Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Burrito Chain Wars, Part II: Chipotle is in your mind

Of the entries in the Burrito Chain war, Chipotle (chi-POHT-lay) is the newest in Eugene and probably the best known. Chipotle fans are, admit it, cultish about the big burritos and small tacos that can be found at every one of these fast-casual "Mexican" grills. (A quick side note: Though once a member of the McDonald's family, Chipotle has been independent since 2006). I, myself, am a Chipotle fan, someone who saw the "Coming Soon" sign in the window on Coburg two years ago and nearly spit up my coffee in glee. A Chipotle! In Eugene! It made so much sense.

Now that the chain has landed, though, I seem to want it less. This makes a certain amount of sense: the memory of Chipotle is always better than the experience of Chipotle. That's not to say the experience isn't good -- it generally is. Of the three chain burrito places in Eugene, Chipotle wins in several substantial taste categories, including spiciness (try the Barbacoa), rice (cilantro-lime-magic), and guacamole (them there are real avocados, friend). They also serve with efficient speed and surprising friendliness, and $10 will always carry you out the door with a more-than-stomach-sized burrito and a soda of your choice.

Yet I really think that most people enjoy Chipotle in the abstract as much as they enjoy actual Chipotle.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Burrito Chain Wars, Part I: Baja Fresh

A little introduction: In this town, we have three of the major national contenders for Best Burrito Chain (Baja Fresh, Chipotle, and Qdoba). All three function on largely the same business model: feed people huge burritos at mid-sized prices with recognizable vegetables and absolutely nothing "refried," and they will want more. All three inspire rather rabid devotion from fans. All three also have substantial differences, and as someone who's a regular eater at all three establishments in Eugene, I thought I'd line them up for a three-part comparison. Why not? It's winter; it's foggy; who doesn't want a spicy burrito show-down right now?

So, to be as fair as possible, I'm doing this in alphabetical order -- and also, it turns out, starting with the chain that has the oldest presence in Eugene, Baja Fresh. This restaurant out on Coburg road is located in the tiny complex that also houses a Ben and Jerry's and a Newman's Fish Market -- and, oh yeah, it's directly across the street from a shiny new Chipotle.

That's OK. The folks who come to Baja Fresh probably want two things that Chiptole can't provide: a more familiar fast-food ordering experience, and a bit more choice.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Chicken Bonz: Fried stuff done (mostly) right

In the Great American Desert, where I hail from, the name in chicken wings is Buffalo Wild Wings, and when we moved here, it was with sadness that the first time the wings craving hit, I learned that Eugene didn't HAVE a BWW. It's not a craving that hits often, but at the start of the summer, one of the crappy Mexican fast food places on Franklin went toes up, and not long after the "Coming Soon: Chicken Bonz" sign went up.

(I admit it: we made fun of the spelling. We still don't pronounce it the way they probably want us to.)

I looked them up on the Internets and learned that this was another location for a restaurant located in Springfield, and we went that night to the original metro-area location over in Other Town to try it out.

I like it. It's really quite a bit like BWW, for those of you have been there. They seem to be a franchise, so you can do this in college towns all over the country, but most importantly, now you can do it half a block from the law school side of campus. So, what makes that so great?

First of all, the french fries are always amazing and crisp. They're the long skinny fries, pretty far removed from a slice of potato, but you didn't come here for health food, right? The chicken is available on the bone or off it, but one of the few remnants of my foray into the land of vegetarians is that I don't do meat (especially chicken) on the bone. So I've only ever had the boneless wings, but it's always been fresh and juicy, and whoever works the fryer at the Eugene location has a slightly better way with the deep fat fryer than the guys in Springfield. You can have an assortment of sauces or rubs as flavoring; I'm partial to the medium wing sauce with copious ranch dressing from the condiment bar. G has taken to mixing up honey with Melinda's hot sauce from the bar, and using that as his dip for chicken.

They have a variety of sizes, from the Small Appetite 3 pieces, fries, and a drink, to the daunting 12.95 All-you-can-eat Special. A few weeks ago, we saw a couple of Ducks football players attempting to get their money's-worth from that deal: they were still eating when we left, on basket number 4 each. (Total? A shocking 20 wings, at least...)

Chicken Bonz on Urbanspoon

11:00 AM - 8:00 PM
11:00 AM - 8:00 PM
11:00 AM - 8:00 PM
11:00 AM - 8:30 PM
11:00 AM - 8:30 PM
11:00 AM - 8:00 PM
12:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Location: 1535 Franklin Blvd, Eugene, or 1815 Pioneer Pkwy E, Springfield.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

No Place for Pros: Mio Sushi

We've been to Mio Sushi several times, but hadn't been back for a while until recently. That's not because of a bad experience, it's just because, well, sushi is expensive, and neither C nor I have a "one roll will do it" appetite. Recently, though, with a helping hand from a coupon at Mobba and a wave of starvation while sitting at Borders, we found our way over to Oakway's oldest new restaurant recently.

When we got there, we were surprised by two things: first, even though it was 7 p.m. by the time we arrived, the sushi conveyor belt was in full swing. Second, there were gigantic signs advertising that the restaurant now has two happy hours, during which those tasty little dishes are even less expensive. We managed to miss them both by an hour -- they run from 4ish to 6 and 8 to close -- but I'll keep that late night one in mind for feasting in the future.

So what floats by on those little plates? Bits and tastes that run from $1.75 to about $4. On the low end, you might pick up three California roll pieces or a little crock of salty edamame (we did); on the high end, there are chicken skewers and tempting two-piece Mount St. Helens rolls. In between there are a variety of cold bites to try.

Mio is the best place in town to take two kinds of folks: your friend who swears she will never, ever eat sushi OMG; and your friend who likes the idea of liking sushi more than she does actually eating the stuff.