Chipotle Vs. Qdoba: Which Burrito Is Best?

Qdoba has some really ambitious plans for its future, with the aim of expanding its 750 locations to 1,500 over the next decade. While Chipotle's 3,300 locations dwarf even Qdoba's most optimistic expansion plans, the two brands are clearly battling it out for their share of the Mexican fast casual marketplace. So how does the food at each chain compare?


Aside from some slight differences — Qdoba's menu features a few alternative proteins, additional sauces and salsas, a nacho offering, and free guacamole — the two chain restaurants pretty much serve the same food. Customers can choose between burritos, bowls, quesadillas, tacos, and salads, with mostly identical ingredients at each.

It seems only right to pit the two burritos directly against each other by ordering only those ingredients that Qdoba and Chipotle have in common. Therefore, my burrito order was as follows:

  • Steak
  • Easy cilantro lime rice
  • Half black beans/half pinto beans
  • Pico de gallo
  • Spicy salsa roja
  • Guacamole
  • Sour cream
  • Fajita vegetables

It was anyone's game, and it began with the unwrapping.

Qdoba burritos vs. Chipotle burritos

When I unwrapped both burritos, they looked pretty much identical from the surface, with slight differences in fold. The Chipotle burrito was somehow leaking, even though there wasn't a rip anywhere in the tortilla. I didn't have a scale with me since we were eating at the second location, Chipotle (shh, don't tell the manager I snuck in a competitor's burrito!). However, the burrito from Qdoba was noticeably lighter.


The cross section revealed two things: One, burrito guts aren't pretty. Two, both burritos had such an identical mishmash of components, with the ingredients applied in such similar ratios, that I wouldn't be able to tell which was which just by looking at them.

Between Qdoba and Chipotle, which burrito tastes better?

The two burritos are surprisingly similar in form, function, and, yes, flavor, with a few key differences between them.

The chunks of steak in the Chipotle burrito are much larger than those in the Qdoba burrito. There's more meat overall inside a Chipotle burrito, which makes it heartier by a hair, though the Chipotle steak is also tougher and more gristly. Otherwise, everything else tastes about the same in each burrito, inoffensive and not terribly flavorful — except for one major difference.


The salsa roja in Chipotle's burrito is much spicier than Qdoba's, in which I barely detected any salsa flavor. Increasing levels of heat is something Chipotle fans have been noticing. Because Chipotle's salsa is so spicy, it dominates every bite of the burrito, and while it gives the whole thing a really aggressive kick of heat, that aspect also steamrolls everything else.

Qdoba's burrito, on the other hand, was more balanced, even though it was dressed with the salsa roja, which Qdoba lists in its hottest tier of sauces. Apparently Qdoba and Chipotle have very different definitions of salsa roja. But because of the balance, I ended up slightly preferring Qdoba's burrito over Chipotle's. The flavors were milder, but I could pinpoint more of them.


Interestingly, even though Chipotle's burrito is bigger and heavier than Qdoba's, that doesn't make me like it any better. In fact, the sheer mass made Chipotle's burrito feel more like a gut bomb than an added value. I like to think about fast casual food on the office lunch meter: "How tired will this make me feel later in the workday?" Qdoba's offering would leave me drowsy in a 2 p.m. meeting, but Chipotle's would have me sawing logs.

The price of Chipotle vs. Qdoba

Before tax and tip, my Qdoba burrito cost $11.55, while the burrito from Chipotle cost me $13.85. Paying extra for Chipotle's guacamole does have a big impact on your bill — the surcharge makes this burrito cost around 20% more than Qdoba's. Given how similar the two burritos are, why wouldn't I want to save on money by having guac built into the cost?


I mean, really, this is all somewhat nitpicking. If you took away that spicy salsa roja from Chipotle's burrito, there's a very good chance I wouldn't be able to notice a difference between the burritos at all. But if guac is entering the equation, Qdoba's going to win on price, hands down.

If Qdoba does manage to pull off its massive planned expansion, and some of those Qdobas happen to land near Chipotle locations, I think people might sit up and take notice. What do you prioritize: the ass-kicking heat of salsa roja, or the victorious taste of free guacamole?