In order to push their new vegan option “sofritas,” Chipotle decided to offer a special promotion. Buy any item with the braised, spicy tofu on January 26 and bring in your receipt for a free entrée from January 27-February 28. For full details, read here. Sounded easy enough, so I went to see for myself why the folks at Chipotle are so keen on meat-free Mexican.
January 26th, 11:18 AM:
I stand outside one of the many Chipotles in south Los Angeles. This one, like most stores in this area, sits in a strip mall beside a Gamestop and the ever-eclectic Bed, Bath and Beyond.
Surprisingly, I land a parking spot directly in front of the store. I quickly snap a photo of the storefront and quietly ignore the perplexed and somewhat disgruntled looks of passersby. One woman approaches me and begins to rant about how terrible Chipotle is. These are the moments that make me cherish Los Angelenos.
Early as I am, I have not managed to avoid a line. I swallow my pride and step behind a tall woman near the entrance of the store and patiently shuffle towards the counter.
It’s like they’re discussing world peace at the register. Just buy your food and go! While waiting, I try and make small talk with the people near me in line. They seem surprised to see someone be genuinely nice in this part of the city. I can tell they don’t trust me.
Finally nearing the counter now. The familiar steam of white rice mixes with the rich scent of peppers and roasting meat. I feel my knees wobble and my stomach rumble with hunger. I have abstained from breakfast to fully physically and mentally prepare for this experience.
Chipotle really, really wants me to try the sofritas. This sign literally takes up 25% of the menu space. I worry that Chipotle is trying to put lipstick on a pig.
Houston, we’ve reached the counter. Although I’ve come here specifically to taste the sofritas, I feel my resolve waver as I eye the beef and chicken sitting so close nearby. I’m not fluent, but based on the appearance I would have to say that sofritas is Spanish for “sloppy joe mix.”
I’m going for it. I’m getting the sofritas. As always, the militaristic Chipotle assembly line provides an ample shot of adrenaline.
I manage to find a seat right at the end of the line so that I can enjoy the hungry eyes of incoming customers as I eat. It’s all about the atmosphere.
A completed sofritas bowl in all its vegan glory. I opted to go sans-tortilla to fully appreciate the aesthetic quality of the tofu and chili pepper mix.
The first couple of bites aren’t bad, to be honest. The tofu has a surprisingly meaty quality to it, and is so drowned in sauce that it’s difficult to taste anything else. I appreciate the attempt to add flavor to the tofu, but with so many salsas, relishes, beans, herbs and other condiments, it just becomes a bit of a mess of flavor. Tasty, but a mess.
A close-up of the sofritas. Honestly it just tastes like dry ground beef with a heavy dose of spice. Unless they want tofu all over themselves, I can’t imagine anyone ordering this as a taco.
At this point, the heat from the pepper is starting to overwhelm all the other flavors. The subtle, growing heat that one normally expects from great spicy food is absent.
From what I can hear, most people are ordering the sofritas. I think Chipotle’s marketing ploy is working.
I’ve reached the point of diminishing returns. Having cooled a bit since my first few bites, the sofritas have become increasingly heavy and thick with sauce. Pro tip: eat quickly.
I made it most of the way through the bowl, but I’m calling it quits. All in all, the sofritas are really not bad and I’m happy to see Chipotle providing more options for vegetarians and vegans. Personally, however, I’m sticking with meat when I bring my receipt in for a free meal.