What’s the Best Fast Casual Tex-Mex Chain?

For far too long, I considered it one of the biggest black marks on my “Restaurant Chain Expert” resume that I had yet to try the popular Tex-Mex fast casual chain Qdoba. As luck would have it, a Qdoba location opened in my neighborhood recently, and, naturally, I took that as a sign to finally try it for the first time. This, also naturally, caused an internal debate to flare up in my mind: what’s the best of the fast casual Tex-Mex big three (Qdoba, Chipotle, and Moe’s)? It was clearly too important to keep to myself, so I knew I had to take it to the blog. Much like I did with pizza chains waaaaaaaaaaaaay back in the day, I’ll break it down by categories and determine a winner. Also, spare me your Baja Fresh or Rubio’s Coastal Grill or any of the million chains that are only in Texas, thus making it impossible for someone who doesn’t live in Texas to actually try them and you only threw the name out there to make yourself seem smart and cultured, because I don’t care about them. I’m only talking nationwide (again: NATIONWIDE) chains that actually matter. That leaves only the holy triumvirate of MCQ (it’s like the MCU, but for fast casual Tex-Mex chains).

Taste

Let’s get the most boring one out of the way first- how good is the core food? Really, what I’m asking is how good is the meat? I think it’s a two horse race between Chipotle and Moe’s, because let me tell you, Qdoba is lagging behind. It wasn’t bad, per se. Just a little bland. Moe’s is solid, but if you gave me some Moe’s and told me it was from some random place I don’t think I’d be able to tell you it was actually Moe’s. I know when I’m eating Chipotle. That chicken’s got a certain addictive flavor to it. It’s like the perfect amount of char combined with the perfect amount of E. coli and norovirus. Round one goes to Chipotle.

Winner: Chipotle

Variety

As good as Chipotle’s food is, they’re far behind in the topping variety category. And while part of me respects them saying “we’ve only got a few things, but they’re all good,” this isn’t a Michelin star restaurant. I want my fast casual chains to overwhelm me with options. Qdoba has, by far, the widest spread. A ton of toppings, a million sauces, two types of lettuce, fajita veggies? Qdoba understands the the fast casual game better than the other two.

Pick: Qdoba

Chips

In my opinion, this is the most important category. The chips are the foundation to any enjoyable Mexican/Tex-Mex eating experience. Anyone can put some chicken, rice, beans, and cheese in a tortilla and I’ll eat it. But the chips? You notice when they’re bad and it ruins the meal. Like the meat, Qdoba is bringing up the rear, here. The chips are alright, but they’re seriously propped up by their salsa (more on that in a bit). Chipotle and Moe’s are miles better. The best part of Chipotle’s chips are that some bites are saltier than others and the salty ones really hit the spot. But, and this is huge, Moe’s chips are also great but free. $0.00. That’s enough for me. A delicious side at no extra cost? Yes, please.

Winner: Moe’s

Salsa/Queso/Guacamole

I must confess, I don’t like guacamole and I think queso can be way too heavy and gross sometimes, but this is still an important category. Take guac out of the equation since I haven’t eaten any of them. Qdoba wins for queso since they’ve got multiple varieties and pretty much forced Chipotle to add a half-assed queso to their menu. Salsa is where it gets heated. Chipotle only has a few varieties, but they’re all good. Moe’s has multiple varieties, and some are good. Qdoba has even more varieties, and, though I only tried a couple, they were pretty solid. I think it’s either Chipotle or Qdoba, and with their win in queso, Qdoba gets another win. Unexpected, to be honest.

Winner: Qdoba

Branding

The fact that the only time anyone talks about Chipotle is when there’s another disease outbreak and they have by far the best branding is a bad sign for the other two. The best logo by a mile (and, by default, the best signs) and they’re firmly intrenched as the more normie option. Qdoba scrapping the cactus logo is such a spectacularly terrible move I can’t wrap my mind around it. What is their identity now? Marigold lettering? Sweet. Moe’s giving FULLY CUSTOMIZABLE AND NON-REPEATABLE MENU ITEMS stupid names makes me absolutely furious every single time. Don’t make me call my burrito a homewrecker. I refuse to do it.

Winner: Chipotle

Dining Experience

Qdoba is a pretty standard fast casual experience. You go in, you get your food, you leave. Chipotle is much the same, but the added threat of possibly catching some kind of disease added a thrill that Qdoba can’t help to match. But having the entire staff yell “Welcome to Moe’s!” when you walk in AND add in a salsa bar instead of having it all behind the counter? Dumb names aside, it’s Moe’s in a landslide.

Winner: Moe’s

Aftermath

They final category represents the final stage in the fast casual Tex-Mex experience. We know how it is going in, but what about going out? Chipotle’s aftermath is so legendary, South Park lampooned it in an episode. I’ve spent many an hour on the toilet after eating some delicious Chipotle. We had a Moe’s on campus in college, and, as such, I’ve spent many an hour on the toilet after eating some delicious Moe’s. Let me tell you: the Moe’s is much, much easier to deal with. I was waiting on the Qdoba I ate last night to complete it’s course before writing this, and I can confirm it was unpleasant. Moe’s takes a much lighter toll on the body (and toilet) than the other two.

Winner: Moe’s

There you have it. Not exactly what I was expecting, but, when taking everything into account, it’s clear that Moe’s comes out on top. Chipotle has the best food, but the rest of it just doesn’t add up. Qdoba made a valiant effort, but to no avail. There’s a new king in town, and his name is Moe.

Overall Winner: Moe’s

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Applebee’s Has Declined My Help and Will Surely Go Out of Business Soon

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Some of you may remember I recently declared that I was about to save Applebee’s. That by testing the limits of their All You Can Eat Chicken Tenders I would create enough buzz to bring the casual dining chain back from the brink of millennial-fueled extinction. I am sad to report Applebee’s has spit in my face and told me they would not like my help.

I said I would go last week to film a video. Hand up, that’s on me. Life got in the way (I really just didn’t feel like it, but if you just say life got in the way no one ever questions it) and I couldn’t Eat Good in My Neighborhood. But I had today circled on my calendar. I was going to get a haircut (I finally found my New York City person. Very difficult thing for white people) and head on down to ‘bee’s for as much chicken as I could shovel into my gullet. It was a nice day I had planned out for myself. Only thing is, when I get to Applebee’s, they tell me they’re no longer doing All You Can Eat Chicken. I couldn’t believe it. I was stunned. Floored, even. You’ve never seen someone leave a restaurant as fast as I left that Applebee’s.

People may think I’m mad. I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. Does it suck that I lost a good video that would have gotten thousands hundreds dozens of views? Yeah, it does. But I’m not disappointed for my sake. My brand will survive this. Applebee’s won’t. I don’t know if they were worried they couldn’t stock enough chicken to appease me or just have a long-standing grudge against the Brian’s Den, but for whatever reason they decided they wouldn’t allow me to save them. As I said in the first post, I grew up on Applebee’s. Spent many a night at the Rutland, Vermont location. It was the closest thing we had to big city living. Knowing that, theoretically, someone in L.A. or Texas or New York could be having the same meal as I was eating opened my eyes to just how small our country really is. And it’s sad to see them like this. They’re dying. Everyone can see they need help. And yet, they’re too proud to grab the hand being held out to them. To see that a popular social media influencer has interest in doing a video at one of your restaurants and have your reaction be removing the promotion that drew him in is classic self-destructive behavior. I tried to help once, and Applebee’s turned me away. If they want to go down in flames, I won’t stop them. At some point, some people just refuse to be helped. I’m just sad it had to end this way. Rest in peace, Applebee’s. Coach Taylor and I will never forget you.

Applebee’s has All You Can Eat Chicken Tenders so I Guess I’m Going to Applebee’s

They say millennials are killing Applebee’s and other casual dining chains. That we don’t go out to eat as much and our tastes are evolving. Well, Applebee’s just fired up the Bat-signal and I’m answering the call. Like a white knight riding into battle in the eleventh hour, this millennial is going to save Applebee’s.

How, you ask? Simple. In a desperate move to attract business, Applebee’s is offering all you can eat riblets and tenders for $12.99. They’re giving it away. They’re practically begging someone to come in and film a video of themselves testing the limits of the “all you can eat” policy. I’m not too proud to oblige them. So, to prove millennials still eat at Applebee’s, I’m going to Eat Good in my Neighborhood, and I’m going to eat a lot. Haven’t been to an Applebee’s since I left home (Applebee’s is a Rutland, Vermont delicacy), but next week I’m heading into Coach Taylor’s favorite dining establishment to see how many tenders I can eat (riblets are too hard to eat to truly binge). It will be captured on film, naturally. So start placing your bets before it’s too late. The early over/under has been set at 21.5, but it could change depending on the action. Get hyped, because I’m officially bringing Applebee’s Back.

RIP Anthony Bourdain

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If you hadn’t heard already, legendary television host, chef, traveller, and author Anthony Bourdain committed suicide this morning at the age of 61. Normally I don’t really cover celebrity deaths unless they actually meant something to me. Anthony Bourdain meant something to me. Meant a lot to me, actually.

It’s a trivial thing, but I played football in high school, and every summer during two-a-days I would find a random show to watch in-between sessions. It helped me decompress and develop a (somewhat) soothing routine that kind of got me through some rough weeks. My sophomore year (first year of double sessions), it was American Chopper. Junior year it was Bizarre Foods. Senior year it was No Reservations. I had seen various promos for No Reservations before, but never actually tuned in. I had seen food shows and travel shows before, why would this be any different? It turns out it was way different than anything I had ever watched. The way he talked, the way he interacted with the environment around him just spoke to me. It felt like it was a real couple days in the life of a traveller, not another heavily scripted reality show.

I was hooked instantly, and, the more I watched No Reservations and Parts Unknown the more I considered Bourdain an idol of mine. I had always loved food and been interested in traveling, but he stoked a desire to experience the world through food that still exists today (even if I’m too poor scared to actually act on it). The way he could naturally bond with everyone around him and his complete openness to try new things were kind of a blueprint for how I, an extreme introvert with the people skills of a paper bag, could theoretically live my life. He made the world seem like a less scary place, and he showed that, regardless of where you live or what language you speak or what food you eat, everyone’s really just looking for the same thing. Which, of course, was the entire point of the show.

And more than anything, he was just so cool. He might have been one of the five coolest guys to ever live. Which just shows what a bear depression really is. I won’t insult people who are really suffering by saying I know exactly how they feel, but I know how hard it is to deal with. It’s not real depression or anything, but I frequently deal with bouts of overwhelming sadness and self-doubt, but since I’m too scared or embarrassed to talk to other people about it, it just kind of festers for a few days. Again, I’ve never been suicidal or felt like there was no way out of the tunnel, but I still sympathize with anyone who feels crushed by the weight of the world. Don’t be like me. If you’re ever feeling low, or trapped, or scared that there’s only one way to end the pain, reach out to someone. There are countless suicide prevention hotlines out there you can call. Or better yet, talk to a friend or family member. Sometimes it’s good to just talk to someone you know. You might think you’re burdening them, but believe me, anyone who cares about you would never think that way. No one should ever feel like there’s no way out.

RIP Anthony Bourdain.

Happy Opening Day of #HotDogSZN

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Don’t know if you people were aware, but it’s Memorial Day Weekend. It’s a great time to remember those who gave their lives to our country, celebrate the start of summer, and take some days off. That’s all well and good, but we all know the real Reason for the Season- it’s the start of Hot Dog Season.

While it’s true that the grill never sleeps, outdoor grilling season is really a Memorial Day through Labor Day window. Burgers, chicken, steak, veggies, literally everything tastes better in the summer when cooked on a grill. But, of course, the star of the show has always been, and always will be, hot dogs. If you’re hosting a barbecue without a metric ton of hot dogs being served, friend, you won’t find me there. I’m an established hot dog junkie, and when the weather gets hot, my dog cravings get hotter. As a hot dog expert, I, of course, have some (correct) opinions about the noble tubesteak. There’s a lot of bad hot dog takes out there, mostly by fools or people who don’t like hot dogs. Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like hot dogs.

Top Hot Dog Types

  1. Natural casing pork
  2. Natural casing beef
  3. Regular beef/pork mix
  4. Any other meat
  5. Non meat

Top Bun Types

  1. New England style
  2. Anything else

Top Condiments (don’t come at me with some niche sauce you made one time or that your favorite tiny local place has. How could I have possibly had that?)

  1. Yellow mustard
  2. Sauerkraut
  3. Deli mustard
  4. Relish
  5. Spicy mustard

Top Hot Dog Preparation Methods

  1. Grilled
  2. Not eating them at all
  3. Raw
  4. Boiled
  5. Microwaved

Top Hot Dog Accompanyments

  1. Chips
  2. Another hot dog
  3. Fries
  4. An ice-cold Bud Light Lime®, Perfect for Summer
  5. Potato Salad

It’s also time to start prepping for the July 4th Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island. I’m pulling up stats, breaking down film, building advanced statistical models to try and project a winner, all the normal things people do to get ready for the Nathan’s. I’ll be there regardless, but I may or may not have been put on a waiting list for a qualifying event at the end of June. I’ve sent them my highlight reel, but no word on if it’s improved my standing.

My Experience at MLB Foodfest

Two hours of pure concessions and drinks for $40. Not a bad way to take ten years off your life.

I was obviously excited about this, but I wish I could go back and do it over. Not to spoil the video, but I was only able to eat 25 of the 30 entries, partly because of the time (they screw you out of at least five minutes because they don’t let anyone in until your time slot starts, but then you have to leave the second your time slot ends. Factor in lines and stuff and I didn’t get my first plate until 1:09. Sad!), and partly because I did the exact incorrect strategy. Essentially, it was a big horseshoe around the perimeter of the dining room with the booths arranged in alphabetical order by city. I started with Washington and went in a circle, both because I wanted to eat the Arizona entry last and because it was closest to the door. This was the incorrect strategy. The bottom half of the alphabet was far, far superior to the top half. If Foodfest was the NBA, N-W was the West and A-M was the East. Absolutely no contest. So while it was nice to actually enjoy all the good food, that meant I had to eat the disgusting things on a full stomach. Not a good combination. I almost puked on camera two or three times, and, had I gotten whatever the Indians thing was, I know for a fact there would have been a reversal of fortune. You can get on me for getting full off of 25 bites (another bad strategy: I took multiple bites of some of the early food because, again, it was actually good) if you want, but 95% of those things were bread heavy. And the buns were all thick, too. Too thick, if you ask me. It didn’t make for a fun morning, I can assure you.

So I missed five teams: Tigers, Indians, Rockies, White Sox, Braves. As I said, the Indians Flamin’ Hot Cheeto abomination would have made me puke. The Tigers had chicken shawarma nachos, which seemed like a very bad thing to eat at 2:45. I actually had the Braves thing, which I don’t even know how to describe, in my hand, but once I got through the absolutely brutal Red Sox-Orioles combo, I couldn’t do it. I blame the coleslaw.  Coleslaw stinks and half the teams used it as a garnish. The Rockies and White Sox weren’t high priorities since they just had a regular cheeseburger and sausage, respectively, and I’ve had my fair share of both. The only sad thing is that I’m sure both were pretty good and I ate a Cheeto-lote instead. By the way, how to the Rockies not bring Rocky Mountain Oysters? I guess they figure everyone already knows the rating on them already.

Anyway, it was a good time. I hope they do it again next year (I’m sure they will), and hopefully other leagues get in the game, too. Now that I know to eat the horrifying and repulsive foods first, I think future Foodfests will be more enjoyable. Still can’t believe the Sox didn’t come with the hot lobster roll.

MLB Foodfest is Today

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It’s finally here. MLB Foodfest. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this my whole life. Two hours of stuffing your face with ballpark food without the hassle of going to an actual ballpark. I may have died and gone to heaven. My time slot is 1-3pm. Will there be a video of me reviewing all 30 items? You bet your ass. Will there be Snapchat (briancurran11) and Instagram (@briansden69) story updates? Yes. Will I eat something I regret? Without question. This is going to be epic.

Now that I think about it, MLB really dropped the ball not having this on 4/20.

As for what I know you’re all really here for, yes, going to the festival will cut down on my God of War streaming today. I’ll probably hop on later tonight as I digest, so be on the lookout. If you need a fix, here’s the full streams from yesterday, when I messed around and did two separate sessions.

https://player.twitch.tv/?autoplay=false&video=v252844613Watch Brian Plays God of War pt. 1 from JarringTiger on www.twitch.tv

https://player.twitch.tv/?autoplay=false&video=v252963933Watch Brian Plays God of War pt. 2 from JarringTiger on www.twitch.tv