100 Favorite Dishes

100 Favorite Dishes 2015: No. 96, Carnitas Salad At Chipotle

Oh, the glamorous life of a food writer, sitting in front of a fine meal on a table with good silverware and a white tablecloth, wine glass in hand, laughing at some witty waiter's jokes.

Sometimes, it is that. More often, it's sitting on your ass in front of a computer for hours on end doing research, answering emails, maintaining a social media presence and trying to craft phrases that don't make you sound like an idiot. (For some reason, food writers are more subject to vicious mockery than any other kind of scribe. It's probably because we're not writing about actual important stuff, like war, prejudice or crime.)

You're looking at the meal I most often eat at my desk: a Carnitas Salad from Chipotle with red tomatillo-chili hot sauce, no rice and black beans. I don't always get sour cream and cheese on it, but I was feeling decadent this time.

I live in far Northwest Houston and while our dining options out here have gotten better and better, this is the best fast food option that doesn't make me feel guilty--when I skip the sour cream and cheese, at least. (I swear, that's most of the time.) Without those two things, this bowl is only about 385 calories. Skipping the rice is absolutely key to keeping the calories down and that's why I avoid their burritos. Tortillas have a LOT of calories.

There's a funny thing about Chipotle's menu options. The salad is exactly the same as the burrito bowl, except if you order the bowl they put the lettuce on top instead of the bottom. The lettuce goes falling out all over the place without the other ingredients to hold it down. It's kind of dumb.

I keep a bottle of McIlhenny's Chipotle Tabasco at home to make my salad smoky and spicy and I don't add any dressing. It's easy to order through their online app and I'm lucky to have a college-aged daughter who can usually be bribed to go pick it up. She loves Chipotle, too.

It's a conscientious choice, too. Chipotle is foremost among fast food chains in using humanely-raised animals. Earlier this year, the company opted to run out of pork at over 600 stores because they couldn't get enough from suppliers that met its stringent requirements. Those requirements include pigs being allowed to roam or housed in deeply bedded bars with lots of straw. They also cannot be treated with antibiotics to artificially keep them healthy. Other fast food chains are trying to catch up but are having to use a phased approach to continue meeting demand.

It is because Chipotle is a company with a conscience and a good example for others that I have zero problem giving money to them occasionally. That, and their food goes darn well with a beer.

Now, if they'd just offer delivery. There's only so long my daughter is going to still be in college.

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Phaedra Cook
Contact: Phaedra Cook