What do you do when your chain of 2,000+ Mexican grills goes into a norovirus-fueled tailspin? You bounce. You just get the hell out. You pack up your tortillas and shift your core business model to a whole different continent where no one knows your name or your E. coli history or that you tweet about dicks all the time.
That seems to be the gist of Chipotle’s latest move. At select locations of ShopHouse, the company’s pan-Southeast Asian concept, they’ll turn your rice bowl into a burrito. Except they’re calling it a wrap, which shows a very a deep understanding of ethnolinguistic nuance. Nation’s Restaurant News broke the story, and Chipotle’s director of communications Chris Arnold told them the decision was in response to people bringing their own tortillas into ShopHouse and asking for a burrito.
I can confirm that at least one diner tried to do that because that “at least one diner” is me. Multiple times, actually. And every time the ShopHouse employee told me they couldn’t for food safety reasons, which is, you know, ironic. Because Chipotle. And food safety. Ahhh, you get it. (They also refused to put In-N-Out fries in my burrito instead of rice… Fascists).
But now, at least at the WeHo location off Beverly (the only location in L.A. to make the fusion-ritos), my comparatively mediocre dream is a reality. I got two burritos, because all good science has control variables.
The first had white rice, grilled chicken satay, charred corn, spicy red curry, papaya salad, Thai chilies, and cilantro. It’s bizarre how much it tastes like Chipotle—well, with the tortilla, white rice, and corn, I guess it’s not that bizarre. But it tastes like first-gen Chipotle, before the expansion when quality control went out the window.
The chicken is super aromatic and well-seasoned, the red curry acts as a salsa (or maybe a Thai mole??), the chilies add the requisite burrito heat, the papaya salad gives you that crunch factor, and the fresh cilantro ties it all together. This is an intellectually sound burrito. It makes sense.
More than anything though—it’s exciting. It’s reminds you of the first time you had a burrito at Kogi (everyone remembers their first time) and it made you go, “Oh shit, I didn’t know these tastes could exist in a tortilla.” Not only would I eat this again, but I want to go back and try all 600,000 or so vaguely Asian burrito combos. Though not all of them are bound to be hits.
The second burrito had rice noodles, tamarind vinaigrette, grilled steak laab, pickled mixed vegetables, and crushed peanuts. I have no one to blame but myself on this. I flew too close to the sun. Even the burrito-ista didn’t seemed to have ethical qualms with wrapping up rice noodles in a tortilla, as well she should have. It was weird. Like, unsettlingly weird, and enough to make me question the entire ShopHouse burrito concept.
This is an unstoppable force. ShopHouse will soon be dominating the world’s burritoscape and all Chipotle locations will change their signage overnight and everyone will forget about their corporate transgressions because “oh cool—new thing!” The person behind me in line walked up to the counter and asked for a burrito bowl. A burrito. In a bowl. At an Asian rice bowl restaurant. It has begun.