Like thousands of others in Charlotte, I am going to badly miss Phat Burrito.
Patronized by skateboarders, football coaches, businessmen and hippies, “Phat” has seen its parking –and thus much of its customer base – eaten up by development. The beloved, funky South End restaurant on Camden Road closes forever on Saturday.
Phat Burrito has been one of my all-time Charlotte favorites ever since it opened in 1998. I am firmly in the triple digits in terms of number of burritos eaten there.
The food was fantastic, of course – the best burrito I have ever had, and it’s not close. But so was the vibe. And the smells: Just walking inside that dark blue door made you salivate.
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A trip to Phat Burrito stuck with you the rest of the day. I would come home at night from work, six hours after engulfing another burrito, and my wife would get near me and shake her head. She could smell the place on my clothes.
“Phat Burrito – again?” she’d say.
I would nod sheepishly.
The name was perfect. The burritos were (and are, until Saturday at 3 p.m.) when the doors close for good) behemoths. It was hard to text and eat simultaneously -- you needed two hands to hold the burrito. That fact in turn led to one of the lost arts of lunch -- actual conversation.
My favorite was the barbecue chicken with guacamole, black beans, rice and salsa, but the combinations were many. You knew what you were getting into at Phat. You didn’t make the pilgrimage and walk under the “Eat Here” sign so you could order a salad. You came in hungry and you walked out patting your stomach, loosening your belt a notch and murmuring: “That was totally worth it.”
I cheated on Phat occasionally. I’ll admit that. Qdoba, Chipotle -- they are convenient temptresses. But I never felt great about it.
And then when I cam back to Phat, all was forgiven. The booths in Phat Burrito all felt like you were sliding into the backseat of a 1980 burgundy Chevy Caprice – cracked and duct-taped and with a black bean or two shoved in there somewhere.
Sometimes the cash register acted up. They didn’t like credit cards much, although nobody was mean about it. The bathrooms were half the size of a phone booth. Owner Stephen Justice – laidback, efficient, quick-witted – was just about always around.
You might see anybody there, especially if they worked uptown in Charlotte. Police officers. Lawyers. bankers. Tattoo artists. Panthers coach Ron Rivera was a fan.
I just hate that we are losing the place, and for such a ridiculous reason. Parking? I mean, c’mon.
RIP, Phat. We love you.