Burrito Wars: Chipotle vs. Illegal Pete's

August 6 2014, 11:15 AM

A burrito worth waiting in line for.

Denverites have endless options for burrito joints, but if lunchtime lines are any indication, we tend to pledge our allegiance to one of two places: Illegal Pete’s or Chipotle Mexican Grill. How do you decide which local spot will better satisfy your cravings? We break down all the important details.  

The Tortilla

A gut-busting burrito is not the healthiest meal choice, so we’ll take any excuse to alleviate some of that guilt. Illegal Pete’s offers a whole wheat tortilla (in addition to the standard flour option), which we pretend offsets the globs of sour cream oozing out of its seams. One point for Pete.

The Fillings

While both eateries are committed to transparency in their ingredients and sources, Chipotle takes the dedication to a whole new level. Chicken is the chain’s most popular protein, but the aromas of carnitas and barbacoa—fresh batches of which simmer for about eight hours daily—beckon for our order. Chipotle wins this battle. (Bonus: Learn how to roll a burrito from the pros at Chipotle at 5280.com/burrito.)

The Extras

Chipotle’s chips are flash-fried for less than 30 seconds, giving them a paper-thin texture and gentle crunch, but chips and guacamole can only get you so far. Illegal Pete’s lets diners up their burrito game with queso, green chile, and a smoky pepper-based pesto. (Tip: Pete's also caters to the dairy-free; if you forgo cheese and sour cream, you can add guacamole sans extra charge.) Plus, bookending your day with Pete’s breakfast burritos and an after-work stop at the bar is always a good decision. This round goes to Pete’s.

The Legacy

Both restaurants are local legends. The sticker-coated walls and thumping soundtrack of Illegal Pete’s are as likely to lure downtown 9-to-5ers as they are garage band members. Chipotle, however, helped establish Denver as an incubator for innovation in the fast-casual industry. Since then, it has expanded overseas and become a bona fide pop culture staple. We’ll give this round to Chipotle—even though they moved the Cultivate festival out of Denver this year, making room for Pete's second annual comedy festival.

So, who wins the battle? This is a debate that has no easy conclusion. When rumbling stomachs are calling, our advice is to hop into whichever line is shortest and dig in.

Bonus: In this month’s 5280, we talked to Pete Turner, founder of Illegal Pete’s. Read the interview here.

—Image courtesy of Chipotle Mexican Grill