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MOE'S VERSUS CHIPOTLE

IN THIS BURRITO RESTAURANT SHOWDOWN, A NEWBIE TO BOTH FINDS A FAVORITE.

How could this happen? Somehow I reached my second year of high school without ever having gone to Moe's Southwest Grill or Chipotle Mexican Grill. The experience of eating at either of these burrito-famous restaurants had been described to me as "life-changing" and other similar highly laudatory adjectives.

Well then, figuring consuming the fare at these establishments to be a rite of passage for the 2014-ager, I armed myself with social media recommendations of the best items at both restaurants and headed out to experience both for the first time. Bring on the authentic Americanized Mexican culinary delights.

* * *

CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL

Conversation and vaguely recognizable indie pop filled the air as I walked into the Chipotle Mexican Grill at 2576 E Fowler Ave. in Tampa. The metallic decor, complete with unnecessary chain-link additions to the top of the booths, definitely gave a strange industrial feel to the place, like I was stepping into Chipotle Mexican Factory.

As I waited in the assembly line for my burrito bowl with chicken, I witnessed the horror of overguacing.

O·ver·guac·ing, noun: The act of placing a horrendous amount of guacamole upon a dish that clearly doesn't need that much guacamole. Seriously, dude.

To set the record straight, I like guacamole. But a genuine sadness came over me as I watched my up-to-then delicious looking burrito bowl disappear under that giant spoonful of green goop.

I've heard from other people since then that guacamole overload is the norm at Chipotle, and I'm the outlier for not being a fan, but I guess I just wasn't prepared for the onslaught of green.

With my guac-attacked burrito bowl and a Peach Orange Nantucket Nectar in tow, I sat down to finally see what the Chipotle fuss was about. Navigating through the green sea to reach chicken and rice, I wasn't disappointed.

Spicy in a slightly intense but pleasant way, the burrito bowl (a menu item I had never seen before), was fairly awesome. The flavors were overpowered just a tad by the spicyness of the dish, making them just sort of blend together, but the chicken was perfect.

Although I wouldn't call the experience "life-changing," I'm definitely coming back.

* * *

MOE'S SOUTHWEST GRILL

Stepping inside Moe's Southwest Grill at 13238 N Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa was like setting foot in an entirely different continent compared with Chipotle, maybe even a different galaxy.

Where Chipotle was industrial and metallic, Moe's was ridiculously inviting. Warmly colored and wide open, Moe's immediately sent the message: This is a family restaurant. Chipotle, at least when I was there, was a haven for 20-somethings.

Boston's More Than a Feeling and other rock staples played as I waited in the Moe's line. I'm going to be completely honest here for a moment: The second Moe's played the Clash, the place won me over.

At Chipotle, I felt like just another number. At Moe's, I felt like a welcomed guest.

With multiple recommendations in my head, I ordered Moe's John Coctostan quesadilla (also, props to Moe's for having movie reference-based names for their menu items; this one is a call back to the 1985 comedy Fletch starring Chevy Chase). It was, for lack of a better description, totally rad.

Unlike Chipotle's burrito bowl, the two dominant flavors of which are chicken and heat, Moe's J.C. quesadilla boasts ingredients that were discernible with every bite. All components worked together to culminate in a quesadilla that just plain worked. My only criticism is the complete lack of spicyness, but it was a welcome change from the intensity of Chipotle's offering.

Right before I left Moe's, I walked up to the employee behind the counter and complimented his restaurant by saying that, at least for me, Moe's blew Chipotle out of the water. His response?

"Well, yeah. We know that."

My Mexican-food loving peers have always aligned themselves firmly in one camp or the other, Moe's or Chipotle. I still would enjoy a Chipotle run, but after my quest, I can say with confidence that I'm definitely on Moe's side.

Of course, if you're not one to pick sides, there's always Taco Bell.

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