Justin Duke

The Chipotle standard

Chipotle, for me, is the platonic ideal of a meal.

I mean that literally: it is the meal to which I compare all other meals. It’s by no means perfect in any specific dimension, but it’s very good in most of them:

  • cost
  • time investment
  • nutrition 1
  • taste
  • variety (I have never been saturated on Mexican food)
  • ambience 2

Chipotle will never be my favorite meal, but it’s never disappointed me and never led to regret.

So whenever I go out to a new place to eat, I mentally compare it to Chipotle.

Volterra in Fremont? Sure, the wild boar was good and it’s nice to sit outside, but it cost the equivalent of five burrito bowls and took an hour.

Bamboo, the pho place in Cap Hill? It was the same cost but the place is kinda boring and I don’t think I could eat pho more than once a week, plus pho doesn’t travel well.

Grilling a couple burgers? It’s strictly cheaper, but the additional time offsets the cost and doesn’t taste as good.

And so on.

This is not to say that I eat Chipotle for dinner every day, but it’s the default. Expending mental energy to pick a spot to eat is not my jam, and so I’ll just default to the easiest option.

This is a thing I do with everything, not just Chipotle. I’ll usually buy my tees from American Apparel, because despite them being a garbage company their cotton is good and their Medium fits me perfectly; I’ll always grab coffee from Cafe Ladro, where the coffee and ambience aren’t perfect but it’s good enough, and I can always find an outlet. Unless there’s a clear reason otherwise, I’ll start all new projects in Python because it might not be the perfect tool for the job but it’s a good enough tool for the job, and my comfort with it will make up for the difference. All of my pens are 0.38mm; all my frames are IKEA; all my music is Hype Machine or Pitchfork approved.

As I grow older, I get more of these standards. More and more things are good enough to the point where it’s less and less worth it to expand my horizons.

Everyone does this, right? Everyone has their favorite coffeeshop and their favorite Chinese takeout spot and their favorite album to listen to while running. It’s just a question of how mechanical you want to consider it.

I don’t really consider any of these things brand loyalty: it’s just that I’m a multi-armed bandit who’s more on the ‘explore’ side of the spectrum than the ‘exploit’ side.

The worry, of course, is that these little heuristics lead to local maxima. Many a bland startup poster has quipped that perfect is the enemy of good, but there’s probably still merit in finding the best burrito in Seattle. It’s just harder and harder for me to justify the effort in doing so.

Some things are worth searching for — the new favorite book, the new favorite park, the new favorite album. It’s important to me to expend a lot of energy reading and listening to new things, being in new forests, seeing new things.

But for everything else, I’ll find things that are good enough. Most of the stuff in my life doesn’t have to be the best — it just has to be good enough, and that helps me focus on what matters.


  1. I get a bowl with a half scoop of brown rice, double fajitas and chicken, with sour cream, mild and hot salsa, and extra lettuce. ~700 calories, 35g fat, 35g carbs, 65g protein. (Let’s not talk about sodium.) [return]
  2. Which is to say, I prefer the ambience of eating at home to eating out at most places because I’m a recluse. [return]
Liked this post? You should subscribe to my newsletter and follow me on Twitter.
© 2017 Justin Duke • All rights reserved • I hope you have a nice day.