After living in Champaign-Urbana for a few years, it soon becomes apparent how many restaurants around town offer burritos. Steak, chorizo, pork, tofu, and chicken barely touch the options in the area. With so much variety, how does one know where to start when the next time a hankering strikes for burritos? To resolve this crisis, I took it upon myself to compare burritos across both Champaign and Urbana. For ease of comparison, I ordered a chicken burrito everywhere I went.
To begin with, I ventured over to Cactus Grill on Neil Street near Kirby avenue. For those unfamiliar, Cactus Grill is essentially a local version of Chipotle. Thankfully, Cactus Grill tends to have shorter lines than the very popular Chipotle near campus, although I’m sure the limited parking and smaller storefront contribute to the small lines and waits at Cactus Grill. At Cactus Grill, I chose the honey grilled chicken burrito ($5.80 for daily special M/Sat; $7.30 otherwise), although the chipotle chicken is similarly delicious thanks to the spicy kick. Biting into the very stuffed and round burrito, I immediately tasted the sweet, tender chicken. This paired very well with my choice of Cactus Grill’s spicy green sauce and signature chipotle sauce. However, ordering a burrito with everything makes for a dangerously full burrito, so a fork is recommended. Overall, the Cactus Grill burrito is a great value when it’s the special and meets expectations at other times.
For my next stop, I visited Maize, a local favorite. Since the new location in Downtown Champaign opened, I haven’t visited the original location, so I wandered over to Campustown for old time’s sake. Although Maize was packed as usual, I still found a seat after the staff quickly took my order. In no time at all, my chicken burrito ($7) arrived, accompanied by complimentary chips, salsa, lime, and a tall glass of water. Unlike the burrito from Cactus Grill, my Maize burrito contained only chicken, lettuce, sour cream, cheese and refried beans. Although none of the mentioned ingredients had much flavor, the salsa and sliced lime certainly do. More than anything, I appreciated the lack of rice and beans, as it allowed more space for meat and cheese. This made the Maize burrito quite filling, yet without any filler ingredients. I also thought the slightly grilled burrito tortilla was a nice touch, as it added crispness to the tortilla. Serving the burrito sliced in half greatly cut down on spillage that’s the norm for burritos as well.
A small food truck located next to the McDonalds on Cunningham Avenue in Urbana, Taco Motorizado is likely not on many people's food radars. After paying for a Chicken Burrito ($7) in cash (Bitcoin payments coming soon), I only waited five minutes for my foil wrapped burrito to arrive in a white paper bag. Although I received complimentary green and red hot sauce, I first took a few bites of my burrito to establish a baseline. Loaded with gooey cheese, smooth refried beans and plenty of chicken, this burrito certainly proved much heavier than those at other locations I visited, as Taco Motorizado used lettuce, onions, and tomatoes sparingly. Thankfully, the spiced chicken was well-seasoned. However, it’s the sauces that really turn up the heat at Taco Motorizado. The green hot sauce has a gentle heat, but the dark red sauce hides an evil, smoky secret of incredible heat. Use at your own risk! A little red goes a long way. As an extra warning, this burrito was juicy to the extreme, so have extra napkins at the ready for any filling that sneaks out the back of the burrito.
At Caribbean Grill, jerk chicken burritos ($8.99) are a limited item served only on Tuesdays. Nonetheless, I assure you that Caribbean Grill burritos are worth the extra effort and price. Although they are $2 more expensive than any other burrito I reviewed in this piece, the jerk chicken burritos do come with a side of your choice. I won’t dive into specifics since I’m focusing on burritos, but the baked mac and cheese is an easy recommendation for any cheese lover out there. Going back to the burrito, Caribbean Grill’s is easily the most flavorful of those I tasted. The chicken is melt-in-your-mouth tender and easily the best part of the meal. Although I’d expect the jerk chicken to be heavily seasoned, the rice and black bean base of the burrito did their share of the flavor-load, too. For those brave enough to try it, jerk sauce is served on the side. Keep in mind a little of this hot sauce goes a long way, although not quite as far as red sauce from Taco Motorizado, so don’t be afraid to try a small amount. If keeping your hands clean matters to you, Caribbean Grill does a wonderful job packing and wrapping their burritos. The worst mess I had was my fault, as I did not have a solid plan for adding sauce to the burrito without dripping some on my hands. My only disappoint with this burrito stemmed from the tortilla, as it was a bit doughy. I wish it was grilled like the Maize burrito.
At the end of my burrito bonanza, it’s tricky to pick out a winner. Cactus Grill offered the cheapest option with the least wait for my burrito, although Caribbean Grill nearly matched them in speed the day I ordered. Maize had a very satisfying burrito tortilla with refried beans in place of rice, but Taco Motorizado had the hotter salsas. Ignoring price, I place Caribbean Grill on top, although I know the $9 price tag and hotter base burrito heat even without added jerk sauce will turn others off. Which burritos around town would you recommend others try?
Photos by Matthew Macomber