Qdoba named best fast-casual restaurant in USA Today poll

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What other daily publication could claim to have its fingers on the pulse of the nation like USA Today? Every year, the America’s newspaper runs a giant Reader’s Choice poll, in categories from Best Caribbean Dive Site to Best Helicopter Tour. And in the category of Best Fast Casual Restaurant, USA Today readers chose Qdoba to top the list of 10 restaurants including Chipotle, Portillo’s, and Panera Bread.

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USA Today enthuses, “Just about everything on the menu at Qdoba, from the guacamole to the flame-grilled vegetables, is made fresh each day.” For the unfamiliar, the paper goes on to explain that guests customize their orders in the form of tacos, burritos, grilled quesadillas or burrito bowls. Not mentioned is Qdoba’s popular queso, so popular that Chipotle answered with its own queso, which received many negative reviews at first.

Depending on where you live, you may not be as familiar with fast-casual restaurant numbers 2 and 3, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit (first one opened in opened in Dallas in 1941, says USA Today) and MOD Pizza (“specializes in super-fast artisan pizzas”), respectively. Despite its previous health scares, Chipotle still ranked at number 4, followed by Portillo’s, Panera Bread, Moe’s Southwest Grill, and McAlister’s Deli at numbers 5 through 8. Rounding off the list is burger chain Five Guys and sandwich shop Au Bon Pain at number 10.

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All of these restaurants seem fairly specific, specializing in sandwiches or burrito bowls, for example. But we still maintain that Qdoba’s ranking means that queso reigns supreme. You can kill a few work hours by scrolling through the plethora of USA Today’s other Top 10 lists at 10best.com.

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.

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DISCUSSION

I have eaten at a few of these places, and as a public service, I provide a full day’s supply of Vitamin “Who Asked” U for your nutritional needs:

1. Yes. All the yes. Qdoba will, to me, reign supreme over Chipotle for two major reasons. First, I am an absolute sucker for their ground beef burrito filling, which is like taco meat taken to places only achievable in the wildest dreams of the mere beef mortals of Tex-Mexikind, and second, because they actually put a bit of a grilled crunch to their tortillas, reminiscent of everything that makes a Taco Bell grilled burrito so much of a guilty pleasure at 3 in the morning. The presence of a Coke Freestyle machine on premises at the one in Seattle I tend to find myself at when I’m working downtown gigs (3rd and Pike, near the Market) only helps its cause against the Chipotle on the other side of Third Avenue.

2. Dickey’s Barbecue Pit will fool absolutely nobody who’s had good southern barbecue at any point in their lives. It will fool absolutely nobody who’s ever been to Virginia and eaten the far superior fare on offer at Cook-Out (I have a story involving the Cook-Out in Williamsburg, a girl who was 70% cuddle by volume, and the most soul-fulfilling road trip of my life, but that’s a story for another day.)

But you know something? The Dickey’s at 64th and Meeker in Kent is still on my Uber Eats roster for a reason. You can only eat so much crock-pot pulled pork before you want something that tastes like it’s spent time in the same atmosphere as smoke particles. Do I do it often? No. But it’s a nice niche.

3. “Super-fast artisan pizzas”, and you all laugh at me when I say the best pizza in my area is a Little Caesars. For the price, I could get two Hot N’ Ready pizzas and a 2-liter soda for the money I’d waste at MOD on a much smaller quantity of an inferior product. In the words of Russell Westbrook, “next question.”

4. OK, so the Chipotle’s out my back door in downtown Kent. I don’t have to go to Seattle for it. And the barbacoa is damn tasty. I didn’t say I didn’t like Chipotle, only that I think Qdoba’s better.

5-8. I’ve had Moe’s exactly twice in my life, both times in Sevierville, Tennessee, and both times because I was a front-row spectator to the demise of my friend’s second marriage (2013 was a weeeeeeeird year for me.) I found it perfectly cromulent. It’s incredibly difficult to get “Second deadly sin in entree form” wrong.

Panera I think of mostly as a place to pay seven bucks for an 89-cent grilled cheese sandwich. I have no strong opinions on it otherwise and tend only to eat there on dates when she picks the place. I don’t think I’ve been to one since, like, 2014. I’ve never eaten at Portillo’s or McAlister’s.

9. Ahh, Five Guys. The burger place that everybody loves and that I must not be in on the joke, because (like its BFFs Shake Shack and Smashburger) it tastes like trying too hard. There’s one in Ballard across the street from a Wendy’s, and every time I’m in that neighborhood (15th Ave NW and NW Market St.), I eat at the Wendy’s. I just don’t get what the appeal is that you’re paying extra for when I can get a Giant JBC or whatever other burger Wendy’s is pushing, fries, nuggs, drink, and a chili for under 10 bucks even in Seattle.

10. Everything I said about Panera applies to Au Bon Pain in equal measure. Now you’ve got me thinking of that date I went on in May of 2014 at the Panera in Bellevue, with a woman who was 29, had a birthday in August, and told me (on the first date!) how she always wanted to be pregnant by 30. I mean, it wasn’t the sandwich’s fault, but if that’s your association...