Chipotle is kind of the gold standard of Mexican fast food (I mean, unless we’re talking Taco Bell). You can find it pretty much anywhere, the prices are pretty good and there is no doubt that it’s fast. But it is not alone…all over there are copycats and similar joints that may or may not have existed before the rise of Chipotle. Ocho Mexican Grill in downtown LA is one of those copycats…sort of. A combination of my buddy Joel and a 50% Scoutmob discount convinced me to visit this downtown twist on Mexican fast food fare and I entered with high expectations.
I quickly found Ocho to be a twisted version of Chipotle. It offered burritos, bowls, salads and tacos, then just like Chipotle, there were troughs of ingredients to pick and choose from. I learned that the “Ocho” stood for the 8 different “meat” choices and I use meat in quotes because one of those choices is vegetarian. This was definitely more options than Chipotle, with the exotic options of mahi mahi and tiger prawns making things a bit exciting.
I opted for the grilled steak and then moved on to where Ocho truly upped the ante – toppings, salsas and sauces. Sure, I went with classics like their organic brown rice and organic pinto beans, but got a little crazy with their hica-mango (a mix of chopped jicama and mango. They had intriguing yellow and fiery habanero salsas, but I decided to play it safe with red hot, which was one spice level below the habanero. Finally, Ocho made it just a little more interesting with sauces like southwest, agave vinaigrette and buttermilk ranchero. There was only one sauce that I had my eyes on, though…three cheese. Oh and let’s not forget the regular shredded cheese on top of that. Then, while I usually shun away from chips at Chipotle, I put my 50% off to good use and picked up some chips and guac.
Once it was all rolled up, my burrito looked a bit stubby and while I lamented the larger size of Chipotles, I also considered the resulting food comas and thought this might just be the perfect size. I tore away the foil and went to town. Town was delicious, by the way. They had clearly stuck to the safe side as far as the Chipotle elements, as the combination of steak, rice, beans and hot red salsa were right on par. But where these parts lacked in originality, the hica-mango and three cheese sauce took the burrito to a shiny new level. And while I hate to say it, the cheese sauce was even better than Qdoba. The chips and guac were quite tasty, but indistinguishable from Chipotle in the same vein as the steak.
It’s hard to review a place like Ocho, because while it is awesome and brings a few new things to the table, it seriously lacks in originality. I hated to mention Chipotle so much in this review, but it was too hard not to. Cafe Rio took the Chipotle concept and completely blew it away with unique offerings, but Ocho seemed content to maintain much of the status quo. It’s executed well, and the new choices make for a great meal, but in the end it is just a damn good copycat.