Burrito ‘wraps’ new local craze

BOULDER — When is a burrito not a burrito?

I don’t know, but there sure are a lot of ’em around. And they’ve become about the best, cheapest meal I know of.

Wraps are definitely the hip food of 1998. In Boulder it’s strictly the more the merrier, with the new Chipotle Mexican Grill at 919 Pearl St., Masa Grill in the North Broadway Shopping Center at Alpine Avenue and Broadway, and Babaloo in the Fox Theatre at 1135 13th St.

“It’s a great concept,” says Masa’s Linda Parenti. “It’s healthy food, a quick meal. The price is right. You can’t get that quality of food at this price otherwise.”

“It’s quality eats,” agrees Jamie Osborn of Babaloo, which is, believe it or not, the oldest wrap joint in town. Babaloo began about three years ago, although its original owners later sold out to the Fox. Osborn has been manager for over two years.

“I moved out here from Chicago weighing about 200 pounds,” he says. “I’ve been eating this food for two-and-a-half years, and now I weigh 183.”

I think I’ll start eating burritos every day. Maybe we’ve got a new diet fad here …

Masa opened its doors two years ago last November after the Market Grill closed. It was the latest in the restaurant empire of Steve LeBlang, who originally opened Chautauqua Dining Hall more than 20 years ago, then opened Walnut Cafe and B olo Bagels in Boulder and Denver. Despite the proliferating burrito competition, business has been “fine,” Parenti says,

thanks to the loyal support of its north Boulder neighbors.

“I think people like that we’re locally owned,” she says. “I think people like the food, and

the lines out the door show they really like the 99-cent taco specials on Monday nights.”

Masa opened a second location in Fort Collins, which recently was sold. Parenti says she’s looking for a second site in Boulder.

Chipotle is the newest entry in Boulder’s booming burrito business. The grill opened here on the west end of the Pearl Street Mall on Halloween, after a year of remodeling and tangling with red tape.

“I don’t know how a sole proprietor can open a business here,” says Boulder Manager Kevin Wamego.

Founder and Chief Executive Steve Elles opened his first shop near Denver University over four years ago. Now Chipotle has 14 metro locations, with new stores planned in Kansas City, according to Wamego.

The concept for all three shops is good food made on premises daily with fresh ingredients. Everything from the guacamole to the salsas is made on site. The chicken is grilled even before your eyes.

“We pay a lot of attention to detail,” says Wamego. “We look at everything, the color and

crispness of the lettuce, how sharp the knives are. Everything we do comes down to quality food at low cost.”

At Chipotle, the most popular items are the chicken burrito and the guacamole, which is made fresh every morning. At Babaloo, the Babyloos are a big hit among both student and non-student clientele. Babyloo is a half-sized veggie, chicken, be ef (or mixed) burrito for $2.50. Babaloo advertises its massive burritos, and it’s not kidding.

The Babyloo is big enough to feed any human, with the possible exception of a teenage male. Also popular are the gourmet wraps, curried veggie or chicken, fish tacos, teriyaki, or spicy shrimp burritos. At Masa, well, I personally vouch for the veggie fajitas with tomatilla salsa. My son loves the steak burritos so much I considered bringing him one when I visited him at parent’s weekend at his college last fall.

In the end, I decided the risk of his eating a burrito that had weathered a day-long trip to North Carolina outweighed the benefits of filial joy.

I’m not sure he agreed.