Chef Tyson Cole of Austin's Uchi & Uchiko makes a good point naming Chipotle as one of the most important restaurants in the country in Bon Appétit. "Why? Their utilization of sustainably sourced goods, food made fresh daily, and, with thousands of locations, their overall reach," he's quoted as saying.
Though some may quibble with the authenticity of their pan-Latin menu, Chipotle has a loyal following and is crowded whenever I visit. "Serious" food lovers may never give the fast-casual chain a chance, but I have; when ordering food for groups downtown, their online ordering system is a snap, and the food has a "something-for-everyone" vibe that makes it reliable if not overly exciting.
This month in the Bay Area, Chipotle is testing a sofritas Hodo Soy tofu-based menu of burritos, tacos, burrito bowls and salads that is vegetarian- and vegan-friendly. We gave it a try to see how it stacked up.
Sofritas is the spice blend used to season the shredded tofu, and the dishes are braised with chipotle chilies, roasted poblano peppers, and a blend of aromatic spices. In Spanish cuisine, sofrito is created via a sauté of garlic, onion, peppers and tomatoes. The sofritas tofu is made in Oakland and is free of any GMOs.
"The culinary inspiration for Sofritas came from the want to satisfy our vegetarian and vegan customers, as well as introduce our meat eating customers to new options," says Chris Arnold, Chipotle's director of communications. "We chose the San Francisco Bay Area for the test because there are a lot of vegetarian and vegan customers in the area, as well as people who are just looking for something healthy to eat. Depending on the results we see in our test restaurants, we may look to expand to other markets in the coming months."
My sofritas burrito left me pleasantly full minus the requisite bloat that comes from heftier and meatier burritos in the Mission, my home neighborhood. Pitting the sofritas burrito against the Papalote soyrizo burrito -- a favorite for many vegetarians -- may be interesting if Chipotle keeps the sofritas on the menu. My burrito looked and tasted like a scrambled breakfast burrito that happens to sop up hot sauce well. A side of guac is recommended for added richness and flavor. I interviewed Minh Tsai, founder of Hodo Soy Beanery, about the Chipotle sofritas news. His comments have been edited for clarity and length.
SFoodie: How does it feel to have your product going to a bigger scale?
Tsai: We have been surprising folks in the Bay Area area with our delicious tofu for many years, and are thrilled with the opportunity to work with Chipotle to introduce the tofu sofritas to a larger public who cares about food with integrity and great taste.
SFoodie: Why should consumers care for higher-quality soy that is GMO-free?
Tsai: Organic non-GMO soy beans allows us to maintain the diversity of this great legume. Hodo's delicious and high protein tofu comes from using organic non-GMO soy beans, produced in an artisanal method that keeps our tofu a whole food that is rich and pure.
SFoodie: What is your favorite way to have the sofritas?
Tsai: When I want it extra spicy, I like it on a taco. Otherwise, it tastes perfect on a burrito.
SFoodie: Had you tried experimenting with a sofritas-style product before?
Tsai: Yes, we worked with Chipotle's chefs on many flavors and textures, including similar recipes. In the end, the sofritas works best at capturing the flavor profile that Chipotle is known for. The fact that sofritas is vegetarian, vegan and healthy is great. Ultimately, I believe sofritas will appeal to all eaters who care foremost about tasty food.