Authentic or not, America is wildly passionate about its Mexican food.
Tex-Mex restaurants have exploded in the past decade or so, thanks in part to impressive success of Chipotle, the ubiquitous burrito chain that has more or less positioned itself as the standard-bearer of the fast-casual industry.
The Denver-based chain, having reached over 630 locations in 2014, began in 1995 just two years after and four miles north of Chipotle’s first restaurant in Colorado’s capital.
So, the debate has raged on for nearly two decades: which Denver burrito giant does it best?
With a grand plan for Qdoba in the works, I took it upon myself to investigate, comparing each chain’s three classic meal choices: the taco, burrito bowl, and the beloved burrito.
So who will make it in this Mexican heavyweight match? Whose taco triumphs, whose bowl bests, and whose burrito brings home the gold? Keep scrolling to see.
The contenders meet: Qdoba and Chipotle, equal orders of chicken burritos, tacos, and burrito bowls, and guac to try. Chipotle is still pushing a litany of literary sources on their bags, while Qdoba displays more peculiar artwork.
First up: burritos, with Qdoba on the left and Chipotle on the right. We all know and love the humble, delicious burrito, and unlike the last Business Insider Chipotle showdown, the sizes here are very similar -- no early edge.
Qdoba's offering is tightly packed, holding together despite being halved. There's a large amount of rice, and it could use more chicken. Upon tasting, Qdoba's advantage is clear: queso. Qdoba offers numerous types of quesos ranging from mild to very spicy, which adds a dense richness to the burrito. It's incredibly filling, and still tastes fresh. And at $7.80 with free guac (a complete game changer), it's a great value.
The classic Chipotle burrito, is, as always, overstuffed. You get a lot of meat, guac, and salsas, but at a dangerous cost: lots of spillage. It's a rewarding yet unstable burrito which has decidedly lighter flavours. This chicken burrito cost $8.27, plus the much-maligned $2.30 for guac. While equal in quality, the point goes to Qdoba, if only for the huge price difference. How can you beat free guac?
Now to tacos -- easily the hardest to judge, as to-go tacos never stand up well to the test of time, even just a 20 minute trip. Soft tacos would fare worse, so I went with crispy shells. The portions are comparable, but Qdoba comes off looking a little messy.
And while all tacos are messy, these look like a real challenge to eat with any sense of decorum. And there's a lot of lettuce in these -- not a huge amount, but more than there should be. More protein, please, not lettuce! But, at $7.80 for three, it's not a bad buy.
The tacos from Chipotle have the right amount of ingredients: plenty of chicken, just enough lettuce, and a boatload of guacamole. And surprisingly, the shells held up much better than Qdoba's. At $8.27 plus $2.30 for guac, they're much more expensive, but it's a better taco experience. It's a close call, but Chipotle takes this round.
Next round: burrito bowls. I can tell this is going to be close because they both look absolutely delicious. But, Qdoba's cheaper price and free add-ons like guacamole and queso are turning out to be huge advantages. Why can't Chipotle just offer queso, is it that hard?
Qdoba's burrito bowl comes with an easily resealable plastic top -- much easier than Chipotle's flimsy foil covers. Its price is fixed at $7.80. The colourful salsas are fresh, and the fajita peppers are large. Every bite has everything in it, with no need to mix. Qdoba's rice is simple, with no special flavoring. Chipotle's rice is more satisfying, but plain rice isn't a bad thing.
Chipotle's bowl is good -- but in the face of Qdoba's, there are a few grievances. Mixing is necessary to combine all the ingredients, with sour cream and tomatoes towards one end, guac towards the other. Green is the dominant colour here, and you need to cough up some extra green for that guacamole. As the cheaper, tastier option, the bowl round goes to Qdoba.
Last but certainly not least, the guacamole. The smallest detail, but by far the biggest part of any meal, guacamole can make or break a chain. Chipotle's is a smooth, mellow, buttery dip with an emphasis on cilantro. It's an all-around good guacamole. But...
... Qdoba's is decidedly different. With more onion and lime juice, their iteration of the delicious avocado dip is bolder in flavour, with a slight tangy bite to it that Chipotle's doesn't have. They're both good guacs, but ... Qdoba takes the guacamole gauntlet. Not to mention, it's cheaper: $3.49 versus Chipotle's $3.68. Besides, you can get chips and queso dip for $4 at Qdoba - clearly a big edge.
So who takes the Tex-Mex tournament? It's a very close race -- both chains are vastly similar in offerings and quality of ingredients -- but to me, Qdoba's lower prices, free guacamole and queso add-ons, and the availability of queso in general puts them ahead. I wasn't expecting it, but Qdoba takes it all, with Chipotle not far behind.
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