Battle for the Best “Fresh Mex”: Qdoba versus Chipotle

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From the onset, Qdoba and Chipotle are incredibly similar restaurants, serving “fast casual” Mexican food and stressing fresh and healthy ingredients. In an attempt to ensure maximum comparability, I ordered a steak burrito with the same makeup: a flour tortilla, steak, rice, black beans, salsa, and cheese. Let’s see how these two restaurants measure up.

 Chipotle. Location patronized: 9 W 42nd St, New York, NY, 10036Nearest locations: 90-15 Queens Blvd, Elmhurst, NY, 11373 (Queens Center Mall) and coming soon to 70-30 Austin Street, Forest Hills, NY, 11375Upon entry, Chipotle showed itself to be very distinctive. The location I went to was extremely busy, but the service counter looked like an assembly line and the staff made it function like one. All of the possible options for food were clearly outlined to avoid confusion and speed up the ordering process. Only a glass panel separates the service counter from you, the ordering customer, so if you see something that looks good, just point right at it and ask for it. I personally felt that the displayed menu stressed the healthiness and freshness of the food, listing the calories clearly. I also enjoyed their slogan, “Food with Integrity.”

As for the food itself, the burrito I got was great. It contained the perfect ratio of filling inside to tortilla outside, so that the burrito didn’t fall apart halfway through. The quality of the food was as good as the chain continuously claims it to be. All of the ingredients worked together in the burrito, not just as different components jumbled together, but as one cohesive product. Though the food was a little pricey because I was in Manhattan, it was a meal well worth the line, wait, and cost.

Food: A+

Décor: A-

Service: A

Overall: A

 Qdoba. Location patronized: 61-40 188th Street, Fresh Meadows, NY 11365 (this is the only one in Queens)Some may consider Qdoba a “Chipotle clone,” looking to benefit from the “fast casual” wave of restaurants, but I would argue that it is a bit different from its biggest rival. The service counter was, however, almost identical.  It was just as effective, and was run at the same level of speed and precision by a staff of similar quality. The menu was a little bit different. There were specific burritos that had preset ingredients,  such as the Ancho Chile BBQ burrito, which boasted a special pre-made sauce. The menu didn’t go as overboard on the calorie counting, and as a fan of spicy food, I felt the choices of salsa were much better. The décor was boring, but they did have televisions playing ESPN, winning them more than a few points in my book. As for the food, the burrito was almost on par with the one I had at Chipotle, but not quite there. The quality of the sustenance within the burrito was almost exactly the same, but the flavor was not as authentic or “organic,” meaning that Chipotle’s tasted more homemade, at least to me. The tortilla used for the burrito was a little too large for the amount of stuffing I received, and there is no worse moment in a Mexican restaurant than when you take a large bite and taste only tortilla. Overall, though Qdoba is a really good restaurant and has its strengths, Chipotle would win my vote if I were forced to choose between them.Food: A-

Décor: A-

Service: A

Overall: A-