Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Smackdown: Chipotle vs. Qdoba

I love Mexican food.  When I can't make it myself, I have no problem hitting up casual-dining (a step above fast food), vegan-friendly establishments: usually Chipotle.  Since a Qdoba recently opened near my office I've had the opportunity to try them a few times now to compare.  So, I decided to pit them against each other in a Mexi(can)-Cas(ual) smackdown.

Chipotle soft tacos
Admit it, Chipotle is an awkward word whether you're referring to the restaurant or the pepper.  But then you kind of get to like saying it.  Kind of like salsa in the 90's.  Qdoba, on the other it Q doba, or kadoba?  Note: It's Q doba.  Also, what is the reference?  Chipotle is spice, Qdoba is...adobea with a Q thrown in?
Point Name: Chipotle

I have a special affinity for Chipotle because they are an original, with Qdoba jumping on the bandwagon not long after (with others following suit).
Point Originality: Chipotle.

Chipotle cups
Chipotle's menu is refreshingly simple, while Qdoba's is unnecessarily convoluted for pretty much the same result.  Get over yourself, Qdoba.
Point Menu: Chipotle.

Chipotle hard tacos
Maybe it's just because I'm in the Northeast, but there are far more Chipotles around than Qdobas.  Except, of course, for the Qdobas that open right across the street from Chipotles (see "Originality").
Point Availability: Chipotle.

In quantity, the available options seem more plentiful at Qdoba, but that's just because they have two identical sections going at the same time.  Regardless, the choices at Chipotle are always presented much more neatly and therefore look more appetizing.  Chipotle also always seems much better staffed, with employees working at a constant pace like a well-oiled machine.  At Qdoba it's been my experience that they are short-staffed, messy, and overwhelmed- even during slow periods.  Barring a few missteps, Chipotle's finished dishes are consistently neat.  Qdoba, on the other hand, still can't even seem to get the burrito rolling down pat.  Who wants to eat their burrito with a knife and fork?
Point Presentation: Chipotle.

Qdoba burrito, poorly folded
A few years ago I tried Qdoba for the first time and found the nasty fresh cilantro taste way too much for me to bear. It seemed to be most highly concentrated in the rice and I vowed never to return.  I believe that they have since dialed it down considerably, as I don't taste a significant difference between theirs and Chipotle's.  Unfortunately, though, Qdoba over-rices as much as Subway over-lettuces.  As if they weren't already ahead, Chipotle has recently added a brown rice option.
Point Rice: Chipotle.

Black beans have always been the only bean option suitable for vegetarians at Chipotle and I've found them consistently forthcoming with this information once you order "vegetarian".  Both black and pinto beans are vegetarian at Qdoba, but I've never tried the pinto (Team Black Beans!).  I don't notice any difference in the preparation or taste anything different between the black option at both establishments.
Point Beans: tie.

Basic Ingredients:
At Chipotle the vegetarian option comes with black beans and rice, as well as peppers and onions if you'd like.  Imagine my surprise to find that at Qdoba, the vegetarian burrito does not come with veggies of any kind.  The grilled veggie burrito, however, does come with grilled zucchini, squash, and red peppers...but no beans.  Is there some rule in Qdobaland that beans and veggies cannot co-mingle?  Whatever the reason, it's kind of chintzy, but I'll note that for $0.69 I'd recommend abandoning your principle and adding the peppers and onions.  Point Basic: Chipotle.

Chipotle soft tacos
Chipotle offers complimentary guacamole on all vegetarian entrees and it's always ridiculously fresh.  My pet peeve at Chipotle, though, is that every time you order guacamole as a topping, they scoop some up in a metal spoon, use a plastic knife to portion it onto your food, and then throw the knife away.  Every time, for each person.  At Qdoba, guacamole is only included in some vegetarian entrees.  So tacky!  Why you gotta nickel and dime the veggie customers, Qdoba?  On the bright side, they use a small ice cream scoop to serve.  However environmentally friendly, though, it's also stingy and prevents achieving an even layer of guacamole on your entree; it's all concentrated in two bites!  If fresh, Qdoba's guacamole actually tastes slightly better, but that might just be because I can't stomach Chipotle's ridiculous waste of plastic utensils.  Unfortunately, more often than not, Qdoba's guac is browning or brown; don't be too shy to request a new batch.
Point Guac: Chipotle.

Qdoba hard tacos: barely filled (I requested the new batch of guac)
I am usually a fan of Chipotle's thick, tomatillo red-chili hot salsa, but of late I've gotten a couple of batches that don't taste much spicier than tomato puree; are we upping the wuss level because customers can't take the heat?  Granted my spice tolerance seems to increase by the hour, but this is a major disappointment.  When it's good it's good; when it's bad it's bland.  However, I will say that they'll give you as much as you want- on your entree and/or on the side.  Qdoba's fiery habanero salsa seems like it could be superior in taste and heat, but even with a double serving you can barely taste it amidst the pound of rice.  And why do they make you confirm that you really want it?  It's not that hot.  I think it's just another excuse to be stingy.  Chipotle's available table-side hot sauce is Tabasco: a little old school for me.  Qdoba's hot sauce of choice is Cholula- not my favorite, but a step up from Tabasco.  Still...Point Spice: Chipotle.

Chipotle soft tacos
At Chipotle I get the same every time: fresh tomato salsa, roasted chili-corn salsa, tomatillo red-chili salsa, guacamole, and lettuce.  While Qdoba's options seem more plentiful, they're basically the same idea, only some cost extra.  The flavors at Chipotle remain superior.
Point Accoutrements: Chipotle

While I don't buy into the humane myth, I do believe that Chipotle makes a considerable effort to minimize animal suffering, utilizes significantly higher quality ingredients than Qdoba, as well as attempts to educate the  general public about 21st century farming.  Point Accountability: Chipotle.

So there you have it.


  1. "As if they weren't already ahead, Chipotle has recently added a brown rice option."


    This changes everything!
    I'm actually sort of serious. I hate wasting calories on non-nutritious white rice (I mean, really, the tortilla is worth it, the rice not so much). I just wish the Gardein meat had stayed at Chipotle. It never made it to MN. weeeeep

  2. Have you tried Block Heads yet? I know they have a few locations in the city and I would say they are comparable to Chipotle.

  3. Melissa, get on it! I actually never got the gardein option. All veggies (and beans) is fine for me!

    Anthony, Have you? I once read a horrendous review of that place and I have to admit that it scared me off.

  4. chipotle's my guilty pleasure, sadly i'm not a fan of their brown rice at all!

    i did go to blockheads once years ago but it was sooo salty (not sure if it was the guacamole that was salty or everything combined) but i had no interest in going back after that

  5. Abby,

    I still vote Taco Bell. (only on vacation, of course...) And I'm sadden that you don't wanna do something fun with me.

  6. Just catching up with old posts but how could u miss the #1 reason chipotle is awesome???! The 23 rd st location off 7th ave has had boca burger as a meatless option! Its the first location to test selling- and therefore chipotle kicks every other mexican joints butt.

  7. Ty- I had no idea! I'd only ever heard of the Gardein testing. Great tip!

  8. Hello fello Chipotle enthousiasts, I read this blog and it made my day. My friend and I just made a twitter account against Qdoba. It is called @qNOba give us a follow if you would like your day to be sprinkled with jolly tweets bashing Qdoba! Thanks guys!

  9. Hard to give your side by side a serious look when you obviously have a bias towards Chipotle.

    1. The irony is that it is, in fact, not that serious. Of course I have a bias; Chipotle is better. And don't get me started on Moe's or Pancheros.


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