Chipotle: A Tingly Tongue, a Full Belly and a Clear Conscience 

The preparation is slow and the service fast. The pork is braised in fresh herbs and spices for the carnitas, which are tender and delicious. The guacamole is made fresh each morning and has just the right amount of zest. The white rice is steamed every hour — every 17 minutes during the lunch rush — and sprinkled with fresh picked cilantro and just-squeezed lime juice.

The choices are simple, with two things on the menu (burritos and tacos) and lots of variations from there. The salsas run the spectrum, from a mild pico de gallo to the medium-spicy corn salsa to the downright hot red-chili salsa. If that's not enough zing, you'll find all varieties of Tabasco on the condiment bar, from green jalapeno to chipotle-flavored.

What began as one store in Denver 11 years ago has become one of the fastest-growing chains in the country. There are 360 in 22 states. The mid-Atlantic region will get 25 new stores this year. A fourth Richmond area store is scheduled to open in the Swift Creek area early next year.

All this expansion is due to more than just good burritos; it's also because the company is backed by McDonald's. Smith is careful to point out that Chipotle is not owned by the fast-food giant. Instead, it is a private company in which McDonald's is the majority investor. "They own about 90 percent of the company, yes, but [Chipotle is] not a subsidiary," she says. "We use their distribution system; they're very helpful in our buying clout; and they have been very helpful in the funding of our expansion."

Chipotle is also one of the hippest chains. You'll find playlists of blues, reggae, Latin dance and techno on www.chipotle.com. The interior features recyclable materials fashioned into aesthetically pleasing curves and arches. The tables are made from steel plumbing pipes, and the profits from CDs they sell go to the public radio station of your choice.

You can sip a margarita or ice-cold Negra Modelo and relax into some of the best Mexican food this town has to offer. Really. And everything on the menu is under $6. This may just be the wave of the future. — Joseph W. Cates and Carrie Nieman

Chipotle — Short Pump
11728 W. Broad St.
360-8033 (phone)
360-8871 (fax)

Chipotle — Summit
10501 W. Broad St., Glen Allen
290-7804 (phone)
290-7809 (fax)

Chipotle — Stony Point
9200 Stony Point Parkway
272-6322 (phone)
272-7574 (fax)


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