Chain Gang: Chipotle tests vegan sofritas dishes

Posted: October 25, 2013

Company description: "A shredded tofu braised with chipotle chilies, roasted poblano peppers and a blend of aromatic spices," available in a burrito or bowl.

Chain: Chipotle.

Calories: A serving of sofritas has approximately 145 calories, 11 grams of protein and 710 mg of sodium.

Location: 4030 City Ave.

Order time: Four minutes.

Price: $6.45.

Review: The nation's vegan-friendliest chain earned kudos this week by extending its test of sofritas from western U.S. locations to Chicago and many East Coast cities, including ours. "Sofritas" sounds plural but, like "kudos," it isn't. It refers to a flavorful, somewhat spicy, cholesterol-free protein add-in that can be enjoyed in the various Chipotle formats.

To sample sofritas in the multiple-options system, we tried one with mild salsa and one with medium. In each, the organic Hodo Soy tofu played well with rice, beans and fajitas veggies, carrying the tangy, picante flavor without trying to steal the show. In fact, the tofu almost got lost among the other components in the mild-salsa version; the hotter salsa seemed to bring it out better.

As a meat alternative, shredded tofu is texturally flimsy as compared to, say, seitan, tempeh or mushrooms. So, unless you're getting very little else with it, sofritas is not that remarkable on a bite-by-bite basis.

Also, be aware that unlike with a veggie burrito, you'll pay extra for guacamole on your sofritas - but not for cheese or sour cream. Yeah, "vegan-friendliest" is a relative term.

Summary: Chipotle wanted "something that would appeal to vegetarian and vegan customers, but that was delicious enough to have crossover appeal as well." It's a winner as an animal-free option in addition to black beans and (now vegan) pinto beans, but will sofritas draw big numbers of meat-eaters? We have to believe a chewier protein would perform better with that crowd, but if Chipotle gives sofritas a chance, the kicky flavor could win many over.

Every other week, the Chain Gang reviews the latest chain restaurant offerings. Daily News "V for Veg" columnist Vance Lehmkuhl tasted for the team this week.

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