Chipotle Vs. Qdoba: Which Chain Is Cheaper?

Since the mid-'90s, Chipotle and Qdoba have been battling for the title of the best Mexican-style fast-food eatery. Founded only two years apart, in 1993 and 1995, respectively, and both in Denver, Colorado, the chains have amassed loyal customers who fiercely stand by their restaurant of choice (BTW, these restaurant tricks will save you money when you dine out). Even celebrities have their preference, like Kim Kardashian, who once told People her go-to Chipotle order is a bowl with rice, chicken, guacamole, and cheese, and actor Ethan Hawke, who appears to favor Qdoba based on a 2008 New York sighting.


It's nearly impossible to achieve a clear-cut answer as to which chain's food is superior, given how everyone has different palates. For example, in a 2017 Spoon University research study that tasked students with tasting various menu items from Chipotle and Qdoba while blindfolded and picking their favorite, a unanimous decision failed to be reached on a majority of the items.

This said, it is possible to determine the more affordable option. Though Chipotle and Qdoba have both raised their prices in recent years to account for inflation (check out these smart savings moves to make with inflation still rising), ordering from one of these chains will cost customers a bit more than the other.

Price comparisons for Chipotle and Qdoba

The two Mexican fast-food chains boast similar menus, so it's no surprise the most popular items among Chipotle and Qdoba customers are the same: burritos and burrito bowls. Fully customizable, both restaurants offer an array of protein options (i.e., chicken, steak), rice and bean selections, and a variety of toppings, including cheese (queso), salsa, and lettuce. But which is the cheaper option? (Speaking of which, here's how much Americans spend on fast food each month.)


In a major hub like, say, Center City Philadelphia, a basic chicken burrito or burrito bowl, with no guacamole or other extras, costs $9.10 at Chipotle. As for Qdoba, the same meal costs $10.55, so it'll set customers back $1.45 more than if they ordered from its competitor.

While both chains, as mentioned, upped their prices over the past several years, Qdoba did so on a steeper scale. A 2022 survey by brokerage firm BTIG, for example (via Restaurant Dive), found that Qdoba had raised the cost of its chicken selections by 21.5% over four years since 2018; Chipotle, meanwhile, had implemented a 19% increase over the same time period. This said, Chipotle did have four price bumps in two years as of October 2023; though, Laurie Schalow, chief corporate affairs officer at Chipotle, described the price bumps to Business Insider as "modest."


A deeper look at what's included in an order's price

If a hungry customer is craving that basic chicken burrito or burrito bowl, and wants to save some money along the way, Chipotle seems like the obvious choice ... at least it does at a glance. However, there are intricacies as to what's included in both chains' respective offerings, which folks might want to take into consideration.


For example, Qdoba gives you more bang for your buck. Here, customers are able to choose a signature queso (3-Cheese Queso or Queso Diablo) as a topping at no extra cost, while at Chipotle, a topping of Queso Blanco is $1.70, bringing the total to $10.80 — 25 cents more than Qdoba.

Additionally, Qdoba offers the option to turn any burrito or bowl into a meal, allowing Qdoba customers to add a drink, a small chips, and queso for $4.95, for $15.50 total. Chipotle doesn't have this add-on feature, and instead sells these items separately. A fountain drink at Chipotle costs upward of $3.25, and a small chips and Queso Blanco costs $4.55, for a total of $18.60.

So which chain is cheaper? For customers who want a simple burrito or bowl, and don't care about sides or queso, Chipotle is the way to go. However, for those who love their melted cheese and want something to crunch and sip on alongside their main course, then Qdoba is the more cost-effective option.