Fast-casual Mexican is like a good friend or a stain-removing pen—it’s always there when you need it.
There are healthier, tastier, and more interesting types of food. But nothing will ever support you in a moment of emotional difficulty like a warm $8 burrito.
One of the best things you can do for your quality of life is learn to appreciate the subtle beauty of fast-casual Mexican. And I’m here to help… with an authoritative ranking of the fast-casual Mexican food establishments in Boise.
(These rankings are based on the burrito at each place, the true measure of fast-casual Mexican.)
6. Moe’s in the Boise State Student Union
You just got out of class, and all you want to do is grab a quick burrito, and Moe’s is right there…
Do not fall for this trap! Run!
Beans: Weirdly impressive, 8/10
Rice: Did they even cook it? 2/10
Tortilla: Concerningly elastic, 2/10
Meat: Meaty, 5/10
Temperature: Somewhere around lukewarm, 5/10
I wanted to rank Qdoba above Chipotle to stir up some controversy, but I just can’t support such a rubbery tortilla. Qdoba does the trick when I’m hungry, but it needs to make major improvements to be a serious fast-casual contender.
Beans: Altogether respectable, 7/10
Rice: Too salty, too dry, very bad, 1/10
Tortilla: These tortillas have a bizarre aftertaste, that reminds me of… like robot tree bark? I can’t explain it but it’s there. 3/10
Meat: Shades of microwavable enchilada sauce, 5/10
Temperature: My last few burritos have been legitimately toasty, 8/10
I’m deeply troubled by this nation’s fealty to Chipotle. If 2016 Carmelo Anthony and Justin Bieber’s guitar skills had a baby, it still wouldn’t be as overrated as the mediocrity that Chipotle foists upon us every lunch hour.
Serving rice in a fast-casual setting is inherently problematic. There’s almost no way to prevent it from drying out. That said, there’s no excuse for how salty and unpleasant Chipotle’s rice is. It just destroys the entire burrito.
And if that weren’t enough, Chipotle’s meat is a snoozefest. The salsas make my tongue want to watch reruns. The guac is eerily smooth—and it costs extra!
What am I missing?
T2. Costa Vida and Cafe Rio
Beans: Respectable, 6.5/10
Rice: Decent flavor, but not as supple as you’d hope, 6/10
Tortilla: Made right in front of you! 7/10
Meat: The obsession with sweet pork is getting out of hand, 6/10
Temperature: A little conveyor belt oven is utlilized, 8/10
These are separate Mexican food chains, but could you tell the difference? Me neither.
In fact, it’s so hard to tell the difference between these restaurants that they spent part of the early 2000s suing each other (according to my 5 minutes of hasty internet research).
The food at both of these places is best described as something similar to Mexican food. It may be concerningly sweet—some of the sauces at Costa Vida could double as hipster cupcake frosting—but it’s still pretty satisfying. The lettuce in the salads seems fresh and the melted cheese is always generous.
1. Baja Fresh
Beans: Flavorful, enjoyable, 9/10
Rice: SOFT, SEASONED, WARM, 10/10
Tortilla: Flaky, but tasty, 8/10
Meat: Hefty, simple, beautiful, 9/10
Temperature: Hot like the Gobi in late July, 11/10
I believe that Baja Fresh is the most underrated fast-casual chain in America, the world, and the solar system. Baja Fresh burritos aren’t slapped together in front of you, but are actually heated up ON A GRILL, SO THE RICE DOESN’T DRY OUT AND THE CHEESE ACTUALLY MELTS! WHAT AN IDEA!
It’s not just that the burritos are better. Baja Fresh also has a vastly superior salsa bar, where you can get as much salsa as you want.
Now, I can’t pretend Baja Fresh is perfect. Is it greasy in ways you can’t quite explain? Perhaps. Is the quantity of onions in the Mexicano burrito sometimes overwhelming? Maybe.
But the fact that millennials scream with pure joy when someone mentions Chipotle when they haven’t even tried Baja Fresh… well that gives me more heartburn than Baja Fresh’s mighty Nacho Burrito.
I may be alone on Baja Fresh hill, but it is a hill I am prepared to die on.
BAJA FRESH FOREVER. ∎