For all the nice things I had to say about the Ballston location, the Chinatown location is its antithesis. It is tiny, and I’m sure would feel cramped even if the line wasn’t big enough to snake around the tables in such a confining manner. In direct contradiction to every other Chipotle I have visited, it is super dark and gives the impression of an underfunded high school science lab and a prison cafeteria using one of those freaky baby morphing programs on Facebook to see what they would spawn. The worst of it may be that all the awfulness inside, with the weird lighting and the terrible communal countertops, has come to be after a recent complete remodeling.
When we first came up with the idea to conquer all 20 D.C. Beltway Chipotles, I did a fair amount of research up front. Nearly every single website, blog, and Yelp entry I found related to Chipotle in D.C. brought up the fact that the Gallery Place location was the worst. I think I can confirm at this point that they were nothing but accurate in their heavy criticism of the cleanliness, slow progression through the ever present, incredibly long line, and overall lack of an ounce of atmosphere at all. This IS the worst Chipotle in D.C., and clearly we have done our research.
On a Wednesday night at 9:00pm with the Verizon Center as dead as Stephen Strasburg’s chances to be named “The Quorum” this year, the line was still out of control, and my burrito left a lot to be desired. If I could go back in time to that half hour spent in line, I would be sure to order a burrito bowl in anticipation of my burrito completely falling apart on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery. Picturesque as these steps are, they were also essentially the only option for our group of eight due to the complete lack of space within this establishment. Maybe the most redeeming feature about this location I had heard mentioned before was how it could serve as a quick and cheap pre-gaming option for basketball games or concerts in comparison to the neighboring bars and certainly the beers being sold inside the Verizon Center. Well that is apparently another feature that has gone the way of the dodo bird after the renovation, because there was no beer anywhere.
- Today’s menu: Barbacoa burrito, fajita vegetables, corn salsa, cheese, sour cream and lettuce.
- Accommodations: F (It is pretty worthless to try and get a seat on the inside because of how crowded it is, but if you do, you can count on sitting extremely close to a stranger at the communal tables. Twice I have been to this location and twice I have eaten my burrito somewhere random outside.)
- Service Excellence: D (It appears that because the demand is so high and the crowd constant, no one is striving to excel in speed or service since with every disgruntled regular going out the door, a total newcomer is headed in behind them.)
- Innovative decor: C (From the full wall of dragon heads to the strange peg board separator, this place is diverging from the normal Chipotle interior scheme, but that doesn’t mean it is a move in the right direction.)
Location Tip: This area has been flooded with chain restaurant openings and the various attractions lit in neon that tend to come with a dense concentration of development. There are still some great Chinese restaurants around the corner on H St., but they seem to become more of an afterthought each year. If it were up to me to spend a few hours down there while not indulging in a Jose Andres inspired meal or a trip to Rasika, I would be likely to visit the National Building Museum, if for no other reason than to see those famed interior columns. Just a few blocks from Chinatown, you can catch a screening at the Landmark E Street Cinema, currently showing the second Swedish installment of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire. Lastly, just for something completely different at the Verizon Center, in October the Washington International Horse Show is taking over for a week of hunting (?), jumping…ahem puissance, and general equestrian preening. I don’t know, it could be fun.