The keys to Chipotle are choice, simplicity, quality and freshness.

These characteristics tend to elude most fast-food chains, and this column, as a general rule, discusses only local eateries.

Chipotle is the exception to every fast-food rule, but this is coming from the guy who drove more than an hour from Pittsburgh to Kent, Ohio, for a burritos.

So perhaps I'm biased.

You can decide when you try Chipotle for yourself. I suspect you won't leave disappointed - or hungry.

First, you'll note the strikingly plain décor. No bright colors, extreme sales pitches or marketing overload, like the typical burger drive-through. Just stainless steel countertops, plywood-backed chairs and unadorned light fixtures.

Its austere appearance segues into a no-frills menu offering five basic choices: a burrito, a fajita burrito (just like a burrito but with onions and peppers instead of beans), a burrito bowl (same contents as a burrito, sans tortilla wrap), tacos and salads.

You can customize each option in several different ways. An even more difficult choice of meat awaits. Nine times out of 10, I go with the slow-braised beef (called barbacoa) or pork (called carnitas). These two meats encapsulate the greatness of Chipotle. More than 50 percent of the chain's beef - and all of its pork and chicken - is naturally raised, according to the company.

And I'd like to hear someone name another national chain seasoning its beef with ingredients such as cumin, cloves and garlic or its pork with thyme, bay leaf and juniper berries.

In a burrito, the meat tops a helping of cilantro-lime rice and black or pinto beans. From there, the toppings keep piling up on your tortilla, which is about the size of a small pizza tray.

The employees offer a friendly reminder that guacamole costs $1.80 extra, as if that paltry sum would deter me in the least from enjoying guac made on-site with real Hass avocados.

If you desire a little more heat, the condiment area offers three varieties of Tabasco hot sauce. Try the chipotle flavor (how appropriate) made with smoked red jalapeño peppers.

As you can tell, I highly recommend Chipotle. But I wouldn't recommend eating there too often, unless you're training for a triathlon. Most burritos - or at least the ones I order - pack 1,000-plus calories. Wrapped tightly, they dwarf the thickness of your forearm, unless you're Popeye.

So you might feel like a sluggish glutton after eating. That's about the only drawback I can offer.

While eating, on the other hand, you'll experience flavor euphoria - the bright citrus burst of the rice, the creamy coolness of the sour cream, the smoky, moist meat.

I could continue fawning and describe the virtues of each ingredient, but I have to leave something for you to discover.

If you go

LOCATION: Chipotle Mexican Grill, 2801 Concord Road in Springettsbury Township

CUISINE: Fresh Mex

WADE'S PICK: barbacoa burrito with guacamole ($8.15)


HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day

PRICE RANGE: $5.95 to $8.15



ACCEPTS: Cash and major credit cards


KID'S MENU: parents can create their own meals for kids, including a cheese quesadilla or a single taco for $2.20 or a bowl with a serving each of rice and beans for $1.60.

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