Fast Food Burrito Smackdown: Chipotle vs. Qdoba

By Danya Henninger  |  June 20, 2013
Credit: Burrito Justice

A burrito isn’t really Mexican. (As Don Memo owner Leo Saavedra told us, “If you ordered a burrito in Mexico, you’d be more likely to get a small donkey instead of food.”) However, burritos definitely are real deal Cal-Mex cuisine. From their native California, burritos have spread across the nation, in large part due to chains like Chipotle and Qdoba, which produce at least close-to-authentic renditions. But which one is better?

To find out, we took burritos from each outlet over to La Calaca Feliz (which does not serve burritos; the authenticity thing), and had the chefs and line crew do a blind taste test for us. Which chain came out on top? Click through to find out.

  • Method

    Three types of burrito from Chipotle went up against three of the same kind from Qdoba. We chose chicken, braised pork and veggie. To keep things even, we tried to select the same fillings for each one at both establishments - black beans with the chicken, for example, and “yes, corn salsa, please” on the veggie versions, which also got brown rice instead of white.

    The two stores are but a few doors away from each other on Walnut Street in Center City, so when we arrived at the Fairmount restaurant for the tasting, the goods from each were just as fresh. We sliced the burritos into quarters and each staff member tasted each version without knowing where it was from.

  • Taster: Matt Savastano; sous chef; has worked at La Calaca Feliz for over a year

    Ever eat Qdoba or Chipotle before? “We used to pick it up occasionally for staff meal when it was near other restaurants I worked at. I’d much rather eat this than fast food from the burger chains.”

    Favorite burrito out of all six: Qdoba chicken

    Comments: “The ones with more cheese are much better.” “[The Chipotle] veggie burrito looks pretty, but [The Qdoba] veggie is much fresher-tasting, crunchier.” “[The Chipotle] pork meat tastes really plain.”

  • Taster: Lucio Palazzo; chef; has worked at La Calaca Feliz since launch

    Ever eat Qdoba or Chipotle before? “I once went to one in an airport - I don’t remember which one - and it wasn’t bad at all. I did then eat the burrito on the airplane, which was probably a really mean thing to do.”

    Favorite burrito out of all six: Qdoba chicken

    Comments: “These all need more salt.” “[The Chipotle] pork meat is way overcooked, it has no texture. [The Qdoba] pork seems like it’s of higher quality. They both could use more seasoning.” “[The Qdoba] chicken has a nicer texture, it’s diced in much larger chunks.” “Eating these pieces really shows the structural importance of the foil.”

  • Taster: Mike Brenfleck; line cook; has worked at La Calaca Feliz for around six months

    Ever eat Qdoba or Chipotle before? “I went to Qdoba two times in college. I have never been to a Chipotle in my life.”

    Favorite burrito out of all six: Qdoba pork

    Comments: “[The Chipotle] veggie is super boring. It just tastes like rice in a tortilla.” “The pork is much meatier in [the Qdoba], and the spice isn’t bad, either.”

  • Taster: Reuben; porter; doesn’t speak English; originally from Veracruz, Mexico

    Ever eat Qdoba or Chipotle before? No

    Favorite burrito out of all six: Chipotle veggie

    Comments (translated): “The rice on [the Chipotle] veggie was the best, it had the perfect flavor. I especially liked the grated carrot.” [Note: Chipotle’s brown rice has been hailed across the web as being much better than the white rice.]

  • Winner: Qdoba

    Since in this case we are targeting American palates, we’ll take the overwhelming opinion of the U.S.-born cooks and declare Qdoba the unequivocal winner of this smackdown. However, it if you want authentic Mexican rice, go hook yourself up with the brown kind at Chipotle.