Does Moe's or Chipotle offer the best burrito around?

Like any great columnist who has been writing for some time, I’ve run out of ideas. So like the circus juggler whose four-ball act has become stale, the course is clear: Lame + 1 = Awesome. I have to add a fifth ball. Except that instead of balls, they’re restaurants, and I’m only adding a second, but still, it’s the same principle. (Sort of … basically … not really … darn!)

That’s right; I, Max Cane, will review two restaurants at once. (Gasp!) Confused? Probably, but there’s some method to the madness. I have set out to answer the age-old question: Is there really any difference between Moe’s Southwestern Grill and Chipotle Mexican Grill? The answer … Yes. But in case you were wondering, here are some specifics.

For those of you unfamiliar with them, both Moe’s and Chipotle are fairly popular burrito bar chains that have only recently spread into the Northeast. Moe’s has been on Wolf Road for some time, but a Chipotle just opened up in Latham. You can order nachos, tacos, and various dishes at each place, but their specialty is burritos. Both let you choose from several types of meat, a few different salsa, and a multitude of toppings so that the burrito is tailored to your preferences. Each is already a cut above normal fast-food, but which has a better burrito? Well, this is a bit trickier.

To equalize the playing field as much as possible, I ordered the basic burrito from each place. At Moe’s, I ordered the ground beef Triple Lindy, and at Chipotle, I got the shredded beef barbacoa. For each, I chose black beans, rice, cheese, mild tomato chunky salsa, and sour cream. Both places had many additional toppings you could choose from, but it seemed prudent to make two burritos with the most similar compositions.

Both restaurants also have signature salsas. I’m of the opinion that a solid salsa is key to any restaurant that claims to be southwestern. Moe’s has a distinct advantage because they offer free chips with any dish they serve and they have a salsa bar with five different salsas with various levels of heat, whereas at Chipotle, you must buy chips and salsa for an additional $2. I would like to describe each salsa, but in the interest of keeping this short, I will say that Moe’s has fresher chips because they make them right before serving, but their salsa is a little more generic than Chipotle’s salsa. Neither has particularly extraordinary salsa, though; it’s just nice having it on the side.

Oddly enough, the burritos cost about the same ($6.50) and are almost exactly the same size, with Chipotle’s being a little heavier. Both had about the same amount of beef and salsa, but Moe’s had more cheese and more sour cream. The rice from Chipotle was cooked more and they add cilantro to it, just for that little extra bite. The shredded beef also has a better texture and makes the burrito denser and more filling overall.

Despite the fact that both burrito bars claim to represent southwestern food, they are actually quite distinct. Chipotle has a grill flavor and style that is apparent in their burrito. More focus is on the meat, and they season it heavily during the cooking process. Moe’s on the other hand, tends to create a multitude of flavors with their burrito that blends many different aspects, instead of focusing on the essence of one ingredient and using the rest to support it. Both claim to be grills, but the grill title fits better with Chipotle, while Moe’s has the southwestern feel, complete with a beer selection and “Moe-ritas.”

I wouldn’t put one over the other because they are indeed distinct restaurants, and a preference for one simply displays a preference in style. Despite the fact that they are both serving burritos, they manage to take them in entirely different directions, so plan your trip to one or the other accordingly.