Noodles & Company and Protein Bar Expand; Qdoba Gets Smothered

As evidence that Denver continues to go nuts over all things fast-casual, local chain Noodles & Company is opening its 56th store in Colorado today, while Chicago import Protein Bar is also opening another location: the new 16th Street Mall spot will be the fourth Protein Bar in Colorado when it opens on Wednesday. Noodles & Company is a veteran of the fast-casual wars: the original location opened nearly twenty years ago in Cherry Creek North. Protein Bar, featuring a healthy, low-calorie menu, entered the Colorado market just this year with a store in Boulder, but the company has expanded to more than 20 stores nationwide since it was founded in Chicago in 2009.

Meanwhile Qdoba is also expanding -- its menu and our waistlines.

See also: The Toppings War: Qdoba Versus Chipotle

The home-grown Mexican restaurant chain just added smothered burritos as part of its free toppings program. Now, for the same price as a standard Qdoba silver bullet, you can add one (or presumably all) of three new sauces -- Tangy Verde, Bold Red Chile or Smoky Chipotle Cream -- inside and on top of your burrito order. It's a move that has burrito peddlers throughout the city asking "What took you so long?"

Part of the initial burst of fast-casual joints in the mid-1990s, Qdoba has seen its growth outpace even Noodles & Company. There are now more than 600 Qdoba locations across the U.S.

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