Cafe Reviews

Mex Without Guilt

Arizona Burrito Company, Gateview Shopping Center, 6941 North Hayden, Scottsdale, 922-9466. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, Saturday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Remember the "Me Decade"? The 1970s were the dawning of a new age, and it wasn't the Age of Aquarius. The best sellers told us flower power was out: The smart folks were all Looking Out for Number 1, any way they could. Tennis pros learned they could get endorsements by throwing tantrums on the court and explaining to adoring fans that they were just getting in touch with their feelings. No-talent wanna-be rock stars whose music couldn't get anyone's attention figured out that biting off the heads of live chickens and wearing Addams Family makeup went a lot farther than guitar lessons. Goodness, even our president put his own political well-being ahead of his oath of office.

In the 1980s, the Me Generation glided into the Greed Generation. Self-satisfied yuppies dressed their kids in designer duds; Wall Street rewarded heartless executives for throwing millions out of work; and shortstops with a .220 batting average whose teams finished last held out for a three-year deal at two million per.

In the 1990s, the culture of narcissism has moved into new territory. Our national preoccupation with self-love currently manifests itself through an obsession with the body. Great abs. Great thighs. Great butt. Slim figure. And with perverse American genius, we've managed to transform this mania into a virtue.

How? By confusing shapeliness with well-being. Once the connection is made, idiotic calorie counting looks like a form of virtuous self-denial. Fretting over fat grams comes off as strength of character. After all, who can argue against good health?

As with all cults, this crackpot movement has a quasi-religious dimension. Even the vocabulary of eating is symbolically charged: Fettuccine Alfredo is "wicked"; chocolate cake is "sinful"; indulge at Thanksgiving and you're "bad."

Nowadays, overweight folks are not merely aesthetically unappealing; they're outright moral failures, out of step with the Divine Plan. A hundred years ago, being rich was considered a sign of God's grace. Today, it's being thin. If Jesus were wandering in the Sonoran Desert in 1997, the Devil wouldn't bother tempting Him with power or riches. He'd hold out the prospect of a medium-rare steak, fried chicken or hot-fudge sundae.

That brings us to the latest good-for-you food fad, healthful Mexican cooking. Once upon a time, a heart-healthy Mexican meal meant stubbing out your cigarette before you plowed through a cheese-draped chimichanga. Not anymore. Look at the gushing promises made by the Valley's nutritionally correct Mexican restaurants. They all but claim that a no-lard number 3 combination plate can do more for you than a trip to Lourdes.

Someone once asked Woody Allen if sex has to be messy and dirty. "Only if it's done right," he replied. Well, that's how I feel about burros, tacos and beans. Do they have to be loaded with calories and fat grams? Only if they're done right.

However, I'm in the minority. Lots of locals prefer their Mexican food without a side order of nutritional guilt. And this being America, land of opportunity, there's been no shortage of entrepreneurs rushing in, eager to feed their stricken consciences.

The Arizona Burrito Company is one such enterprise. It's a neat, tidy storefront, dedicated mostly to takeout. Nutritional-information pamphlets sit prominently on the counter. You'll discover that the Heart-Smart pork burro weighs precisely 468 grams and contains 588 calories, 98 of which are derived from its 11 fat grams. (That's 17 percent of the burro's total calories--Arizona Burrito Company helpfully does the math for you.) Four of the fat grams are saturated fat. There are exactly 61 milligrams of cholesterol and 960 milligrams of salt. You'll digest 82 grams of carbohydrates, 38 grams of protein and 11 grams of dietary fiber. And you'll receive 10 percent of your daily recommended dose of vitamin A, 44 percent of vitamin C, 11 percent of calcium and 35 percent of iron.

It makes your mouth water just thinking about it.
As you might expect, your conscience will probably leave here happier than your taste buds. But there are several decent efforts. The Diamondback Cajun Shrimp burrito doesn't merit a Heart-Smart designation, which may explain its appeal. It's got lots of shrimp and real bite, which helps overcome the bland, fat-free sour cream and no-lard beans. The smoky Cowboy Barbecue with grilled chicken also has some zip. The hefty Grand Canyon burrito, a chicken-steak combo, is the most caloric item here. It greatly benefits from red onions and olives. And the Pork Fajita burrito comes stuffed with peppers and plenty of tender meat.