food personality. He is the author of D.’s Bite and Booze Blog and travels the country for TV appearances and speaking engagements at culinary conferences. Ducote was the winner of the 2010 Tony Chachere’s Tailgating Cookoff, and was named one of the “Top 100 Amateur Chefs in America” by Fox’s MasterChef Season 2.
Judge – Chef Eusebio Gongora is the chef partner of Flemming’s Fine Steak House and Wine Bar in Baton Rouge. He has years of experience as a chef and a palate so refined that it allows him to hone in on those hard-to-determine details of ethnic foods.
Judge – Eric Ginn is an LSU student and videographer for the Fighting Tigers Football team. Ginn is a lifelong burrito lover and eats most of his meals on the go, but he never settles for anything less than complete satisfaction.
Judge – Jakob Martin is an LSU student and a ballroom dance instructor with a flair for salsa and a taste for spicy Mexican food. Martin doesn’t mess around when it comes to the finer things in life, like the culinary arts.
The gang of judges will sample two kinds of burritos from each establishment, head-to-head.
Round 1: Common ingredients – Each competitor will produce a burrito stuffed only with common ingredients: rice, chicken, black beans, guacamole, cheese, and corn.
Round 2: No-limit manager’s choice – Each manager will create the ultimate burrito utilizing his establishment’s full gambit of ingredients.
Each burrito will be divided among the judges for observation and tasting.
The winner will be decided based on the following: restaurant atmosphere, ingredients, production process, variety, portability, price/accessibility, and taste.
Jason Burke is the general manager of a Chipotle location in Houston, Texas and rode into Baton Rouge to oversee the startup of the new location.
Burke described his manager’s choice: “This one has our cilantro lime rice, vegetarian black beans, sautéed onions and peppers, and our barbacoa, which is one of our specialty meats. It’s brazed and seared for a long time so there’s a lot of flavor and juice in it. It has that adobo spice in it as well, which is where we got our name. It has sweet and spicy corn salsa, GHB-free sour cream and cheese, and the best guacamole in town.”
Patrick Foy hangs his hat at the Izzo’s Burbank location, where he is the general manager. Foy outlined his Round 2 burrito:
“This is a Super Burrito on Cayenne with pork,” said Foy. “It has half black beans, half refried beans, grilled onions, mushrooms, all the free toppings, and then a few extras like extra cheese (both queso and shredded), guacamole, and in-house-based cilantro ranch.”
Foy went on to describe a few more things about the freshness and unique origin of Izzo’s burritos. “Everything is made in-house daily,” Foy said. “They are our owner’s family recipes and he kind of grew up with them. It’s all marinated, typically overnight, and then cooked on a flat grill right in front of you.”
Judges’ take on the menu and process
I observed similarities between the two in the overall structure of the process, as one would in any fast food joint. The entrance funnels customers to the beginning of the assembly line and, in both cases, a smiling face is there to greet you. The substance, however, differed greatly from place to place.
Chipotle – Chipotle offers one size of burrito on a flour tortilla, a burrito bowl, tacos, salad, chips and guac, and a kid’s menu.
“There were just a bunch of ingredients in a line and it looked like everything was extremely pre-cooked,” observed Ducote. “There’s no way to really tell how fresh it was. [There were signs saying that] all the chicken, pork, and beef are responsibly raised but there was no evidence of it necessarily being local.”
Izzo’s – Izzo’s offers burritos on four different types of tortillas in three different sizes: a Burrito in a Bowl, the Illegal Salad, quesadillas, nachos and tacos.
“The first thing that really stood out was the difference in tortillas that they had,” said Ducote. “You can change the whole flavor profile and size depending on what the customer wants.”
Round 1: Izzo’s regular burrito vs. Chipotle burrito
These burritos were the regular size, and were made using flour tortillas, rice, chicken, black beans, guacamole, shredded cheese, and corn.
Ducote’s opinion was that the Izzo’s burrito exhibited the traditional Mexican flavors that Chipotle didn’t quite match. When focusing on the meat, the Chipotle burrito was noticeably smokier than Izzo’s, and it was sweeter when focusing on the corn. The toppings in the Izzo’s burrito were more evenly distributed, allowing every topping to be in every bite. Chipotle’s toppings each existed in their own section of the burrito and were not very well mixed. “Izzo’s just melts in your mouth,” Ginn said. “It’s also less messy. You definitely need napkins to eat a Chipotle burrito.”
Round 2: Izzo’s Manager’s Choice Burrito vs. Chipotle Manager’s Choice Burrito
Izzo’s used a super-sized cayenne tortilla, pork, black and refried beans, grilled onions, mushrooms, all free toppings plus mushrooms, shredded cheese, nacho cheese, cilantro ranch, jalapenos, sour cream, and guacamole.
Chipotle used a regular-sized flour tortilla, barbacoa beef, cilantro lime rice, black beans, sautéed onions and peppers, sweet and spicy corn salsa, sour cream, and guacamole.
What stood out in Round 2 was the Izzo’s cayenne wrap and signature pork.
“They cook the pork for over an hour,” explained Gongora. “It’s just so tender. That’s where that flavor comes from. Barbacoa [from Chipotle] means cooking down the remnants of the meat and then shredding that off the bones.”
“In the [Chipotle] manager’s choice burrito, [the manager] loaded it up with guacamole, which he claimed several times was the best in town,” Ducote said. “He’s not from here, though. He got flown in to manage the startup of this one. He’s probably never had any other guacamole in this city.”
The differences between what each manager gave us in Round 1 and Round 2 were very telling of what each side had to offer. There was very little difference between Chipotle’s Round 1 and Round 2 burritos and a world of difference between Izzo’s Round 1 and Round 2 burritos. The Chipotle manager’s choice was definitely a huge improvement over Chipotle’s Round 1 burrito. If you try Chipotle, I would strongly recommend getting peppers and onions to spice it up.
“[In the Izzo’s manager’s choice burrito] the first thing I tasted was the sour cream,” Ginn said. “It was so sweet, but it balanced out the spice of the cayenne wrap. There were so many distinct flavors. It was like The Avengers and it worked!”
“[The Izzo’s manager’s choice burrito] has a lot going on. I wouldn’t necessarily advise getting this many toppings. The only thing I think is out of place, though, is the mushroom. It’s a different texture and a different flavor that just didn’t seem to quite fit,” added Ducote.
Atmosphere – Ducote: “Izzo’s impressed me right from walking in. The character and atmosphere were really a whole lot better than what Chipotle’s got right now. [Chipotle] might get there soon, but Izzo’s already has the character and the charm that you want in a local place.”
Ingredients – Ducote: “You could tell that [the Izzo’s burrito] was fresher and made daily. I could actually see somebody in the back prepping some of the meat to put it in the marinade, so you know it’s not something they just shipped in from a national distributor.”
Process – All judges were in agreement: The meat and corn at Izzo’s are cooked right in front of you on a flat iron grill. With more toppings to choose from and a rolling technique that evenly distributes every flavor, Izzo’s wins this category.
Variety – The choice of size and tortillas, a wider range of toppings, and a new drink fountain with several dozen-combination options gives Izzo’s the edge on variety.
“Going to Izzo’s is like being a kid in a candy store, with candy being burritos,” Ginn said.
Portability – Hands down, Izzo’s is the winner in this category. With its tighter roll and unique, prescribed method of peeling the tinfoil as you eat, the contest wasn’t even close.
“Chipotle just didn’t use enough tinfoil. I don’t want half of my burrito sticking out when I’m walking anywhere, though maybe they’re more for a sit-down situation,” Martin said.
Price/accessibility – Chipotle wins this category. They market to college students, and because of its extreme proximity to campus and slightly more affordable price, it has the upper edge.
Taste – Ducote: “Overall, the super burrito that was the manager’s choice from Izzo’s was my favorite. I would probably say that the manager’s choice from Chipotle was my second favorite. That beef that was in there was pretty good. I still think the Izzo’s pork was the best meat we had today. I would eat [Chipotle] again in a pinch, [but] I don’t know if I’ll ever eat it again in Baton Rouge because I know that I’d rather go to Izzo’s.”
And there you have it, folks.
It seems as though Izzo’s reigns supreme in six out of seven categories, which surprised even me, considering all of the hype surrounding Chipotle’s arrival in town. For months, people counted down the days for the opening of a national chain in a manner none of us had ever seen before. If the taste turned out to be nothing special compared to the established hometown staple, why was there so much excitement?
“Everybody was getting excited about Chipotle’s philosophy on how the animals used in their burritos are treated,” said Ducote. “What Chipotle has been really good at is marketing some of their ingredients that they’re using. If there’s anything to learn from it, it’s that local places need to start using their ingredients as part of their marketing because people are starting to care where their food comes from. If you’re a local restaurant and you’re [using free-range or hormone-free meat] already, start using that in your marketing.”
And so for now the dust has settled on this little showdown of ours, but Guerre de Burrito has just begun in the long term. Pick a side and voice your opinions on Twitter via the #GuerreDeBurrito tag.
Chipotle Mexican Grill is located at 101 W. State St (LSU).
Izzo’s Illegal Burrito has four locations in Baton Rouge: 4250 Burbank Dr. (LSU), 6220 Corporate Blvd. (Citiplace), 4245 Bluebonnet Blvd, and 6401 Bluebonnet Blvd. (Mall of LA).
**Editor: This article has been edited to correct an error. McDonald's Corporation was at one time a major investor in Chipotle, but as of 2006, had divested itself from the chain. **