Chipotle shut down a restaurant after customers said they became violently ill — here’s where you should eat instead

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Qdoba, left, and Chipotle go head-to-head when it comes to fast-casual Tex-Mex fare.
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Hollis Johnson

With news that Chipotle’s food-poisoning scandals may not be over yet, many customers are looking for alternatives.

On Tuesday, news broke that Chipotle had closed a restaurant in Sterling, Virginia, after multiple reports of customers getting sick after eating there.

Eight people had reported illnesses – including “vomiting violently,” fevers, and “violent stomach cramps” – to the website iwaspoisoned.com.

Chipotle told Business Insider that was is aware of the illnesses and had notified local health officials. However, as the company is also recovering from the 2015 outbreak of E. coli in its restaurants, many customers may prefer to find alternatives than to give Chipotle another chance.

One option is Qdoba, a 700-location chain that goes head-to-head with Chipotle when it comes to burritos and other fast-casual Tex-Mex fare. Here’s how the two compare – and why Qdoba could be the perfect Chipotle replacement.


Meet the contenders, Qdoba and Chipotle, with equal orders of chicken burritos, tacos, burrito bowls, and guacamole to try. Chipotle is pushing a litany of literary sources on its bags, while Qdoba’s display peculiar artwork.

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Hollis Johnson

First up is burritos, with Qdoba on the left and Chipotle on the right. We all know and love the humble, delicious burrito, and unlike in Business Insider’s earlier Chipotle showdown, the sizes here are similar — no early edge.

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Hollis Johnson

Qdoba’s offering is tightly packed, holding together despite being halved. There’s a large amount of rice, and it could use more chicken. Upon tasting, Qdoba’s advantage is clear: queso. Qdoba offers numerous types of queso, ranging from mild to very spicy, which adds a dense richness to the burrito. It’s incredibly filling and still tastes fresh. And at $7.80 with free guac — a complete game-changer — it’s a great value.

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Hollis Johnson

The classic Chipotle burrito, is, as always, overstuffed. You get a lot of meat, guac, and salsas, but at a dangerous cost: lots of spillage. It’s a rewarding yet unstable burrito that has decidedly lighter flavors. This chicken burrito cost $8.27 plus the much-maligned $2.30 for guac. While the burritos are equal in quality, the point goes to Qdoba, if only for the price difference. How can you beat free guac?

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Hollis Johnson

Now to tacos — easily the hardest to judge, as to-go tacos never stand up well to the test of time, even just a 20-minute trip. Soft tacos would fare worse, so I went with crispy shells. The portions are comparable, but Qdoba’s tacos look a little messy.

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Hollis Johnson

And while all tacos are messy, these look like a real challenge to eat with any sense of decorum. And there’s a lot of lettuce in these — not a huge amount, but more than there should be. More protein, please! Not lettuce! But at $7.80 for three, it’s not a bad buy.

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Hollis Johnson

The tacos from Chipotle have the right amount of ingredients: plenty of chicken, just enough lettuce, and a boatload of guacamole. And surprisingly, the shells held up much better than Qdoba’s. At $8.27 plus $2.30 for guac, they’re more expensive, but it’s a better taco experience. It’s a close call, but Chipotle takes this round.

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Hollis Johnson

Next round: burrito bowls. I can tell this is going to be close because they both look delicious. But Qdoba’s price and free add-ons like guacamole and queso are turning out to be huge advantages. Why can’t Chipotle just offer queso — is it that hard?

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Hollis Johnson

Qdoba’s burrito bowl comes with a resealable plastic top — much better than Chipotle’s flimsy foil covers. Its price is fixed at $7.80. The colorful salsas are fresh, and the fajita peppers are large. Every bite has everything in it, with no need to mix. Qdoba’s rice is simple, with no special flavoring. Chipotle’s rice is more satisfying, but plain rice isn’t a bad thing.

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Hollis Johnson

Chipotle’s bowl is good, but in the face of Qdoba’s, there are a few grievances. Mixing is necessary to combine all the ingredients, with sour cream and tomatoes toward one end and guac toward the other. Green is the dominant color here, and you need to cough up some extra green for that guacamole. As the cheaper, tastier option, the bowl round goes to Qdoba.

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Hollis Johnson

Last but not least, the guacamole. The smallest detail, but by far the biggest part of any meal, guacamole can make or break a chain. Chipotle’s is a smooth, mellow, buttery dip with an emphasis on cilantro. It’s an all-around good guacamole, but …

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Hollis Johnson

… Qdoba’s is decidedly different. With more onion and lime juice, its iteration of the delicious avocado dip is bolder in flavor, with a slight tangy bite to it that Chipotle’s doesn’t have. They’re both good guacs, but Qdoba takes the guacamole gauntlet. Not to mention it’s cheaper: $3.49 versus Chipotle’s $3.68. Besides, you can get chips and queso dip for $4 at Qdoba — clearly a big edge.

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Hollis Johnson

So who takes the Tex-Mex tournament? It’s a close race — both chains are similar in offerings and quality of ingredients — but to me, Qdoba’s lower prices, free guacamole and queso add-ons, and the availability of queso, puts it ahead. I wasn’t expecting it, but Qdoba takes it all, with Chipotle not far behind.

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Hollis Johnson