Burrito Wars

Food Reviews

I picked up a burrito at Chipotle the other day, which is a change for me because I am a firm believer that Qdoba makes the better burrito.  My burrito at Chipolte was a lot smaller than what Qdoba usually gives me, but the taste seemed to be almost equal if not better.  I then  wondered if the reason I preferred Qdoba all this time was simply because of their Queso sauce?  I decided to organize my thoughts and do a little research to determine who was creating the better burrito.

First of all, Founder Steve Ells attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY; afterward, he became a line cook for Jeremiah Tower at Stars in San Francisco. There, Ells observed the popularity of the taquerias in the Mission District. In 1993, Ells took what he learned in San Francisco and opened the first Chipotle in Denver, Colorado in a former Dolly Madison Ice Cream Store near the University of Denver campus using an $85,000 loan from his father. The name derives from the Mexican Spanish name for a smoked, dried jalapeño chili, and ultimately derives from the Nahuatl language. In 1998 McDonalds made a heavy investment in the company expanding it from 15 stores to over 500 by 2005.   McDonalds owned the majority of Chipolte until 2006 when they decided to sell all of their shares to concentrate on making even more terrible food at McDonalds locations.

Qdoba was founded by Colorado native Anthony Miller and Robert Hauser, and opened their first restaurant in 1995 in Denver.   In 2003, Jack in the Box acquired the chain from a private investment firm called ACI Capital.

Both establishments have or had the backing of successful corporations that have already made millions flipping burgers.   Qdoba and Chipotle offer relatively short menus, with their burritos taking center stage. You can watch your burrito being assembled in roughly the same order at both places: tortilla, rice, beans, meat, salsa, sour cream, and cheese. Following this Subway-style assembly line, you end up with a neatly(hopefully) wrapped burrito at both places.

The Comparisons

  1. The Menu – Both Chipotle and Qdoba offer basic burritos with chicken, beef, and steak. However, Chipotle’s beef option (barbacoa) is shredded, seared, and braised – a winner compared to Qdoba’s more boring ground sirloin. Chipotle also features carnitas, a spicy pork option. Outside of these basic burrito fillers, though, Qdoba has a much more expansive menu that includes tortilla soup, dinner nachos, quesadillas, salads, and specialty burritos (mole, pesto, etc.). If you want choices, Qdoba is much, much better.

    The Victor: Qdoba offers a more extensive menu with different sauces, which includes the famous queso sauce.  Qdoba is the winner here to due to quantity.

  2. The Tortilla – edible flour wrapper Qdoba has a thinner tortilla which is more suseptable to breaking.  This seems strange since Qdoba has based a lot of their taste around the sauce that is added.  Many times when eating at Qdoba the ingredients come right out of the tortilla and I am forced to eat it all with a fork, which just doesn’t work for me.   Chipolte’s tortilla seems to be a stronger, thicker tortilla which seals in all the ingredients.

    The Victor: Tortillas are supposed to serve as sleeping bags for their ingredients.  If you take this into account, Chipolte is offering the superior product due to structural integrity.

  3. The Rice and Beans -Both chains offer cilantro rice, pinto beans, and black beans. The rice at Chipotle tends to be fresher, with more of the actual cilantro flavor that is bragged about on both menus..  Chipotle’s pinto beans are also more flavourful, as they’ve been prepared with some bacon.

    The Victor – The black beans are pretty similar at both Qdoba and Chipotle, but Chipolte gets the nod due to freshness and a little bit better flavor.

  4. The Chicken – I order the chicken during the majority of my visits to both locations, so this is a very important ingredient for me.  I have had a few times where the chicken at Qdoba has been a little questionable.  I can’t put my finger on it, but it just didn’t taste right.  Every time I have visited Chipolte, the chicken is delicious and tastes fresh.  I should note that Chipolte has pledged to use only naturally raised meat, organic produce, and dairy without added hormones. All of Chipotle’s chicken and pork are naturally raised (i.e., open-range, antibiotic free, and with a vegetarian diet), as well as 50% of the beef.

    The VictorChipolte takes this category with ease.

  5. The Salsa – Qdoba offers five salsas: pico de gallo, chile corn, verde, roja, and habanero.  Chipotle offers four options:  pico de gallo, red tomatillo, green tomatillo, and chili corn.  Qdoba seems to offer more of a variety, and Chipolte has the hotter option.

    The Victor – There is no winner here..  Both establishments have delicious salsa.

  6. The Toppings – The sour creams are both pretty much the same.  If you want guacamole, you can rest assured that it is fresh at both places.  Both advertise that the product is made freshly on the premises each day.  Qdoba offers a wide variety of sauces which create different types of burrito including queso and BBQ sauce.  Chiplote has stayed away from the sauces, allowing their ingredients and salsas to create the flavor.

    The VictorQdoba wins easily.  That Queso sauce has to contain crack and while it’s nice to have a burrito full of fresher ingredients creating flavor, sometime it’s also nice to have a big messy saucy burrito.

While Chipolte seemed to win my contest, I think both establishments are offering good products.  Qdoba did copy Chipolte’s concepts but it’s not like burrito joints were invented by either company.