BEST MEXICAN TAKEOUT - 2004
We like Chipotle, really we do. For a suddenly ubiquitous chain, they provide decent food at a good value. There's an undeniable allure to moving cafeteria-style through a line while you pick out items for a custom-made burrito ultimately rolled as fat as the top of a baseball bat. But that's why we love Piñeda, a pair of Lake Street joints that beat the chain at their own game. First of all, there's a huge array of meat options, a half-dozen variations on pork alone (you want it on green sauce, with potatoes, roasted, barbecued, with the skin on, on chipotle sauce, or as Mexican sausages?), plus items like liver, beef tongue, and chicken in tomato sauce. Second, the food is an even better value. Our favorite is the burrito gordo, a 12-inch flour tortilla stuffed with the meat of our choice, rice, beans, cheese, sour cream, crescents of avocado, lettuce, and tomato, plus all the onions, cilantro, hot green chilis, and red and green sauce we want to add at the condiment stand, for $6.50, tax included. Veggie burritos are $4.50, tostadas $2, and the eponymous tacos $1.75. Third, there's no gringo leavening, meaning that it helps to have a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish as you move through the line (although the cashier usually is fluent in English), and if you order your meat on chipotle sauce, prepare for some fairly serious heat. Of the two Piñedas, the 2150 E. Lake St. address has a slightly wider menu and accommodates sit-down dining, while the one further west is ideal for hit-and-run takeout. Cash only.