Openings and Closings

Chipotle or Zona Fresca: Which is Better?

Fort Lauderdale residents should prepare to pose this question to themselves every day at lunch time by this summer. Almost directly across US-1 from the heavily trafficked Zona Fresca, a new Chipotle restaurant is under construction. Although this sand-colored storefront seems harmless right now, there could be some serious burrito wars coming to the area soon enough.

For some, a Chipotle will change nothing about their cravings for ceviche on Fridays, and the BC Surf & Sport crew isn't likely to risk losing limbs just to get across Federal Highway for a Burrito Bol. Still, there are good reasons to be loyal to both camps -- they both do serve real meat, after all.

Steak - A good mexican place has to know how to prepare the beef, and this does not involve putting it through a grinder. Zona Fresca's steak comes in longer strips, and lean toward the browner side of things. Chipotle cuts its steak into smaller bits, and occasionally you can get some medium rare bites.
The edge: Chipotle, but narrowly.

Tacos - Hard shell tacos are great, but not the only way to go. In Chipotle's case, the shells are so narrow that most of the filling ends up in your red basket and not in your mouth by the end of the meal. Over at Zona, those tasty soft corn tortillas wrap nicely around your meat and gallo pinto like a hug for your mouth.
The edge: Zona Fresca, definitively.

Guacamole - Chipotle's guac comes with the hard-to-swallow "that's extra, is that ok?" bit, but it tastes unreal. Zona's is solid, and it doesn't break the bank.
The edge: Even.

Seafood - Chipotle has absolutely no seafood options, but it does have its own signature Tabasco sauce.
The edge: Zona Fresca, by a whale.

Salsas - This is tough, because both restaurants manage to pack a wallop compared to even most upscale Mexican joints. Zona Fresca's salsa verde is almost drinkable, and Chipotle's corn salsa is worthy of a side dish. Both spots have some searing, caliente options too.
The edge: Even-ish.

The experience - This is impossible to say, because this particular Chipotle isn't open yet, and it depends a lot on who they hire. Of the 30 or so Chipotles I've visited, many suffer from long lines, and sometimes the polished metal tables are icky when the sour cream isn't cleaned off. If you call your order in ahead of time at Zona Fresca, it's possible to always get prompt service, and given the high-traffic nature of the Fort Lauderdale store, it's still always a comfortable place to dine.
The edge: ?

For now, this is too close to call. We welcome your thoughts on the Burrito Battle of 2011 below.

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Reed Fischer
Contact: Reed Fischer