Editorial Review

Boloco in Bethesda
By Nevin Martell
Wednesday, October 10, 2012

There’s a simple genius to Boloco, which opened its first area location in Bethesda in mid-July. The self-proclaimed “globally inspired burrito” joint realized that you can wrap up a multicultural array of culinary traditions in a tortilla.

That said, this Boston-based fast-casual chain (its name is short for Boston Local Company) does the briskest business with its Classic Mexican. This unremarkable take on the standard sticks to the formula: beans, cheese, salsa, rice and your choice of protein (all burritos: five-inch mini, $4.01; 61 / 4-inch small, $5.66; 71 / 4-inch original, $6.55; two mix ’n’ match minis, $6.55). But if you’re more adventurous when ordering, you’ll be rewarded.

Burritos here are completely customizable and come in either a flour or whole-wheat tortilla made by Maria & Ricardo’s Tortilla Factory in Boston. You can get your meal as a bowl made with your choice of white rice, brown rice or salad ($4.01 to $6.55). Boloco takes the design-your-own aspect to the next level with its interactive ordering system. Diners can opt to order at a touch-screen kiosk, or they can step up to one of the cheerful attendants instead.

There are several signature standouts to try. They all arrive as tinfoil torpedoes with twisted ends, making them easy to spirit away. The Buffalo uses a spicy sauce with a vinegary tang and creamy blue cheese. I tried mine with tender white-meat chicken (75 cents to $1.27 extra). You can choose these add-ons with no upcharge, though: dark-meat chicken, well-seasoned steak, organic tofu, slow-cooked pork carnitas or sauteed peppers and onions. The Mediterranean is fresh and light, with cucumber crescents, crumbles of feta, olive rounds and black bean hummus.

For the company, this pan-global menu is a balancing act. “We can’t be too off the grid or else we’ll lose mainstream customers who just want a burrito,” says chief executive and co-founder John Pepper, 42, of Boston. “Some people see too many eclectic options and literally run to Chipotle.”

Boloco has a secret weapon to take down the burrito behemoth, though: a selection of eight shakes and smoothies (10-ounce mini, $3.07; 16-ounce small, $3.77; 24-ounce original, $4.72). Two thumbs way up for the thick, creamy Nutella and the peanut-butter-and-banana Jimmy Carter milkshakes. Those, too, are available in the refreshingly restrained mini option that’s Boloco’s anti-supersize. “We wanted people to visit us more often without making a big financial commitment,” says Pepper. “Or such a caloric commitment.”

With those sweet sips in hand, you can skip the Nutella Snack Wrap ($3.02), a small flour tortilla filled with the chocolate-hazelnut spread. If you’re eating in or want to sit down for the few minutes it will take to prep your meal, grab a swivel stool at the brass counter in the window or settle into a red-cushioned booth.