But its largest competitor is growing quickly. Moe’s Southwest Grill started in Georgia in 2000, and has grown to over 600 locations nationwide.
And it seems as though preferences are die-hard: some vow never to walk in a Moe’s, while others hold a particular disdain for the ever-present Chipotle.
Having both chains in New York City, and being quite a fan of Mexican food I decided to settle the score once and for all.
Who rolls the best burrito? Who takes the taco crown? Is there a prize-winning burrito bowl? And most importantly: which guacamole will emerge victorious in a chips and dip face-off?
Scroll down to follow the results of this delicious showdown of the fast-casual Mexican heavyweights.
I wrangled together a sampler of Moe's first - this one near Times Square is bustling around lunch time.
The interior is a fast-casual and fast-food hybrid: it's bright yellow, slightly garish, and kind of kitschy. But it's a comfortable, at-ease kind of place - and the menu itself is full of cultural references. The 'Art Vandalay' vegetarian burrito, anyone?
Chipotle interiors are always different yet somehow... completely the same. Ultra-modern, hip, and ultimately very sterile. I feel like I should be researching post-modernism in a Chipotle, never eating in one. Chipotle is like Moe's chic, mature, older brother who only watches art-house films and wears turtlenecks.
Back at the office, the two Tex-Mex heavyweights meet. The order from each: one chicken burrito, one chicken burrito bowl, one order of chicken tacos, and an order of chips and guac. Why chicken? It's usually the cheapest option.
... and I can see why. A huge portion of Chipotle's burrito is rice, which throws off the ratio of meat and beans.
Also, while overstuffing may seem like a plus in terms of value, it complicates eating. The burrito spills out pretty easily. But admittedly, the salsas and veggies tasted as fresh as ever.
Moe's burrito, in comparison, was a tad disheartening. It's much more compact, and holds a good rice-meat-beans ratio. However, it lacked the fresh and vibrant ingredients of Chipotle's. The tortilla wrap inspired little confidence looking at it, but it did hold up. Overall, the point goes to Chipotle.
Next round: burrito bowls. Chipotle's offering cost $8.27 plus the crazy $2.30 extra for guacamole, while the bowl from Moe's cost $8.09 with a $1.09 extra guac charge.
Moe's, on the left, resembles a dejected fast-food salad. Nothing inherently wrong with it, but just visually it pales in comparison to Chipotle's richly coloured veggies on the right. The presentation leaves a lot to be desired.
Upon closer inspection, I find it's not just a salad with rice; it has just about every ingredient the Chipotle bowl offers, like seasoned rice, beans, cheese, guac, and sour cream. But once again, Chipotle seems to win out on size.
Chipotle's burrito bowl is a dense affair of incredibly fresh looking salsas piled onto a bed of beans and their cilantro-lime rice. Maybe a personal preference, but I like Chipotle's rice better. However, the chicken seems to be on equal footing from both chains, with a slightly spicy seasoning. I'd have to say Chipotle's bowl comes out on top here.
On to tacos. I went with hard shell because, well, I just like hard shell tacos. Moe's has a big lead here, as they throw in chips with the order. But no salsa?
The tacos were about as good as take-out tacos can be - a little soggy, but the fillings were delicious. Another advantage of Moe's: many more topping choices. Olives? Bacon (for an extra $1.09)? Yes please.
That iceberg lettuce really throws me though. Iceberg lettuce belongs smushed between mayonnaise and cheese on a Big Mac, not on Tex-Mex. Tacos at Moe's are $3.89 a piece for chicken, and if you order three, you get a bundle discount of $2 for a total of $9.67.
Chipotle's tacos are much more messy. In classic Chipotle fashion, they're overstuffed, which is both a blessing and a curse.
Lots of guac, lots of fresh salsas, but light on meat and impossible to eat. Chipotle's prices are fixed with the protein, so the chicken tacos cost $8.27. Despite this, I give the taco title to Moe's.
Now, the smallest detail but the most important part: the guacamole and chips. Moe's offers their famed queso as well - Chipotle has none. Chips and a cup of guac at a NYC Chipotle is $3.68, while a small cup of guac and queso with chips will cost $1.09 each ($3.50 for the bowl size) at Moe's.
Chipotle's guac is smooth, not chunky, with slightly sweet onions and a very buttery taste. No outrageous flavours coming through, just mellow avocado goodness. And their chips are fried fresh in-store daily with a hint of lime - sturdy chips for a great guacamole.
Moe's guacamole is heavier on the citrus flavours, with tangy red onion and more cilantro. I prefer Chipotle's. But the queso is probably the best queso ever. It's rich and savoury, and I have no idea what's in it apart from cheese. Such a great dip needs stronger chips; Moe's tortilla chips are weak. Practically store-bought!
So who comes out on top? It all boils down to personal taste, but in my opinion Chipotle wins hands-down. The ingredients seem fresher, which to me is worth the slightly higher prices. But Chipotle definitely has no answer to Moe's queso... and that might bring me back when I'm feeling the urge.
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