Chipotle And The Future Of Fast-Food

Matt Yglesias on the wonder of  bougie burritos:


In many ways, the Chipotle burrito is very similar to the iPhone. Founder Steve Ells invented a way to maintain the basic speed and experience of the standard fast-food experience and make the quality of the food a little better.* The better food costs a bit more money, but consumers turn out to be happy to pay a premium for a superior product. A similar insight is behind privately held Five Guys, a burger-oriented fast-food concept that's also grown rapidly over the past several years. At the other end of the health spectrum there's Chop't, the assembly-line salad chain that's taken New York and D.C. by storm but hasn't yet gone national. All three chains are, in their different ways, raising the bar for food quality in a quick-service setting. 

Chipotle stands out for some unusual process innovations as well. Their "barbecued" meat products--carnitas and barbacoa--are vacuum-packed and cooked sous-vide in Chicago before being shipped out for on-site reheating. The sous-vide cooking method is mostly associated with cutting edge haute cuisine. The way it works is that a piece of meat and its accompanying seasonings are placed in an airtight bag. The bag is then placed in an immersion circulator, a bath of water that's held at a very precise temperature. Cooking this way is slow, but extremely precise. A piece of meat held in a 155 degree water bath for long enough will cook uniformly to exactly 155 degrees worth of doneness. 

What I wonder is how a place like Chipotle is viewed out west. In New York, great tacos are hard to fine. But out in Cali? Or Texas? 

Anyway, I'm just glad they haven't figured out fish tacos. That would be a problem.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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