The '90s were a big decade for big burritos in Denver. Qdoba was founded here in 1995, the same year that Illegal Pete's got its start in Boulder. That was two years after Steve Ells transformed a former Dolly Madison store by the University of Denver into the first Chipotle Mexican Grill.
While Illegal Pete's has focused on expanding closer to home, today Qdoba is a wholly owned subsidiary of Jack in the Box, with more than 600 restaurants in 47 states. Although that's less than half of Chipotle's size, Qdoba has something Chipotle doesn't: queso. See also: Chipotle founder Steve Ells discussed the ingredients behind two decades of success
And last week, all those Qdoba locations added a second queso, Queso Diablo, to the permanent menu that already features 3-Cheese Queso; either can be added to an entree, or ordered with chips. It was the first addition to the permanent menu in over a year, inspired by Queso Diablo's strong performance during a test run this spring. And Queso Diablo is strong: It kicks up the original queso recipe with fiery jalepenos and smoky chipotles.
"When we introduced Queso Diablo as a seasonal offer this past spring, we saw an incredible consumer passion about this particular queso flavor," said John Cooke, vice president of Menu Strategy and Innovation, in announcing the addition. "Given that passion, it quickly became clear that Queso Diablo was a flavor our guests crave. Ultimately, we knew that bringing Diablo back as a permanent addition to our menu allowed us to deliver that full flavor experience to our Queso fanatics."
In a world filled with cheesy fanatics, why no queso at Chipotle? Here's the answer from Chris Arnold, Chipotle's communications director:
We've never done queso, though it is something that people do suggest from time to time (we don't do dessert either, which is also something that people suggest). It's hard to make queso in a way that is consistent with our food philosophy. It's hard to do unless you're making it to order, which doesn't work with our model. Without stabilizers and preservatives, it congeals and doesn't hold very well. If we were going to do it, we'd want to do it in a way that was consistent with our overall food philosophy.
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And until they do, you might have to satisfy yourself with Queso Diablo at Qdoba.