Some people eat until they are full. I, on the other hand,
choose to eat until I hurt. Though satisfying, this habit of eating
past the point of safety can get expensive. And though an
economical meal option, fast food can and does hurt people. From
the general malaise that follows any trip to McDonalds, to certain
death at the hands of a blood clot made out of chicken fat, fast
food is a guilty pleasure that one should partake in at his or her
own risk.

Food Reviews
Pancheros wins the competition for its delicious and distinct taste, convenient location and late-night hours. (DORY GANNES/Daily)

But for those who still need to eat until they don’t feel
good and want to do it at cut-rate prices, a fine dining experience
can easily be had at any one of the local restaurants that
specialize in giant, fast and cheap burritos. Pancheros on South
University Avenue was one of the first such establishments to take
root in Ann Arbor, and its enormous two-pound burritos were a hit
among binge eaters. However, with the addition of Qdoba on Main
Street and Big Ten Burrito on South State Street, the burrito
market in Ann Arbor suddenly has two new contenders vying for the
title of Ann Arbor’s best fast burrito.

Though each restaurant boasts authentic Mexican fare, this
Midwestern reviewer wouldn’t know authentic Mexican food from
Taco Bell. So, for the purposes of this review, each restaurant
will be evaluated based on the things that really matter: variety
of ingredients, quality of ingredients, convenience and overall
taste of the finished product.

We’ll start with the reigning champion, Pancheros at 1208
S. University Ave. Pancheros boasts two behemoth offerings: the
basic burrito, and the infamous “El Gordo.” The Gordo
isn’t for the faint of heart; concealed within a warm, chewy
tortilla lies nearly two pounds of grilled meat or veggies, cheese,
lettuce, salsa and your choice of black or pinto beans. While other
restaurants fish their tortillas out of a bag, the beginning of
life for every Pancheros burrito begins with dough being slapped
onto a press and cooked through. Good enough to eat plain, their
texture helps to keep the whole mess together as you force the last
seven bites down your throat. Pancheros’s stands out in the
salsa department too, offering two varieties of homemade salsa and
fresh pico de gallo. The hot is spicy enough to burn; the mild,
flavorful enough to justify.

Despite being located several miles off campus, Qdoba at 2252 S.
Main St. has managed to build an impressive reputation for itself
in a short period of time. Clearly, Qdoba benefits from its size as
a company (stores in 23 states), as it is able to offer a great
deal more variety than its competitors. It starts with the rice,
which is not only infused with a bit of lime, but also is liberally
sprinkled with cilantro. Qdoba offers not just the basic chicken,
steak and veggie, but also mole chicken, shredded beef and ground
beef burritos. For cheese lovers, Qdoba has simple shredded cheese,
as well as a spicy melted cheese sauce, which adds not only flavor,
but a different texture to the burrito. Five different salsas give
customers plenty of options when choosing their own
gastrointestinal adventure. The downside? An out-of-the way
location and limited hours of operation limit student
accessibility.

Last, the new guys: Big Ten Burrito located next to Mr. Spots on
State Street. The dynamic duo that started this establishment have
walked into an as-of-yet untapped gold mine — the student
ghetto, an area filled with alcoholic insomniacs eager for a
late-night break from Jimmy Johns and lukewarm Bell’s
slices.

Convenience here is tops. Sales tax is included in the price of
the burrito, so there are no complicated choices to make —
just point to the burrito you wish to consume, and hand the nice
men your paper money. They will not give you complicated metal
money back. The ingredients are quality — fresh guacamole,
hot sauce and grilled meats, just like the other two
establishments. However, the flagship burrito, the
“Grande,” is what really stands out here. Too big for
just one tortilla, this gargantuan burrito needs two, yes two,
tortillas to keep all the good stuff from busting out.

The winner? The competition was tight, with each store bringing
to the table strong offerings and high standards of service and
quality. Qdoba clearly fields the finest burrito. The flavor is
complex, and the ingredients are of surprising quality given the
size of the company. However, despite providing a superior finished
product, Qdoba can’t match the hours or the location of its
on-campus competitors. Big Ten Burrito has arguably the most
convenient late-night food option in Ann Arbor and again, quality
ingredients, most of which are made in-house. But when put
together, the sum of the parts can fall just short of perfection.
It’s difficult to isolate any one of the otherwise delicious
individual ingredients in its burritos, making it hard to
appreciate the flavor of the product. Intensely flavored
ingredients combine to form a delicious, yet muddled composition
overall.

By a nose, Pancheros remains king. Its salsas and sauces are
spicy yet delicate, their meats and beans sweet and salty. Overall,
its burritos stand out as having the best combination of flavor and
subtlety, and are large enough to satisfy all but the most
legendary of eaters. Wonderful homemade tortillas only help seal
the deal. Panchero’s is also open late — until 3 a.m.
every night but Sunday — and is located within walking
distance from most areas of Central Campus. Though finishing second
to Qdoba in burrito quality and second to Big Ten Burrito in
convenience, Panchero’s tops them both overall, taking the
day with the best combination of quality and convenience. But with
so little separating these near-giants in the Ann Arbor food
service industry, readers are advised to try them all and see for
themselves. Teach your stomach a lesson.

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