Original post below:
Baja Fresh. Freebirds. Chipotle. These are not Mexican by any stretch of the imagination, but can be classified as “Fresh Mex“, “Mexican Grill”or any other variety of classifications. What they serve, is a fresh, healthier alternative to the classic Mexican burrito. No lard. Fresh vegetables. That sort of thing. What they lack in authenticity, they make up for in quantity, and price. They serve a lot of food, at a good price point. A large burrito usually comes in the size of your forearm. And then some. I’ll admit, while this stuff isn’t gourmet, everybody has their favorite – and it is pretty tasty. And while healthier usually equates to “not as tasty”, this is one instance where I can honestly say “different, but good”.
Sadly, these franchises have refused to expand north of the border. I even inquired, nine or ten years ago, into getting a Baja Fresh franchise for Alberta. They were looking for development partners who could purchase territories, with a minimum of ten to fifteen million dollars in liquid, unborrowed assets. Needless to say, unless they were willing to accept money from The Game of Life(tm), it wasn’t going to happen. I lamented the fact that I could not get a big, cheap, fresh-mex burrito here, and limited myself to jaunts whenever i headed south of the border. Well, I am pleased to say, we finally have an acceptable alternative here in Alberta. That option is Mucho Burrito.
Alberta has seen a few aborted attempts. Taco Time tried their Cantina concept. Chico Tecates brought in a salsa bar, but labour issues pushed them out of business. Taco Del Mar tries to do too much. Even Wrapture came out with a burrito campaign, but they were really masters of nothing. Mucho Burrito is the first dedicated Burrito chain – and they have learned their craft well. Right at the hands of Chipotle in fact.
When I first walked into a Mucho Burrito, my first thought was “Chipotle!”. From the decor, to the menu, to the assembly line, the burrito trays, right down to the brown bag they serve the tortilla chips in, everything was eerily similar. To be honest, this actually does not bother me – copy away, as long as you can produce a similar facsimile to the end product.
The menu for Mucho Burrito is actually pretty basic – and available online, so i’ll leave some mystery to you all. Let’s concentrate on the burritos. They come in three sizes – 10″, 12″, and 14″. Choice of rice, beans, salsa, cheese, guacamole, roasted veggies and a filling. The fillings are basic too – all prepped in the back kitchen, and sitting in chafing dishes to keep warm. Barbacoa, Carnitas, Pollo, and Carne Asada. This is burrito 101.
I order the signature Mucho Burrito dish – the Mucho Burrito(14″) – which allows you to top it anyway you like. Looking to test the limits of their generosity, I load the burrito with any topping i can get my hands on. They comply, and promptly create a monstrosity – a meal for two. Tightly wrapped, I can say with some certainty, and glee, the quantity is definitely there.
Taking a big bite into it, I am thoroughly satisfied. The Carnitas is decent – good flavour, tender. Nothing i would call great, but for Alberta, it is a minor miracle. Everything is fresh. It’s so busy that everything has to stay fresh – none of it sits around that long. They’ve done an excellent job of balancing all the ingredients, and making sure that the burrito ends up as one goopy, flavour-filled mess.
Look, this is not French Laundry or El Bulli. Heck, this is not even Freebird’s. However, when you’ve been starving in the desert for as long as Albertans have, any bit of water is a big sign of hope. Like a good burger, somtimes simple and filling is what the doctor ordered. Is the product perfect? By no means. Would I rather eat real Mexican? Most of the time. But when I am in the mood for something big, sloppy and loaded, a burrito usually hits the spot. And for the first time in my recollection, there’s a fresh mex burrito worth eating in Alberta at Mucho Burrito.