I really like Mexican food. Well, I like the sort of fake Americanized Mexican food you can get without driving more than five minutes away from campus. But with so many choices available, it can be difficult to decide where to eat sometimes.
So I took it upon myself to choose my favorite Tex-Mex restaurant from four of the closest places to campus: Chipotle, located in the Bluffs, Baja Fresh, located off Jamboree and Main, Rubio’s, at the corner of Harvard and Main and Tacos and Company, just up Culver. They’re being judged on three criteria important to any college student: taste, service and price.
First things first, the food has to taste good and luckily, every single one of these restaurants are better than what you can find on campus. Given a choice, I would eat at any of these over Wendy’s or commons any day of the week.
That being said, Chipotle tastes the best. While they do have the most limited menu, that actually serves as an advantage in this case, allowing them to use fresher ingredients and keeping food on warmers for a less amount of time.
The quick turn-around time also makes them the most consistent of the four – you can be sure of what you’re getting when you eat here. Though I do miss the self-serve salsa bar present at every other Tex-Mex restaurant.
Baja Fresh places a close second. Founded on the idea that their food should be fresh, they claim that their restaurants contain “no microwaves, no can openers, no freezers, no lard and no MSG,” and while they wouldn’t let me check out their kitchen, their food does taste pretty not-canned.
The only reason Baja Fresh falls behind Chipotle is due to their lack of consistency. While they are normally fairly good, I have run across a few bad burritos more often than I would like.
Rubio’s and Tacos and Co. tie for third, though they both have some bright spots on their menus that are tastier than their Chipotle and Baja Fresh counterparts.
Tacos and Co.’s “Al Pastor” selections are meatier and more flavorful than what’s available at Chipotle and Baja, though their menu is on average, less fresh.
Rubio’s bright spot is their classic fish taco. The fish is fried cleanly and is complemented by the yogurt and mayo-based white sauce. Add some cabbage on top and you get something deliciously simple, clean and available only at Rubio’s.
While all four restaurants offer something tasty to munch on, they take wildly different approaches to service.
Chipotle is all about efficiency; you walk down the line behind a layer of plexi-glass and pick out what you want.
Your servers are polite, but they do their jobs fast and while that means you get your food in your mouth faster, it can be off-putting sometimes.
Baja and Tacos and Co. don’t offer any stellar examples of service either. Nothing sets them apart from regular quick-dining restaurants. You order, they make it, they call your number and you eat.
The only standout of the four is Rubio’s. Though you don’t get to see your food made, their front line personnel are super friendly and rather than yelling out numbers, they will take your food to you.
Though Chipotle, Tacos and Co. and Baja don’t lose anything from their service styles, Rubio’s does get a little bump from the extra bit of effort they put into making you feel a little more welcome.
But, as nice as the service is or as good as the food is, I’m still a poor college student and price is very important. After all, the best tasting burrito is a free burrito (Note: I may be lying, sometimes free burritos are not as delicious as I would hope).
You can get lunch for less than $10 at any of these restaurants, but Chipotle wins with overall price-efficiency. I can’t count the amount of times that I’ve had half-eaten-Chipotle-burrito-dinners after not being able to finish my fresh-giant-burrito lunches.
Rubio’s and Tacos and Co.’s prices are on par with Baja Fresh’s normally, but their deals put them ahead. Rubio’s drops the price of their fish taco to $1.25 on Tuesdays, bringing the price of a nice dinner down to under five dollars. Tacos and Co. has a great happy hour, as well as 50 percent off of most menu items when you show your UCI I.D. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
While each restaurant is a fine place to eat, Chipotle reigns supreme due to the freshness and cheapness of their food. Rubio’s and Tacos and Co. are worth checking out, especially during their specials or if you’re craving something Chipotle lacks.
Baja Fresh is my least favorite, though being my least favorite when compared to the other three restaurants isn’t something to be ashamed about.