No. 7: Chipotle Mexican Grill
915 East Oak Street
4.6 percent done reviewing Conway restaurants
She Said: I decided to embrace the suburban cliché that I’ve become: I taught a yoga class and then drove to Chipotle, with my husband, to eat healthy, vegan fast-food. When I’m on a plant-based bender and find myself in Little Rock, it’s one of the easier places to get nonanimal food fast. Even with their recent food-safety issues (500+ people nationwide down with different E. coli strains and norovirus) they still possess the aura of a healthy, sustainably-sourced eatery in my mind from all I’ve heard about them over the years (and read in their own restaurants) with their pasture-raised dairy, non-GMO ingredients, antibiotic-free meat and local foods when possible. For me, it’s the rare convenience of vegan fast-food that draws me to them.
He Said: Well, I’m not so drawn to the vegan thing, but I am interested in healthy options, of which they have a plethora: as you write, their meat contains no antibiotics, their dairy is free-range, and their vegetables are local when possible. Of course, as I mention with every review, I particularly need low-fat options, which are always a challenge. As Conway’s newest restaurant, though, the time has definitely come to review Chipotle’s.
She Said: You order at the counter, a la, Subway, so there’s the line and the take-away. There is a lot of metal and different kinds of seating, tables and high seating with stools. (I love the purse hooks, though, on the high tables. Very thoughtful!) If you’ve eaten in a Chipotle before, this one will be very familiar to you. It’s not a place I want to stay too long after I’m finished with my food.
He Said: Yeah, there’s really nothing welcoming or comfortable about the seating area in a Chipotle’s, and they’re all alike. It’s kind of like eating at a school cafeteria: You can’t really get any [privacy anywhere, and it’s loud and people are sitting basically next to you and talking to each other. This is not their best feature.
She Said: SOME Chipotle restaurants sell margaritas, but not dry-county Conway’s franchise. (Sad trombone sound.) They have Coke fountain drinks, tea and bottled water and juices. I chose the grapefruit Izze bottled soda. I could tell when I took a sip that it was VERY sweet. The bottle says 160 calories per bottle, but it’s got 39 grams of sugar! I couldn’t finish it, but it was tasty!
He Said: They do have a lot of choices for drinks here, more than most fast-food chains, since they have fountain drinks as well as more exotic bottles. I ended up getting the same sparkling grapefruit drink as you, Jones, and liked it a lot better.
She Said: You’re not as sensitive to sugar as I am, Ruud. As I mentioned, I wanted to eat vegan that night and knew I could count on that at this new-to-Conway chain. At the counter, I noticed the sofritas option, spicy tofu instead of meat. Usually, I just have the veggie tacos (on corn tortillas), but this time I said I would try one of the three tacos that comprise the dish with the sofritas tofu. On all three I had brown rice, beans, mild salsa—which I like as it isn’t runny and saucy, spreading tomato taste indiscriminately throughout the taco—tofu, guacamole and lettuce. I asked if the guacamole is vegan, because I’ve been places where it isn’t (what are they putting in it?!), and the taco artist assured me it is. With the guacamole, I don’t miss cheese or sour cream in the taco, and the tofu makes it more filling than the meatless version I usually have. My meal was very tasty, fresh and filling, but not gross and greasy.
The food sourcing is healthier, and the vegan/vegetarian options are convenient and tasty, but that doesn’t mean this is low-calorie. According to the New York Times the typical order at Chipotle is more than 1,000 calories (which is about 75 percent of my typical daily calories), and it can go up easily if chips and guacamole are added or burritos are made with All The Things. Research also indicates that when people merely consider ordering a healthy option, they feel so proud of themselves, they end up ordering a heavier, junkier meal and feel fine about it. I couldn’t help but wonder if that happens to me at Chipotle… Do I feel so good about the “purity” of the food that I eat more calories than I should? Probably. You can calculate your calories on Chipotle’s Website, which I appreciate. My meal was less than 600, because I could only eat two of the three tacos. That’s still a big meal for me, but not huge by restaurant, or specifically, fast-food standards.
He Said: The food is fresh and pretty tasty. My own preference is for the hard-shell corn tacos. I’ve had burritos at Chipotle in the past, but for my taste there is just way too much burrito there and not enough stuff inside the burrito—the burritos they use are so large that you end up with a lot of folds, making for a whole lot of dough. So I’d recommend the tacos. I had chicken as the least fatty portion without going vegetarian. You have a choice of white or brown rice, black or pinto beans mild, medium, or hot salsa and options of cheese, sour cream, and the like. Everything was, as I said, fresh and tasty. Total fat was 22 grams (770 calories), which does fit into my goal of under 50 grams of fat per day. My one complaint is this: The mild salsa is just chopped tomatoes, basically. If I wanted a truly red sauce, I’d have to go with the hot salsa, which I’m not fond of. Since I could have no sour cream or other creamy sauce (these have high fat content), I ended up with what amounted to three very dry tacos. Of course, I’m an unusual case, and most people are fine with slathering on the sour cream. Still, it’s hard for me to get anything at Chipotle that does not leave me parched, like I have just crossed the Nefud with Lawrence of Arabia.
She Said: Of course, I prefer to be waited on at the table, but obviously, fast-food doesn’t do that. Everyone at the counter at this Chipotle was helpful and friendly. The staffers on the assembly-line offered samples to customers if they were having trouble deciding among items. I wanted the sofritas on only one of my tacos, but the server offered a cup to go if I liked it. I asked if the guacamole was vegan, and he said it is. “I eat a plant-based diet a lot, and that’s one of the reasons I love working here. It’s easy to stick to that here.” It’s nice to have your special food goals be met with friendly acceptance.
He Said: Well, I was nearly done getting my tacos finished—I had only the salsa and some lettuce to be added, when my tacos were abandoned and the three people behind the counter began to worry about the woman behind me. So I stood for about five minutes looking at my tacos, with no one around them, and waiting for somebody to come back and finish them Jones was sitting at the table eating long before I ever got out of line. I’m willing to chalk this up to some confusion at a place that had just opened. But it wasn’t pretty. And nobody apologized for the delay.
She Said: Sorry Ruud. Once I paid the bill, I was eating!
What We Got and What We Paid: Veggie tacos, chicken tacos and two bottled Izze sodas: $20.16.
She Said: This place is one of the easiest fast-food places to eat plant-based without sacrificing taste. With the tofu option, it’s even better. I wish they had margaritas, but you can’t have everything. Next time, I’ll get it to go, though.
He Said: I like the healthiness of the food and the fresh taste. Next time I might bring the tacos home and put my own salsa on them.
So…He Said and She Said: Eat here for healthier fast food. But you might want to get it to go.