The burrito wars

Most Americans who do lunch — even declared pacifists — end up immersed in the burrito wars, like it or not.

Restaurant owners, on the other hand, have been embedded for years, covert strategists in the ongoing battle to offer a five-star wrap.

I’m referring here not to the original Mexican burrito but rather the smug, California-born fatboy that’s gained national star status in the last 15 years along with mocha lattes, honey-mustard salad dressing and other chic-but-accessible treats.

Charged with reconnoitering, this undercover operative recently infiltrated three of Asheville’s more prominent burrito barracks: Urban Burrito over by UNCA (which recently opened a second location in south Asheville), veteran downtown wrap hut Rio Burrito, and West Asheville’s burrito-centric Lucky Otter Restaurant. It should also be mentioned that fresh troops are lurking on the horizon: Taco shop Mamacita’s, on Biltmore Avenue, is due to open any day.

Here’s my current report:

1) Fit to Serve?

The only thing more annoying than a skimpy burrito is the dining companion who eats only half of hers, crying full. Thankfully, cooks at all three restaurants have realized the importance of fattening their recruits. But Urban Burrito gets the salute in this category: Wraps here are stuffed till they resemble fully loaded cannons (or at least obese guinea pigs).

2) G.I. (Spent All My) Bills

Urban takes command in this category, thanks to student-friendly prices and — here’s a concept — free extra salsa. Rio employs a trickier strategy, offering low-priced “extras” (like chopped tomatoes and sour cream) that quickly add up. And Lucky Otter … well, let’s just say this is a place you go to experience your food, not just eat it. Here you’ll find art on the wall, a gorgeously designed bar, mood lighting, and for dessert, cheesecake topped with coulis sauce instead of canned cherries. The restaurant’s actual burritos, though not outrageously expensive, are priced accordingly.

3) Palatable Damage

Sure, they have to present a peaceable facade to their customers. In the trenches, however, the owners of these eateries must be tactical tyrants, tireless in their campaigns to conquer by serving up the best burrito. The good (for us) and bad (for them) news is that no one gets to pull rank here — all three feature burritos with distinctive personalities. In the culinary-arts division, Lucky Otter’s brilliant jerk-tofu wrap is a coup that’s seasoned just right. Rio gets stars for extra-freshness, and Urban’s offerings are delightfully salty characters exhibiting an utter lack of pretension.


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