Wednesday, September 28, 2005
I'm going to say that my ranking is (from best to worst):
Of those four, Baja Fresh is the one I really can't handle. It just affects me negatively on so many levels. First, the food's just nasty. It's like bathing in a sea of nastiness... for hours after you've eaten. Well, at least that's been my experience. Plus, it is Baja Fresh that replaced the Sound Exchange music store on Guadalupe street in Austin. It's unfair to use this against them, I guess, but it still hurts. At least they didn't knock down all of the wall art.
Anyway, this is not meant to be a Baja Fresh hate-fest. Besides, if Taco Bell offered build-your own burritos, I imagine they would rank lower than Baja Fresh. They would also rank lower than the dirt in my backyard. ... which, by the way, is free.
On with Freebird's then! My latest visit wasn't so great.. It was an absolute contrast with the first, heavenly visit. The second and third times were decent... but very clearly sub-heavenly. I'm not sure what happened. The first time I went, I was completely transfixed by the habanero sauce. Oh yeah. It was fire and damnation.. Fire and damnation totally taste good. The next couple of times, I got the same sauce... which was great.. but I wasn't really writing home about the other objects in the burrito (like beans, peppers, rice, cheese, etc). As for this latest visit... I'm reminded of the time a friend of mine had access to a potato gun. I would have rather starved that day for lunch, and shot my burrito with the potato gun into Barton Creek.
Let's consider this fourth visit a big freak accident. The main problems were that some things seemed to be missing from the burrito, like... there was not enough cheese, not enough pinto beans (replaced by too much rice), etc... Really, I like to like Freebird's. They do really cool stuff, such as loudly proclaiming their non-use of pig fat, displaying aluminum foil art, making many of their sauces fresh, and having several vegetarian options. Plus, again, I've had pretty good fast food there.
I can't stress the badassness of the habanero sauce. No one messes with Freebird's habanero sauce. End of story. Thinking of trying? Not a good idea. Now go away. For some reason, this reminds me of some dialogue from a movie (Maybe it's Raging Bull??):
Joe Pesci: "blah blah blah..." (something lightly denigrating DeNiro)
Robert DeNiro: "What? Get the %#&* outta here!!"
Joe Pesci: [starts following order... getting out of there]
Robert DeNiro: "... Where you goin? Come ere!"
Joe Pesci: [comes back]
Clearly, Robert DeNiro is in control in this scene. That's because he's like the habanero sauce.
Besides that, the other ingredients seem pretty fresh.. What's also cool is their choice of 4 or 5 different tortillas. (flour, cayenne, wheat, spinach, and corn (for tacos)). That's definitely a plus for me. Other choices you get are of beans (refried, whole pinto, or black), sauce (habanero is one of 7), "meat" (white chicken, dark chicken, steak, combo, or "veggie"), and "freebies" (tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, roasted garlic, lettuce, etc, etc).
Freebird's is also a Texas chain... so more "locality" points than Baja Fresh and Chipotle (I think Chipotle is partially owned by McDonald's). Chango's seems to be strictly in Austin, by the way.
I would say, for fast food, DEFINITELY give this place a shot, especially for burritos. For tacos, you might want to consider Maria's Taco Express or Mi Madre's... But this place surely rocks on a good day!
If your idea of a good burrito is no more than "a bunch of stuff in a tortilla", firebirds is very satisfying. On the other hand, if you want a burrito that was actually (for lack of a better word) architected, I think you have to go to your #2 pick, Changos.
To me, the difference is as clear as night and day. A chango's burrito tastes like someone sat down and thought about it and tried to create a perfect burrito recipe. Freebirds tastes like a bunch of stuff in tortilla. It's like comparing a sandwich at a good deli to a subway do-it-yourself special. That's not to say Freebirds is bad. It's just not as compelling as some of the other burrito choices in town.
I have a burrito template in mind whenever I go to Freebird's or any other "choose your own adventure" burrito place. I suppose I've gotten comfortable with it, plus I'm going for a good nutritional balance (though usually tortillas don't fit well into that criterion). It's basically like this:
- No meat (to be vegetarian)
- Beans (healthy protein to complement the wheat from the tortilla.. preferably not refried)
- Lettuce (at least *some* green vegetable)
- Cheese (if I'm not drinking milk with my meal.. more protein, taste, and calcium.. um.. and fat)
- No sour cream, no guacamole
- Other items for flavor and nutrition (roasted garlic, cilantro, bell peppers, onions, jalapenos)
- The sauce, for flavor
- Spinach or whole wheat tortilla
I guess if I don't like it one day, I declare Freebird's and myself partially responsible.
I personally don't get the "someone sat down and came up with a master burrito" feeling from Chango's. That, combined with my enjoyment of the choose-your-own-burrito idea, puts Freebird's way ahead for me. I still like Chango's more than the other fast burrito places, though.
FreeBirds at its best might beat out Chipotle, but only on the variety of their menu. Chipotle is a one-trick burrito. There's a Chipotle clone named Qdoba that would definitely edge them both out. It doesn't come close to Chango's, and we don't have one here in Austin yet.
I have no idea what your complaint is about Baja Fresh. It's not greasy junk like Taco Cabana - it's fresh and light for the most part. I prefer La Salsa to Baja Fresh, and neither of them compare purely on burrito power to the big guns in town.
There's a new burrito place downtown called Wahoo's. I haven't tried it yet. I'm guessing it's more of a La Salsa/Baja Fresh place. I'm quite curious how it ranks.
Also, this isn't a chain, just one spot, but I LOVE el Chilito. It inspires me. Their mole salsa is the stuff of dreams.
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