Afternoon burrito quest reaffirms old favorite for best service, portion size

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    Stuffed with soft rice, steaming black beans, melted cheese and spicy, fresh pico de gallo, good burritos are nearly impossible not to love.TCU students seem to agree. On any given night of the week, local burrito places such as Chipotle Mexican Grill and Freebirds World Burrito are packed with hungry college students trying to exact their days’ worth of calories from a food that comes wrapped in foil.

    So, the question remains then, not if burritos are great, but what burrito is the greatest. To figure out this local food mystery, I set out on my own unscientific taste test of five nearby burrito haunts.

    My first stop was Baja Fresh Mexican Grill just off Overton Ridge. Baja Fresh immediately enticed me with its big outdoor patio.

    I liked the vastness inside, with its dozens of open booths and tables, but the mix of the wood and black-and-white checks reminded me too much of a ’50s hangout gone wrong. The Sunday afternoon I went, the place was almost empty except for some teenagers happily singing along to a Steve Miller Band song playing loudly in the background.

    The Baja Fresh menu is extensive with a hearty list of soups, salads, fajitas, tacos and enchiladas. The restaurant also prides itself on fresh food, using no MSG, lard, preservatives, freezers or can openers.

    For $6.02, I got an ultimate chicken burrito, which included grilled veggies, melted cheese, medium salsa, rice and sour cream. In case I did not get enough, Baja Fresh offers a large salsa bar complete with mild to hot salsas and fresh pico.

    My next stop, down the street from Baja Fresh, on Overton Ridge was Freebirds World Burrito.

    Freebirds funky atmosphere instantly appealed to me. The tops of the walls are painted with a cloud setting and a partially exposed brick wall against the far end of the restaurant shelvs various “foil art.” I immediately noticed numerous TCU Greek organizations’ letters skillfully molded out of old burrito wrappers. A purple motorcycle hangs from the middle of the ceiling with a replica of the Statue of Liberty sitting proudly on top embracing a burrito.

    Freebirds also offers a counter and seats with clips against the wall to hang newspapers for those patrons dining alone who do not want to worry about flipping through pages with hands covered in sour cream.

    Although Freebirds’ atmosphere won high points in my book, I did not like the expansive, winding metal bars segueing off of the line to order. Between the crying toddler in front of me and the young couple making out behind me, I could not help but feel like I was at Six Flags.

    The Freebirds menu focuses on burritos, but also offers quesadillas, tacos, nachos and “bird salads” for those not interested in the usual fare. Freebirds’ burritos also come in various sizes ranging from the “1/2 Bird” to the “Super Monster,” which rings up at more than $12.50 when ordered with steak.

    Freebirds lets you pick your own type of tortilla, including specialty types such as cayenne and spinach, more than seven different sauces, multiple types of beans and rice with lots of other add-ons, for no extra charge. The only things not included in a Freebirds burrito are sour cream, guacamole and queso, which you can add for 75 cents each.

    For exactly six bucks, I got a vegetarian “Freebird” with rice, pico de gallo, and a good mix of cheese, beans and lettuce. Having a choice of tortilla was nice, but my novice palette could not tell the difference between the cayenne tortilla I ordered and the plain flour one I had just eaten at Baja Fresh.

    My search continued.

    Driving back toward main campus, I hit the always-popular Chipotle Mexican Grill. Chipotle was relatively empty for a Sunday evening, but people in TCU T-shirts were happily chowing down on the remains of what looked like chicken burritos.

    Chipotle is smaller in size than Baja Fresh and Freebirds, but the clean metal tables and jam music in the background make up for its size. With Chipotle in rather close proximity to campus, it is almost impossible not to run into an acquaintance while sitting on their small outdoor patio.

    Chipotle’s main menu item is also burritos, but the restaurant serves tacos, salad, burrito bowls and fajita bowls for those who cannot handle the enormous burrito portions. Chipotle includes grilled veggies, salsas and sour cream in the cost of burritos, but guacamole is not included unless you order a vegetarian item.

    At Chipotle, like Freebirds, you can watch as they make your food, dictating how much pico you want or how little rice. The employees never flinched when I ordered a vegetarian burrito with extra rice, no lettuce, and a dab of sour cream and guacamole.

    William Butler, the general manager of the Chipotle on Hulen for the past three and a half years, said Chipotle stands out because of its freshness, quick food preparation and its friendly, upbeat atmosphere.

    Butler made a point of noting that Chipotle appreciates its TCU clientele. On a 2004 TCU customer appreciation day, Chipotle gave away over $17,000 worth of free burritos to say thank you to TCU students, Butler said.

    Upon finishing at Chipotle, I decided that my burrito survey would not be complete without trying out some of the Berry Street hangouts.

    My first stop on Berry, fourth overall, was Fuzzy’s Taco Shop. Fuzzy’s, practically a TCU legend, is open until 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays and until 1 a.m. on Thursdays. Late-night Berry Street bar-goers can easily walk to Fuzzy’s for a wide selection of Mexican dinners, nachos and, of course, burritos.

    Fuzzy’s red booths, old school arcade games and surrounding TVs also make it good for hanging out after class or having one of its huge margaritas during happy hour with friends.

    For my second-to-last burrito, I decided to get the ultimate Fuzzy’s chicken burrito, which was more impressive than I gave it credit for at first glance.

    Lastly, my burrito quest took me to Alvarado’s.

    A quick trip further down Berry brings you to the small eatery with its limited number of stools and counters to eat at inside. Alvarado’s is mainly focused around drive through business. Open 24 hours a day, Alvarado’s is another TCU late-night classic.

    It serves a wide variety of Mexican food, including some authentic dishes that you cannot get at other local burrito joints. Alvarado’s is also noteworthy because of its all-day breakfast menu, including its huge breakfast burritos.

    I decided to try a more dinnertime-appropriate dish and opted for the Chile Relleno burrito. As my car crunched over a broken beer bottle in the drive-through, most likely from the previous Saturday night, I was happily distracted by the fact that my burrito was a measly $3.13, but comparable in size to the other four places.

    My burrito only came with ground beef and a substance I am hoping was egg. Unfortunately, it also dripped an obscene amount of grease.

    Senior marketing major Allan McCallum echoed my thoughts.

    “Alvarado’s burritos are cheap,” said McCallum, who eats Alvarado’s twice a week or more. “Cheap and decently sized, but not the greatest.”

    He said price and a convenient location often overrule other, higher-quality places.

    By the time I arrived home, I had more than a slight nauseous feeling from eating four burritos, and the strong smell of spicy Mexican had taken permanent residence in my long hair. My burrito experience was eye opening, but at the end of the day, my old favorite, Chipotle, still won for its hospitable service, fresh food and generous portion amount. Freebirds and Fuzzy’s tied for a strong second, with Baja Fresh and Alvarado’s falling behind in third. Although I have a new found appreciation for the Tex-Mex burrito, I probably will not be eating one for the rest of my collegiate career.