Anna's Taqueria vs. Illegal Pete's vs. Chipotle: The Great Fast-Casual Burrito Battle

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"Well, it ain't as good as Anna's Taqueria." My hometown Boston friends repeated this ad nauseam when they'd come to visit and I'd take them for a bite at Illegal Pete's, Chipotle or one of Colorado's other burrito joints. Anna's Taqueria is Boston's version of a taqueria, a longtime local chain that's been winning the hearts and stomachs of the Hub's hungry for years. But could a burrito from Massachusetts, of all places, really crush those from Colorado, a place whose obsession with foil-wrapped calorie bombs launched Chipotle's global domination? Last week on a trip back to Boston, I decided to find out.

We planned the scientific culinary excursion several days in advance. I recruited several colleagues known for their impartiality, including my friend Caleb, who, having just returned from an extended stay in Europe with a bad case of burrito withdrawal, had gorged himself on three Chipotle burritos in two days. As he put it, "They were good eating days."

The team assembled and plan in place, we headed to the Anna's at Coolidge Corner in Brookline for a mid-day burrito feast. And there, after an orgy of shredded tin foil, splattered salsa and steaming black beans, I found my answer.

First, the good stuff about Anna's. For one thing, they throw long slices of cheese onto their tortillas before sliding them into the press. The result is gooey awesomeness, like a hint of grilled cheese among your carnitas. The burritos' fillings are also pretty darn good. As Caleb said, "Bite for bite, the steak is as good as Chipotle." This coming from a guy who still had bits of Chipotle's barbacoa stuck in his hair.

One other nice touch? "The place feels authentic," said my friend Pete. The joint was a bit rough around the edges, no gleaming steel like that at Chipotle, no hipster-dirtbag accoutrements tacked across the walls like at Illegal Pete's. The most authentic part for Pete? "It smells like ammonia." Yum, yum.

Now for the bad stuff. Anna's tortillas just aren't up to par. They're a little too dry, a little too thin -- and when it comes to something like a burrito, failing to start with a good tortilla is like building a skyscraper on a bad foundation. The shit's just not going to hold.

Even more worrisome about Anna's? The burritos were too damn small. They approximated the size of a jumbo candy bar and not, in Colorado-style, the dimensions of a newborn baby. Anna's burritos were therefore much easier to eat -- but that's not a good thing. One of the pleasures of Chipotle or Illegal Pete's is that each meal is a battle against gravity, a one-man crusade to inhale the massive brick of food in your hand before the laws of physics win out and it explodes down your arm and onto the table. It's like a food rodeo for fat people.

Anna's burritos? You could eat half of one, set it down on the table, then come back five minutes later and the whole thing would still be in one piece. What kind of burrito is like that?

So there you have it. Anna's Taqueria ain't a bad burrito joint -- at least by Boston standards. But for those looking for the real thing, Colorado is where it's at. We know how to get our hands dirty.

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