If you grab lunch on the go often, you’ve probably come to rely on build-your-own-meal places like Chipotle and Qdoba. With more than 3,000 locations between the two chains (Chipotle, with 2,250, has the larger presence), the eateries are churning out tons of tacos, burritos, and bowls for the masses day after day. But does one beat out the other when it comes to your dietary needs? And is one better for you than the other? Here’s what experts had to say.

Meatless Options

When it comes to their meat selections, Chipotle and Qdoba both offer a variety of options that come in at similar calorie counts, says Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., nutrition expert and author of “The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook.” (For example, both offer chicken that comes in at a range of 170-180 calories per serving.) But Qdoba pulls ahead when it comes to having two offerings for non-meat eaters, with eggs and roasted fire shrimp as additional options for vegetarians and pescatarians, while Chipotle just has one (organic tofu) available to add to meals, Amidor says.


It’s pretty much a draw when it comes to the two restaurants’ add-ons, says Amidor. “Chips in general will set you back in both places around 600 calories,” she says. “However, Chipotle has the large option and unless you’re splitting it with several people, it can pack on the calories quickly.” If your heart is set on a side, your best bet at both locations is going for chips with salsa (tomatillo-red chili salsa at Chipotle and salsa verde at Qdoba), according to Amidor, though she warns that both still have a pretty high sodium count.


If tortillas are your thing, then the best chain will depend on what you’re going for. Want a whole wheat tortilla? Then Qdoba’s will help you shave off roughly 30 calories compared to the regular option, while also giving you some protein and fiber, says Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., author of “The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.” Just want the lowest calorie option? Then you should opt for Chipotle’s crispy corn shells, with three clocking in at 180 calories total. But foregoing tortillas completely is probably the best bet if you’re trying to shed some pounds, according to Harris-Pincus. “If you are trying to manage the total calories in the meal, forego the tortillas and stick with a salad or bowl with protein, beans, brown rice, and veggies,” she says.


Though Qdoba boasts a slew of fresh foods at its locations, Chipotle comes out on top when it comes to where it sources its ingredients, says nutritionist, personal trainer, and health and wellness coach Jamie Logie of Regained Wellness. “Chipotle appears to be ahead of [Qdoba] healthwise in that their meats are naturally raised and free of hormones or antibiotics,” Logie says. “They don’t use foods containing GMOs and get their produce from smaller farms. Qdoba makes note of them using fresh ingredients but that seems to be as far as it goes and they don’t take the stand Chipotle does as far as talking about sustainable farming, healthy soils, and pigs being allowed to roam freely [and so on].”

Meal Planning

Though both Qdoba and Chipotle offer nutrition information online, the latter makes it way easier to plan ahead, whether you’ve got a dietary restriction or are on a strict eating plan. “Chipotle’s website allows you to easily build your meal and adds all the calories and other nutrient info for each ingredient automatically,” Harris-Pincus says. “It’s far superior to Qdoba’s interface for those attempting to track the nutritional value of their meal.” Amidor recommends tallying up your order before heading to either chain so you know what you’re getting calorie-wise, as well as the amount of sodium you’re consuming.

Trying to figure out what to order at either chain that would be best for you? “In either case, the healthiest options, in my opinion, are going for a [bowl] so you’re avoiding any wheat from the tortillas or taco shells,” says Logie. He recommends going for brown rice, chicken (or another protein if you’re a vegetarian), a good amount of lettuce, salsa, corn, and beans, and maybe a bit of cheese. “If you want to keep fat down, I would skip the sour cream,” he says. “[You] can get some healthy fats from the [guacamole], but that’s going to bump the calories up. I would skip the chips as these can ruin the healthy meal with it’s higher calorie, carb, fat, and sodium content.”

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Header image by Hollis Johnson for Business Insider.

Kelsey Butler is a reporter and editor based in New Jersey. She has written for a number of health and lifestyle publications, including Women's Health, Brides, and NBC News Better. Hot sauce, black coffee, and bacon make up 50% of her diet.
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