- 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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As I neared the end of my bowl, I started to feel uncomfortably full and insatiably thirsty.
I found myself digging through the beef for whatever bits of veggie I could salvage.
I hate wasting food, but in the end, I couldn’t finish the soggy layer of sodium-drenched brisket.
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.
Next, I went to a Chipotle near BI’s Manhattan office and ordered the Keto Salad Bowl.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was perturbed to discover that half my guac was, in fact, a strangely impenetrable avocado slab. It was inedible.
However, compared to Qdoba’s sodium nuke, Chipotle’s keto bowl was mostly edible.
Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that what I was eating was basically a glorified salad.
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.
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?
Rage aside, I did end up mostly finishing Chipotle’s keto bowl. It was still pretty good.
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.
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.
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