Chipotle or Zona Fresca: Which is Better?

Zona Fresca.jpg
Will Zona Fresca's business suffer with a Chipotle directly across the road?
Fort Lauderdale residents should prepare to pose this question to themselves every day at lunch time by this summer. Almost directly across US-1 from the heavily trafficked Zona Fresca, a new Chipotle restaurant is under construction. Although this sand-colored storefront seems harmless right now, there could be some serious burrito wars coming to the area soon enough.

For some, a Chipotle will change nothing about their cravings for ceviche on Fridays, and the BC Surf & Sport crew isn't likely to risk losing limbs just to get across Federal Highway for a Burrito Bol. Still, there are good reasons to be loyal to both camps -- they both do serve real meat, after all.

Chipotle_Zona_Killer.jpg
By Reed Fischer
A well-placed tree blocks the Zona Fresca sign across the road from this new Chipotle location.
Steak - A good mexican place has to know how to prepare the beef, and this does not involve putting it through a grinder. Zona Fresca's steak comes in longer strips, and lean toward the browner side of things. Chipotle cuts its steak into smaller bits, and occasionally you can get some medium rare bites.
The edge: Chipotle, but narrowly.

Tacos - Hard shell tacos are great, but not the only way to go. In Chipotle's case, the shells are so narrow that most of the filling ends up in your red basket and not in your mouth by the end of the meal. Over at Zona, those tasty soft corn tortillas wrap nicely around your meat and gallo pinto like a hug for your mouth.
The edge: Zona Fresca, definitively.

Guacamole - Chipotle's guac comes with the hard-to-swallow "that's extra, is that ok?" bit, but it tastes unreal. Zona's is solid, and it doesn't break the bank.
The edge: Even.

Seafood - Chipotle has absolutely no seafood options, but it does have its own signature Tabasco sauce.
The edge: Zona Fresca, by a whale.

Salsas - This is tough, because both restaurants manage to pack a wallop compared to even most upscale Mexican joints. Zona Fresca's salsa verde is almost drinkable, and Chipotle's corn salsa is worthy of a side dish. Both spots have some searing, caliente options too.
The edge: Even-ish.

The experience - This is impossible to say, because this particular Chipotle isn't open yet, and it depends a lot on who they hire. Of the 30 or so Chipotles I've visited, many suffer from long lines, and sometimes the polished metal tables are icky when the sour cream isn't cleaned off. If you call your order in ahead of time at Zona Fresca, it's possible to always get prompt service, and given the high-traffic nature of the Fort Lauderdale store, it's still always a comfortable place to dine.
The edge: ?

For now, this is too close to call. We welcome your thoughts on the Burrito Battle of 2011 below.


Follow Clean Plate Charlie Facebook on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.



Location Info

Venue

Map

Zona Fresca

1635 N. Federal Highway, Wilton Manors, FL

Category: Restaurant

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13 comments
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ItalianCanefans
ItalianCanefans

I guess Clean Plate had a slow day at the office to attempt a comparison here......a fad-food chain can never be compared to an outstanding local joint.

The Pulp Blog
The Pulp Blog

Excellent analysis, Reed. I've been a huge fan of both for years, but it's hard not to favor the local joint over the big chain. Zona Fresca catered a New Times party once, and the dude who came to set it up (it's an awesome catering system, by the way) said that he was the newest employee in the place -- and he had been working there for years. You won't find that kind of dedication at Chipotle, and it's that kind of dedication that makes Zona Fresca so good.

ErinHilburn
ErinHilburn

I remember you saying he set everything up for you at no additional charge. That was a fun gathering...Zona was just a great bonus.

courtney
courtney

Zona. Hands down. I've had friends come from China for the quesadilla.

Chuck
Chuck

Zona Fresca by FAR! You can't beat the consistency and the GREAT CUSTOMER SERVICE! The staff at Zona Fresca is the best! I love those guys and I love the entire Zona Fresca experience... I made the 500 lunch club already. It will be a 1000 within the next 2 years!

Can't Get Enough Zona Fresca!

See you at Zona Fresca on Saturday 1pm Lunch

Gunther
Gunther

Reed, your analysis failed to account for the crucial eat-yourself-into-a-coma factor, which is the single place where Chipotle trounces Zona Fresca.

Reed Fischer
Reed Fischer

Gunther, that is a very good point. I think they put something in the sour cream that momentarily makes your stomach feel like it's as big as a hockey bag.

Jordan
Jordan

No comparison. Zona till i die word to your mother home boi!!!!!

ErinHilburn
ErinHilburn

Zona Fresca by a long shot. I will ALWAYS support the local guys over the big chains.Besides, most of Chipotle's meat is so spicy it's practically inedible. It overpowers the dish. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for some heat. Meat should be well seasoned, but shouldn't leave your mouth SCREAMING, either.

Ashley
Ashley

This is not even a question. Zona Fresca...no doubt. I won't even look at Chipotle as I pass by.

Jimmy
Jimmy

Zona Fresca uses chicken breast. Chipotle uses other parts of the chicken. Zona Fresca all the way!

Crazed Zona Fanatic
Crazed Zona Fanatic

I'm going to chain myself to the doors of Chipotle so when they try to open they can't.

Gunther
Gunther

Are you sure about that? To a Chipotle diner with low blood-sugar, your chained arms will look like a couple of burritos.

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