I was prepared to hate Chipotle's burritos. It wouldn't take that much work: I already hated their slogans, their idiotic pun-filled catch-phrases, their trumpeting of how damned big their burritos are. When I first moved to Chicago, I worked downtown every now and then at an office that was across from the Loop's first branch, and I refused to try it, put off by their McDonald's ownership, obnoxious ads, and faux urban trip-hop decor. I openly rooted for them to fail on micro and macro levels. I wanted their burritos to suck and the entire venture to go the way of the Arch Deluxe.

I was stuck for lunch one day, so I bit the bullet and went in; when in a bind, a burritophile will always go for a burrito, come what may.

Chipotle doesn't fail. They're trying to do everything right; all of their meat is now antibiotic-free, and their carnitas would be a respectable entry in any family taqueria's menu. The salsas are good (although I really don't understand the medium-hot corn, which is something I've never seen and don't like much), the rice ain't bad, the barbacoa is well-spiced and the carnitas are crispy on the outside, tender inside. The chicken and steak are boring, but so is most pollo and asada. They do a terrible job of integrating their ingredients, and the tortillas are flavorless and a bit rubbery, but I've had those problems in locally-owned places before.

It's so hard to like them. They're Bennigan's and Applebee's and KFC and Burger King and Starbucks and Panera Bread and every other upscale or downscale place that's working to iron out the wrinkles in the fabric of America and turn us all into the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. One Chipotle looks exactly like another, down to the layout of the scoop trays. They're carpet-bombing urban centers, much like Starbucks did in the late 1990s. People with better choices are voting them the best burrito in town, like in Sacramento, where people would rather eat Chipotle than pay half the price for a wet one from El Portal.

But they're the only place to get a decent burrito in downtown Chicago or the entire island of Manhattan. Fillings are fresh and tasty. Their founder seems like a pretty cool guy. This is a case where flavor outweighs politics.

Most cities don't have access to decent burritos. If you're stuck in a city (say, Columbus) without a decent hole-in-the-wall taqueria and you've got the urge for a foil wrapped cylindrical fat one, get thee to a Chipotle and don't feel guilty about enjoying yourself. On the other hand, if you're in San Francisco, get your butt over to the Mission and chow down for half the price.