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Chipotle's New Chorizo: A Taste Test

The bad news, and the very bad news

Earlier today, Chipotle released a new meat choice for its burritos and tacos and bowls: Its chorizo is billed as a chicken and pork sausage that's seasoned with cumin, paprika, and chipotle. We sent two Eater NY critics — Robert Sietsema and Ryan Sutton — to give it a taste. Read their tasting notes, below.

Ryan weighs in:

I've always been more of a Taco Bell guy than a Chipotle guy in the world of Tex-Mex. That's not to say I dine at either more than, say, once every few years, but from a culinary standpoint, what Taco Bell does is more niche: It serves creative junk food you can't get anywhere else. It's a magical place where Mountain Dew becomes a breakfast drink, where Doritos become taco shells, and and where cheesy El Salvadorian Pupusas become, well, they become taco shells too, acting as an edible catcher's mitt of sorts for scrambled eggs at breakfast. Try asking for a Cool Ranch taco at any other Mexican restaurant in the U.S. No dice.

Chipotle, by contrast, sells the type of food you can get anywhere else: bowls, burritos, tacos. It tries to set itself apart as a responsible member of the global gastronomic ecosystem; it throws around terms like organic, non-GMO, pasture-raised, and it puts out weepy adverts like that one where Willie Nelson sings Coldplay's the Scientist while happy cartoon pigs await their turn for shipment off to the happy cartoon abattoir. Even though it cost a bit more than other chains, you were supposed to feel better when eating at Chipotle. And then the whole food poisoning fiasco happened and Chipotle saw its responsible player identity get sent to the slaughterhouse along with the cartoon pigs.

And what was left was just another place that serves burritos.

Chipotle found the 1 percent of chorizo that tastes like garbage.

So now Chipotle is trying to lure back customers with something rare: its first new menu item since 2014. And by new, I mean a product that's currently available just about everywhere besides Chipotle. This product is chorizo. Most consumers know chorizo as either a mild, dry-cured Spanish sausage, with enough smoky paprika in a single link to bring red tide to the Great Lakes, or as a (typically) spicier uncooked, crumbly Mexican sausage, meant for searing on the flattop and stuffing inside eggs, taco shells, or tortas. Both are fantastic in 99 percent of their iterations anywhere throughout the world. Generally speaking, if you see chorizo on a menu, you should order it, because even if the meat isn't great, all the salt and fat and seasoning means it will still taste reasonably good. Chorizo is a sure fire sausage.

Chipotle, against all odds, found the 1 percent of chorizo that tastes like garbage. Though calling it chorizo is a stretch: I didn't detect any of the luscious fats or oils I typically expect in good "street cart" chorizo during a Manhattan taste test. Instead I sampled a product that looked and tasted heavily like bland chicken breast mixed with a cheap supermarket "dry taco seasoning mix." Give Chipotle some credit: Even though its barbacoa is far from worthy of making anyone's top ten list, you can at least close your eyes and say, "Wow, that tastes like slow cooked, shredded meat, with a clean, beefy flavor." But if you closed your eyes and tried the chorizo, you wouldn't even be able to identify the protein. You might mistake it for overcooked tofu. You wouldn't even call it sausage. In fact I'd describe it as having the quality of anything from the freezer section at my local grocery store.

Let's bring it back to Taco Bell for a minute. If you blindfolded yourself and sampled its seasoned beef could you identify it as coming from a cow? Probably not. But you know it's from Taco Bell, especially when you're eating it as part of a Double Decker Taco Supreme; you notice the soft corn tortilla that it's wrapped around the crunchy corn tortilla, with the thin layer of beans acting as the glue. Point is, a Taco Bell product is greater than the sum of its parts. And it's unmistakable from anything else. So the Taco Bell beef doesn't really need to taste like beef.

But with Chipotle, it's all about the product. And if your chorizo doesn't taste like chorizo, you don't have a Doritos Locos taco shell to cover it all up. You just have a substandard chorizo burrito or rice bowl.

Which is all to say, I'd say Chipotle is in a spot of trouble here.

Robert weighs in:

There are two basic kinds of chorizo in Mexico and in Mexican food here; one is a red chunky sausage with a skin, the other a skinless, oily, finely ground, paprika-laced mass used principally in tacos and sandwiches. Being without skin, the Chipotle chorizo falls into the latter category, though the nuggets it comes in are tough and not at all oily. Is there any paprika in there? Probably not much, but according to a notice posted at the counter, the sausage is a combination of chicken and pork, though how the two are fused is a culinary mystery; certainly no poultry-meat demarcation is visible among the chunks.

Downtown Manhattan (south of 34th Street) is riddled with Chipotles, which number 17 if the Google map can be believed. I went to the nearest one and ordered the new chorizo burrito. It cost $8.73 ($2.30 extra with guacamole, an option I exercised), plus tax. It came in a red plastic basket lined with printed tissue paper. The thing was further wrapped in aluminum foil. When I unwrapped it, the burrito separated at the bottom and cascaded its innards into the tissue. Nevertheless, I was able to scoop it all up and weigh it. The weight was 1 pound, 3.7 ounces. That's a fairly big burrito, relatively speaking.

How did it taste? The wrapper was a bit gummy, the chorizo pale and chewy and without much flavor. The guac was smooth and light, but missing its usual chunky components. The seasoned white rice and black beans were just fine, but the pico wasn't very fresh tasting. If there was any spicy salsa in there (as I had requested), it was undetectable to this lover of chile-soaked foods. Would I go back and get a Chipotle chorizo burrito of my own volition? Not in a million years. I can find a dozen better burritos within easy walking distance at about the same price point or a bit less.

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