Restaurant Review: Habanero’s

Finally. As a replacement for what used to be El Sol, the HUB’s newest restaurant, Habanero’s, opened this week. The recent unveiling of the counter, which was masked mysteriously by a black tarp before its opening day, attracted curious new customers and eager students. By noon on Monday, the line wrapped around itself three times, almost creating a block for the major path that runs through the HUB.

Compared to El Sol, the setup of Habanero’s is livelier and much more enticing. As a biting contrast to El Sol’s dull colors and meek selection of dry, unappealing foods, Habanero’s is complete with a step-by-step instruction board, displayed across five flat screen televisions. The bold color scheme of yellow, orange and red was also exciting and appealing to the eye. One television screen is solely dedicated to further advertising Habanero’s, images of fresh vegetables bouncing up and down in slow motion from a fiery pan is played repeatedly—humorously reminiscent of an Applebee’s commercial.

The process of ordering food is also a lot different than El Sol. Habanero’s has made it very simple. Once in line, customers pick and choose their own ingredients as they continue their way towards the cash register. All of the food items are enticing, either fresh vegetables or meat steaming in their dishes. It is clear that Habanero’s was designed to emulate Chipotle.

But the ultimate question is, despite the appearances, how does this new HUB restaurant compare to the very successful, off-campus, all-time-favorite chain restaurant Chipotle?
Just like Chipotle, customers have the option of choosing from four options of a burrito, a bowl, a salad or tacos before they choose their meats and additional toppings. The staff at Habanero’s is efficient and attentive, and the line moves fairly quickly. The customers then choose a base from one of two options: cilantro lime rice or Spanish rice. In comparison, Chipotle offers a choice between cilantro lime rice and brown rice, which is a better choice fit for the health-conscious. I opted for the Spanish rice, and regrettably discovered it to be bland and papery.

After the type of rice is chosen, customers choose between black beans or refried beans, which both looked a little unappetizing and mushy in comparison to Chipotle’s shiny and tasty-looking concoction of black or brown beans. Next is the choice of  mild, medium or hot salsa, followed by the option to add lettuce, sour cream, cheese, or corn. Thankfully, if a customer wants a vegetarian alternative, vegetables are cooked fresh. Customers are also given the option for soy or halal chicken.

There is no doubt that the food at Chipotle is generally higher quality and more delicious. The tortilla from my burrito was hard and flaky instead of warm and chewy. I felt the steak was low in quality and less seasoned than the steak at Chipotle. The corn was very strange; instead of being fresh, sweet and buttery it was cold and vinegary, adding an unpleasant sour taste in addition to an already very sour salsa.

So how does the price match up? For food that is lower quality and less seasoned than Chipotle, Habanero’s is actually more expensive! The most expensive meal option on Chipotle’s menu is $6.35 and at Habanero’s it is $6.79.  However, Habanero’s is undeniably more accessible because it is right on campus; instead of taking a round trip total of 30 to 40 minutes to get a burrito, Habanero’s only requires five minutes. Just don’t count on it being the new favorite.

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