I tried the keto bowls from both Chipotle and Qdoba, and they left me majorly disappointed

Irene Jiang / Business InsiderThe keto bowls aren’t anything special.
  • The keto diet is all the rage these days, but it can be hard to find keto-friendly meals when eating out.
  • Chipotle and Qdoba both released keto-friendly versions of their signature bowls this year to chase that burgeoning taste.
  • I tried both, and while Chipotle’s keto bowl was better than Qdoba’s, I felt like I was misled by both chains.
  • While both bowls might technically be keto-friendly, they were just simplified versions of existing menu items rather than specially-crafted keto dishes.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Keto is all the rage these days.

The keto diet, which basically replaces carb intake with fat intake, supposedly sends the body into a fat-burning state of ketosis. While keto’s nutritional limitations may not be right for everyone, it certainly is popular, especially among celebrities looking to stay trim.

So it makes sense that many fast-casual chains have come out with keto-friendly meals. Blaze Pizza’s keto crust is impressively close to the real thing, and Chipotle released a keto salad bowl in January, followed by Qdoba in August.

I don’t follow the keto diet, but I’m definitely keto-curious. I’d probably never go full-on keto, but I’m fascinated by the carb alternatives this diet has spawned.


Read more:
I tried Chipotle’s secret menu to see what’s worth ordering – and what you should skip

So what’s a bowl without any non-keto items like? Since Qdoba and Chipotle both have very similar-sounding keto bowls – lettuce, meat, salsa, cheese, and guac – I decided to give them both a spin.

I didn’t realise I was setting myself up for one of the biggest disappointments in my fast-food-eating career.


First, I went to the Qdoba in Hoboken, New Jersey and ordered its Smoked Brisket Keto Bowl.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I watched in horror as my burrito bowl artist unenthusiastically slapped a pile of brisket into a bowl, followed by lacklustre lettuce, pico de gallo, shredded cheese, and a spoonful of guac.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

It felt like false advertising to call this a “keto bowl”. Sure, it may technically be keto-friendly, but it’s just a burrito bowl without the beans or rice — the best parts of a burrito bowl.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I’d expected it to be like Blaze’s keto pizza crust, which was specially crafted to imitate the real thing while being keto-friendly.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

But what I got instead was a sad, salty Tex-Mex salad. The ingredients were fine individually, but it was like no thought had been put into making it taste like a cohesive dish.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

It was overloaded with briny brisket. The brisket’s salt level was obviously designed to go with carbs of some sort, but whoever “designed” this keto bowl didn’t think about that.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The brisket-to-other-ingredients ratio in the salad was way off. And a keto diet, contrary to popular belief, actually isn’t a high-protein diet. So this is a technicality that Qdoba definitely got way wrong.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Source:

What a day of healthy eating looks like on the keto diet, according to nutritionists


As I neared the end of my bowl, I started to feel uncomfortably full and insatiably thirsty.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I found myself digging through the beef for whatever bits of veggie I could salvage.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I hate wasting food, but in the end, I couldn’t finish the soggy layer of sodium-drenched brisket.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider


Read more:
Plant-based ‘meat’ is conquering fast food. Here’s where you can get meat substitutes like the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Taco.


I left Qdoba feeling like a victim of marketing. This was the food equivalent of clickbait. I felt like I’d have been better off designing my own keto bowl.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Next, I went to a Chipotle near BI’s Manhattan office and ordered the Keto Salad Bowl.

ReutersThe logo of Chipotle Mexican Grill is seen at the Chipotle Next Kitchen in Manhattan

Chipotle’s keto bowl looked pretty similar to Qdoba’s, except that instead of smoked brisket, it had carnitas (pulled pork). Instead of pico de gallo, it had plain old red salsa.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Everything in this bowl was slightly higher-quality than its Qdoba counterpart. The lettuce was slightly greener, the guacamole more substantial, and the salsa fresher.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Plus, the choice of carnitas as a meat base was a smart one. Chipotle’s carnitas was much lighter and slightly less salty than Qdoba’s smoked brisket, so I felt less horrible as I was eating it.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider


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The bowl also generally tasted pretty good. The carnitas was soft and savoury if a bit too salty. There was plenty of lettuce, and the guac was much more flavorful than Qdoba’s guac.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I was perturbed to discover that half my guac was, in fact, a strangely impenetrable avocado slab. It was inedible.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

However, compared to Qdoba’s sodium nuke, Chipotle’s keto bowl was mostly edible.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that what I was eating was basically a glorified salad.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I definitely could have put this together myself. Much like Qdoba’s bowl, Chipotle’s keto bowl felt like a label that someone slapped on a haphazard combination of ingredients.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

After all, I could have just ordered a carnitas salad bowl with a scoop of guacamole. What was the point of making it a separate menu item?

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Rage aside, I did end up mostly finishing Chipotle’s keto bowl. It was still pretty good.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

All this disappointment left me mad at both Qdoba and Chipotle. Their keto bowls tasted more like marketing gimmicks than specially-designed keto dishes, just renamed dishes you could already order at each restaurant. It was like they were trying to jump on the keto bandwagon without putting in the work.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

What Chipotle, Qdoba, and other build-your-own chains should do instead simply mark the keto-friendly ingredients on their menus. That way, keto dieters can have their Tex-Mex with managed expectations.

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

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