Since its founding in 1993, Chipotle has seen a meteoric rise nationally and internationally, with Chipotle’s market value estimated at a staggering $38 billion! However, despite having a firm grip as one of the top fast-food Mexican chains globally, there are multiple competitors and alternatives to Chipotle:
- Taco Bell
- Del Taco
- Taco Bueno
- Taco John’s
- On the Border
- Baja Fresh
- Taco Time
- Chronic Tacos
- Chevy’s Fresh Mex
- El Torito Cantina
- El Pollo Loco
- Torchy’s Tacos
To understand why the above restaurants are the main competitors to Chipotle, see below for an in-depth discussion on each restaurant.
Who are Chipotle’s Main Competitors?
Although some critics would list large fast-food restaurants such as Mcdonald’s and Burger King as Chipotle’s biggest competitors due to their market share, we believe this is a disingenuous comparison. Most sizeable fast-food chains do not specialize in Tex-Mex cuisine.
Therefore, the following twenty restaurants have been chosen with regard to their speed and quality of service delivery and their status as competing Tex-Mex fast-food restaurants, as opposed to market share:
1. Taco Bell
Founded in 1962 in California, Taco Bell is the biggest Tex-Mex fast-food franchise, with over 7000 restaurants globally. As a result of its success and market share as a member of Yum Brands, Taco Bell is considered Chipotle’s biggest competitor.
Although Taco Bell may have mixed reviews concerning the quality of its food. The variety of its menus across 30 different countries means that Taco Bell sports a large variety of Tex-Mex options, including but not limited to tacos, burritos, nachos, quesadillas, and a host of other items.
An area where Taco Bell can be considered superior to Chipotle’s is its unique collaboration with PepsiCo, which allows exclusive access to food items under the PepsiCo brand and the affordability of their food items via their “value menu.”
Furthermore, Taco Bell has embraced technology via its mobile and desktop apps for drive-thru and dining orders. The decision to partner with Grubhub paid off, as Taco Bell was recognized in 2016 as one of Fast Company’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in the World!
Explore Taco Bell’s menu here.
2. Del Taco
Although Del Taco also started in California in the 1960s, it is a notably smaller fast-food chain than Taco Bell, with approximately 580 locations in 15 states (however, the recent acquisition by Del Taco by Jack in the Box for approximately $575 million will result in rapid expansion!)
While Del Taco does specialize in Tex-Mex cuisine, it has a notably more diverse menu than some other competitors on this list. Although it stocks all the usual Tex-Mex options such as tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and nachos, Del Taco also has standard fast-food items such as burgers and fries.
A particular attraction has been Del Taco’s introduction of multiple vegetarian and vegan options through their partnership with Beyond Meat. Some highlights of the vegan/vegetarian menu are their burritos, tacos, tostadas, quesadillas, churros, caramel cheesecake bites, and shakes.
Del Taco also has a unique “20 under $2” value menu, which includes multiple food options, sides, desserts, shakes, iced tea, iced coffee, sodas, and lemonade.
Del Taco’s unique rewards program has four different levels and rewards depending on the money spent at any of their participating branches: Queso, Scorcho, Inferno, and Epic. All of which are tracked on the Del Yeah! app, which is available for Apple and Android devices.
To encourage customers to download and use the app, Del Taco offers customers two free tacos when creating a Del Yeah! Rewards account.
Explore Del Taco’s menu here.
3. Qdoba Mexican Eats
Previously trading under Zuma Fresh Mexican Grill and the Z-Teca Mexican Grill before its final name change to Qdoba Mexican Eats in 1999, Qdoba Mexican Eats has maintained its original vision of creating authentic Mexican cuisine.
Started by Anthony Miller and Robert Hauser in Denver, Colorado, the duo opted to create an authentic Mexican dining experience by designing a healthy menu that substituted animal fat with vegetable oils and a notable increase in herbs and vegetables compared to their competitors.
Despite Qdoba Mexican Eats’ acquisition by the Apollo Global Management consortium in 2017 and their subsequent expansion to over 45 states across America and Canada, Qdoba Mexican Eats still maintains its original goal of producing quality, healthy Mexican cuisine.
Therefore, while Qdoba Mexican Eats may not be the most affordable restaurant on this list, the quality of their food, especially their burritos, sets them apart from most of their competitors.
Consequently, the restaurant wears the moniker of a “fast-casual” restaurant, where customers have control over the ingredients used in their food, all of which are made in view of the customer for quality assurance.
Explore Qdoba Mexican Eats’ menu here.
4. Taco Bueno
Founded in 1967 in Abilene, Texas, Taco Beuno has retained its status as a specialist in Tex-Mex cuisine throughout its 184 locations across the southern states of America, namely: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Although Taco Bueno’s locations are somewhat limited to six states, this focus on locations in the southern states of America makes Taco Beuno one of the premium restaurants on the list in terms of its authenticity, quality ingredients, and friendly customer service.
Furthermore is the concept of foregoing a rewards program for gift cars, so you can give the gift of quality Tex-Mex to your friends and family easily and conveniently!
When coupled with Taco Bueno’s hearty platters, there’s bound to be plenty of great food to go around; just make sure to grab some Classic Southern Ice Tea to go along with your meal!
Explore Taco Bueno’s menu here.
5. Freebirds World Burrito
Founded in 1987 in California, Freebirds World Burrito has expanded to over 67 locations in California, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah. Despite being started in California, the relocation of their headquarters to Texas saw with it over 60 branches operating in the Lone Star state alone!
As a result of this Texan influence, Freebirds only uses quality Tex-Mex ingredients in their products, including grass-fed steak, free-range chicken, and traditional Spanish rice, although vegan alternatives such as their Plant-Based Chorizo have also become popular vegan options.
Consequently, due to Freebird’s popularity in Texas, it retains the unique combination of being a local family-friendly restaurant with the efficiency and model of a large franchise.
Therefore, Freebird sport unique rewards, products, and services to reward customer loyalty, such as gift cards, a loyalty program, merchandise, and “Kids Eat Free Sundays” at participating branches!
Explore Freebird World Burrito’s menu here.
6. Taco John’s
Founded in 1963 in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Taco John’s has expanded to over 379 locations across 22 states in America. Despite being a relatively small franchise compared to its competitors, Taco John’s trademarked the phrase “Taco Tuesday” in 1989, making the franchise a hallmark of Tex-Mex culture!
Taco John’s capitalizes on affordable Tex-Mex cuisine with limited time offers, a generous value menu, and the Taco John’s app, which awards new customers with a free combo meal upon download, and a free meal for every subsequent eight purchases!
The Taco John’s app is available on Apple and Google devices, with minimum spending of only $5 per purchase to earn a “check-in punch.”
Taco John’s also has their unique side, the Potato Oles, which is best experienced with nacho cheese, sour cream, guacamole, and/or salsa.
Explore Taco John’s menu here.
7. On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina
Founded in 1982 in Dallas, Texas, On the Border has over 150 locations in the United States and in South Korea. As the name implies, On the Border capitalizes on its close ties with traditional Tex-Mex cuisine and markets itself as the go-to dining restaurant for a party/fiesta atmosphere.
As a result of their target market of large groups and events, On the Border specializes in daily specials, seasonal specials, and happy hour for alcoholic beverages (one of the very few restaurants on this list with an established liquor license.)
Daily specials include:
- Monday: hand-rolled enchiladas with rice and beans,
- Tuesday: A la carte specials on tacos from as low as $2,
- Wednesday: flour tortilla fajitas with rice and beans, and
- Sunday: Fiesta trio, a three-course meal of soup/salad, fajitas, and dessert.
Although happy hour specials are mostly focused on providing drinks for as low as $3, they also offer a range of “bar bites” as snacks, Founded from as low as $5. The drinks menu is a big highlight, featuring classic Tex-Mex options like sangria, frozen margaritas, and Mexican style beers.
Explore On the Border’s menu here.
8. Baja Fresh
Founded in 1990 in California, Baja Fresh has grown to over 160 locations in the United States of America, Dubai, and Singapore.
As one of the leaders in healthy casual –dining, Baja Fresh commits to “A Fresh Take,” whereby all franchises agree to use fresh quality ingredients without the use of microwaves, freezers, can openers, or processed food to store and cook their ingredients/meals.
Further to the above, each branch promotes the use of its self-serve salsa bars for direct customer service and quality inspection.
Baja Fresh promotes transparent dining and nutritional information for all their meals on their website, so you can make informed, healthy choices at all their branches.
Explore Baja Fresh’s menu here.
9. Taco Time
Founded in 1960 in Oregon, Taco Time is one of the oldest franchises on this list, with over 300 branches in the United States of America, Canada, Curacao, and Kuwait (with the locations in Greece having recently closed.) Consequently, Taco Time is one of the most popular Tex-Mex stores globally.
Despite its global expansion, Taco Time looks to differentiate itself from the competition with the quality of life practices, such as:
- All tortilla chips and taco shells are freshly made,
- All salsa is freshly made,
- All chicken is 100% boneless, white meat,
- All mince is top-quality, lean ground beef, and
- Each burrito is hand-rolled.
Further to the above, Taco Time offers customers in-store coupons, the Taco Time app for Apple and Android devices, and hard copy/digital gift cards.
Explore Taco Time’s menu here.
10. Chronic Tacos
Founded in 2002 in California, Chronic Tacos has expanded to over 60 locations across the United States of America, Canada, and Japan.
Despite its rebellious marketing and influences from extreme sports (such as playing host to the Gringo Bandito Chronic Tacos Challenge or that several branches are owned by “Weeman” of Jackass fame.)
Chronic Tacos also has a distinctly modern take on business and food compared to its competitors, with a mobile app for Apple and Android devices, multiple vegetarian/vegan options, and an easy-to-use fundraising form to assist with charitable events.
Explore Chronic Tacos’ menu here.
11. Panchero’s Mexican Grill
Founded in 1992 in Iowa, Panchero’s Mexican Grill has expanded to over 70 locations across the United States of America. Unlike other Tex-Mex restaurants on this list, Panchero’s Mexican Grill commits to making all its tortillas fresh on-site at each of its branches.
Panchero’s Mexican Grill keeps its food and reward programs simple but generous, with the Panchero’s app for Apple and Android products allowing for the conversion of 1 point earned for every dollar spent in-store or via delivery.
After you’ve earned 100 points, you can trade them in for a free burrito at any Panchero’s Mexican Grill, while Burritos With Benefits offers customers exclusive deals, news, and methods of earning points.
Explore Panchero’s Mexican Grill’s menu here.
12. Moe’s Southwest Grill
Founded in 2000 in Georgia, Moe’s Southwest Grill has expanded to over 681 locations in the United States of America, although previous international locations included Turkey, Russia, Costa Rica, and Jamaica.
While it’s yet to be seen if Moe’s Southwest Grill will reconsider international expansion, there’s no denying that an expansion of over 681 locations in 20 years shows its continued popularity in America.
Moe’s Southwest Grill promotes customization, with customers choosing to add or subtract ingredients from their entrees, all of which come packaged with tortilla chips and salsa.
You can even order your own meal kits for home cooking and enjoyment. There are three kits to choose from:
- Taco kit,
- Nacho kit, and
- Fajita kit.
Explore Moe’s Southwest Grill’s menu here.
Founded in 1946 in Georgia, Chik-fil-A has over 2793 locations across the United States of America and Canada.
Although Chick-fil-A may not specialize in Tex-Mex, the popularity of their Cool Wraps and their continued ranking as one of the top fast-food chains in the country means it is worth a mention on this list, despite being an indirect competitor to Chipotle.
Explore Chick-fil-A’s menu here.
14. Rubio’s Coastal Grill
Founded in 1983 in California, Rubio’s Coastal Grill has over 167 locations across the United States of America. The primary differentiator that separates Rubio’s Coastal Grill from the rest of this list is its focus on Mexican-style seafood and fish tacos.
Consequently, Rubio’s Coastal Grill is committed to sustainable fishing and environmentally friendly programs and fundraisers. This connection with nature and tradition is echoed in their cooking techniques, which include the use of authentic Mexican comals to grill their seafood.
Explore Rubio’s Coastal Grill’s menu here.
15. Chevy’s Fresh Mex
Founded in 1986 in California, Chevy’s Fresh Mex has expanded to include 22 locations across the United States of America. Despite being one of the smaller franchises on this list, Chevy’s Fresh Mex markets itself as a popular Tex-Mex hangout and party spot for friends and family.
Similar to On the Border mentioned above, Chevy’s Fresh Mex provides ample food and drinks specials to keep the fiesta going throughout the week:
- Happy hour: every day from 3 pm till closing time and all day on Sundays,
- Taco Tuesday: every Tuesday from 3 pm till closing time,
- Kids eat for $1: all day every Wednesday,
- Weekend brunch: Saturdays and Sundays from 9 am till 3 pm.
Therefore for those looking for larger meals for the whole family to enjoy, as well as specialist cocktails and margaritas, then Chevy’s Fresh Mex is the place to be!
Explore Chevy’s Fresh Mex menu here.
16. El Torito Cantina
Founded in 1954 in California, El Torito has expanded to over 69 locations across the United States of America.
Although El Torito did experience some financial difficulties in the mid-2010s, the franchise has found a new lease of life with stylish, refurbished locations that cater to larger groups looking for a laid-back Tex-Mex dining experience.
Some of their specials include:
- Happy hour: every day from 3 pm till closing time,
- All-you-can-eat lunch: every day between 11 am and 2 pm,
- Taco Tuesday: every Tuesday from 3 pm till closing time,
- Saturday breakfast: every Saturday between 8 am and 11 am,
- Sunday brunch: every Sunday between 9 am and 2 pm.
Explore El Torito’s menu here.
17. El Pollo Loco
Founded in 1974 in Mexico, before being franchised in the United States of America in 1980, El Pollo Loco has expanded to over 450 locations in America.
As implied by the name “The Crazy Chicken,” El Pollo Loco specializes in authentic Mexican-style chicken. This unique fusion between Californian and Mexican chicken has led to one of the most popular franchises in recent years, with an official listing on the NASDAQ in 2014.
Sporting a generous rewards app for Apple and Android devices, as well as $5 combos, El Pollo Loco is authentic Mexican cuisine at affordable prices!
Explore El Pollo Loco’s menu here.
Founded in Austin, Texas, in 1982, Chuy’s has expanded to over 100 locations across 17 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
Due to its locations among southern and mid-western states, Chuy’s has retained its roots in classic Tex-Mex cuisine and hospitality, with the Chuy’s Children Giving to Children Parade being an annual tradition and community project since 1988.
Explore Chuy’s menu here.
Founded in 1975 in Dallas, Texas, Chili’s has expanded to over 1600 locations in 37 countries. As one of the most popular franchises on this list, Chili’s global presence is an example of the marketability and popularity of genuine Tex-Mex cuisine globally.
Along with Tex-Mex cuisine, Chili’s offers customers traditional American and Southern dishes such as burgers, ribs, and steaks. As a result of their diverse menu, Chili’s offers clear nutritional information for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options.
Chili’s even serves takeaway alcohol and margarita kits!
Explore Chili’s menu here.
20. Torchy’s Tacos
Founded in 2006 in Austin, Texas, Torchy’s Tacos has expanded to over 90 locations in 13 states: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
Torchy’s Tacos prides itself on experimentation through specials such as Taco of the Month while committing itself to community projects such as MD Anderson, Make-A-Wish Foundation, and/or Phoenix house.
Explore Torchy’s Tacos’ menu here.
In conclusion, although Chipotle may be a firm favorite for many people, there are many amazing Chipotle competitors for you and the whole family to enjoy!