Life

Every Chipotle Protein On The Menu, Ranked (Including Plant-Based Chorizo, Smoked Brisket, & Pollo Asado)

Something is going on at Chipotle. In addition to the fast-casual chain’s five permanent protein options, the brand has introduced a new smoked brisket, plant-based chorizo, and most recently, a new pollo asado all in the last six months. That’s the biggest shake-up of the Chipotle menu in the chain’s history.

We used to get stuff like queso and… food poisoning. Now we’re actually getting exciting new offerings!

While the brisket and plant-based chorizo options were only available for a limited time, it seems to us that Chipotle is actively testing the waters to see which of these new protein options stick. And, as someone who has eaten them all, I have a pretty strong opinion on the matter. So I’m ranking all of the Chipotle proteins against one another. Because Chipotle’s menu is customizable we’ve made sure to base our tasting notes on how these proteins taste completely plain — no salsa, no sour cream, nothing that would enhance or mask the flavors in any way.

It’s a truly unenjoyable way to eat fast food, but we do it for you! Here are the best Chipotle protein options, ranked from worst to best.

9. Sofritas

Dane Rivera

Calories: 150

Protein: 8g

Permanent Menu or Limited?

Permanent, and while I think it’s Chipotle’s worst protein option, I kind of think it deserves that permanent status. This needs a reformulation for sure though.

Tasting Notes:

I feel bad about ranking Chipotle’s only plant-based protein option last, but…it is what it is. I will say that when it comes to flavor, the sofritas aren’t half bad. They have a great blend of peppery and cumin-dominant flavors that really cut nicely through your burrito add-ons and give you that savory meat vibe. If you’re a vegetarian, this is a great meat substitute. Don’t feel bad about ordering it or think of it as an excuse to skip Chipotle entirely.

What I don’t like about the Sofritas is everything else.

First of all, they’re incredibly wet. So wet that they will soak through your tortilla, which can totally ruin your meal. Aside from the wetness, the sofritas also have a terrible mouthfeel, the tofu is really chunky and chewy to the point of distraction, and it becomes very obvious that you’re not eating meat. In a loaded burrito or bowl there are enough other ingredients going on that you aren’t going to notice that mouthfeel, but in something like a taco, you won’t be able to ignore it.

Perhaps more importantly, because the sofritas are also Chipotle’s least popular meat option, they are almost always served a little stale and lukewarm. That doesn’t do any favors to the experience.

The Bottom Line:

If you don’t abstain from eating meat, there is no reason to ever order the sofritas. It isn’t the flavor that’s the problem it’s the wet consistency and the awful rubbery mouthfeel that are the problems.

8. Carnitas

Carnitas

Calories: 210

Protein: 23g

Permanent Menu or Limited?

Somehow permanent despite being oh so bad. Please Chipotle we’re begging you, drop the Carnitas to make room for one of the new limited-time protein options, they’re all leagues better than this stuff.

Tasting Notes:

I’ve heard people swear by the carnitas at Chipotle, and I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Chipotle carnitas are not “real” or “proper,” but these are without a doubt consistently the worst carnitas I’ve ever had. So if you love the carnitas, sorry, but you have bad taste in carnitas — you’re playing on my homecourt here and I’m telling you: not good.

Where to start with these things? They’re dry, over-salted, and so fatty-sinewy that you’ll constantly be picking sh*t out of your mouth because it’ll end up sticking around even after you’ve already swallowed the rest of your food. What makes carnitas special is the slow-cooking, this helps the pork reach a level of tender juiciness that is downright orgasmic. Flavors of cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper are supposed to dance across the tongue with each bite.

Chipotle’s carnitas has none of that.

The juicy tenderness is replaced with a bone-dry texture that enables you to feel each strand of pork in your mouth as you chew through it. The earthy flavors of cumin and oregano are instead replaced with a small ocean’s-worth of salt. I’m almost amazed that Chipotle could fail at carnitas this hard. If you told me this was Taco Bell’s new meat, I’d believe it.

The Bottom Line:

When people say “Chipotle isn’t real Mexican food” it’s because they’re offended by this poor excuse for carnitas.

7. Guacamole

Dane Rivera

Calories: 360

Protein: 2g

Permanent Menu or Limited?

Permanent, and if it was ever limited it might cause a damn riot.

Tasting Notes:

Does guacamole count as a protein option at Chipotle? Not in the “protein” sense, no. But we’re using the phrase to mean: “main item featured in an entree” and in that sense, it certainly fits the bill. So what the hell, we’ve decided to include it!

People go nuts for Chipotle’s guacamole, and if you’re comparing it to Taco Bell and Del Taco guac, sure, it’s pretty good. But nothing worth obsessing over. This is pretty standard stuff at every Mexican joint in California, and if anything Chipotle goes a little heavy with the onion here.

Aside from the dominant flavor of red onions, we have some consistently ripe avocado here acting as our base, mixed with lime juice (a little too much — someone on Chipotle’s board must be heavily invested in lime groves), cilantro, and diced jalapeno bits throughout. The diced jalapeno is my favorite feature, it adds a nice subtle kick that lingers on the palate after each bite and leaves you wanting more. It’s a great trick, and I wish they would’ve focused more on the peppers than the onion, but I get that they’ve got to please the average consumer who probably can’t handle the spice.

The Bottom Line:

Chipotle’s guacamole is astoundingly consistent. I’ve yet to have a serving that tastes like it was using over or under-ripened avocados, and though this is more onion-dominant than I like, I’d still order a veggie burrito over getting the sofritas and carnitas — so we’re ranking this higher.

Even though it’s not really a protein option.

6. Plant-Based Chorizo

Chipotle Menu Review
Dane Rivera

Calories: 220

Protein: 16g

Permanent Menu or Limited?

Plant-Based Chorizo was only available for a limited time, sadly.

Tasting Notes:

It doesn’t have that savory mouth-watering senses-tingling quality that you get from real chorizo, but this plant-based chorizo gets all of the flavors right. So if you love chorizo but recently adopted a more meatless lifestyle, you’re going to dig on this stuff. It’s also a significant step up from the tofu-based sofritas.

Smokey paprika dominates the flavor with a nice gentle sizzling on the back end. I wouldn’t call it spicy, though — so if you have a low tolerance don’t worry, it’s not going to produce any sweat on your brow.

Its only real weakness is the texture. It’s dry, crumbly, and a bit of a chore to chew through when you have a mouthful. That’s really only a problem if you like extra “meat” though, if you’re sticking with Chipotle’s typical two-spoon serving, it’s not noticeable enough to really be an issue.

The Bottom Line:

Chipotle needs to make this a permanent menu item. If that means ditching the sofritas to make room for plant-based chorizo, do it! But it’s 2022 Chipotle, I think we can all handle more than a single plant-based option on the menu.

Give the meatless the spice of variety!

5. Steak

Dane Rivera

Calories: 150

Protein: 21g

Permanent Menu or Limited?

Permanent, unfortunately. It’s… fine, but Chipotle already has a much better beef option on the menu so this feels like doubling-down where Chipotle doesn’t need to. I’d happily see this replaced by Chipotle’s limited time only smoked brisket.

Tasting Notes:

Chipotle’s steak is probably the most frustrating meat option the chain has on offer. On the one hand, when it’s good it’s great — tender chunks of medium-cooked steak with a perfect caramelized outer and a simple seasoning blend of salt, black pepper, cumin, and finished with what I’m assuming is butter to help achieve that crunchy glaze. But when it’s bad — which, unfortunately, is most of the time in my experience — it’s grainy, chewy, and tough. An absolute chore to eat.

So my advice is to give the steak a good look when you’re ordering it, if it glistens with rising ribbons of steam like in the photo above, get it — it’ll be excellent. But if it looks like it’s been sitting around for a while and they’re about to change it up with a new batch, ditch it because you might as well be eating rocks.

The Bottom Line:

Because of its hit-or-miss quality, we’re sadly ranking this delicious option in fifth place. That’s not even medal-worthy.

4. Chicken

Dane Rivera

Calories: 180

Protein: 32g

Permanent Menu or Limited?

Until recently, this has been Chipotle’s only chicken option in its 29-year history. That’s pretty nuts. As good as it is, I’m not sure it deserves permanent menu status over the newer recipe. If we had to choose one, it’s not going to be this.

Tasting Notes:

Chipotle’s chicken doesn’t suffer from the same consistency issues that plague the steak. Even when the chicken has been sitting in the bin for a while, it’s still packed with flavor. The only thing you lose with time here is how hot the meat is, and considering you’re eating at Chipotle I’m just going to assume you don’t care about whether your food is hot or not. Because at Chipotle it rarely is.

Chipotle’s chicken is flame-grilled and features a flavor profile that is dominated by the smokey qualities of ancho chilis and the savory zest of adobo sauce. I have no doubt the restaurant spends a good amount of time marinating this meat. Because Chipotle uses grilled chicken thigh rather than breast, each bite is juicy and tender, never suffering from the dry tendencies of over-cooked white meat. If you’re wincing at the idea of dark meat over white, you must hate flavor. Just kidding (kind of), but if chewy fat generally keeps you away from ordering dark meat, that’s not a problem here. The meat is still remarkably lean, you almost can’t tell it’s dark meat aside from the fact that it’s so consistently tasty with each bite.

The Bottom Line:

Flavorful, juicy, and most importantly, consistent. It’s hard to get a bad serving of chicken at Chipotle. If this is your first time, this is your second best meat for a positive experience overall. If you want the best experience, go with our number one choice while you still can.

3. Smoked Brisket

Dane Rivera

Calories: 360

Protein: 22g

Permanent Menu or Limited?

Chipotle’s Smoked Brisket was available for a limited time in September and October of last year. It is leagues better than Chipotle’s steak and deserves a permanent menu spot.

Tasting Notes:

The Smoked Brisket is slow-smoked for 10-16 hours and features a mouthwatering mix of smokey and sweet flavor notes. It’s tender, with a smooth butter-like consistency in the chew, and is dominated by a mix of garlic, paprika, cumin, and various peppers, from black to chipotle. It’s not going to rival the best brisket at a BBQ joint, but in the fast food space, you’ll rarely find anything this tender and flavorful.

A definite winner in Chipotle’s line-up and welcome addition to the menu.

The Bottom Line:

Please bring this one back, Chipotle! It packs so much more flavor than that often tough and dry steak option that Chipotle keeps on the menu permanently.

2. Barbacoa

Dane Rivera

Calories: 170

Protein: 24g

Permanent Menu or Limited?

Permanent.

Tasting Notes:

The strength of this meat is in its insanely tender texture — each bite bursts with juicy savory goodness. For this barbacoa, Chipotle uses shoulder-cut meat, (rather than the more traditional cabeza) which keeps it tender, helping to soak up Chipotle’s marinade, which it spends overnight bathing in. Putting in that extra time marinating really helps this meat soar above the rest of Chipotle’s options, and while I miss the silky sumptuous qualities that I’ve come to expect from traditional barbacoa, this comes way closer than I’d expect a national chain to ever get to the real thing.

The barbacoa is dominated by the earthy notes of oregano and cloves, I’m also getting a bit of bay leaf in there and Chipotle’s usual pepper and adobo-forward flavor. It works great in each of Chipotle meal form factors, whether you’re crunching on tacos, putting together an epic burrito, or you’re looking for the best salad of your life.

The Bottom Line:

On most days, Chipotle’s most flavorful protein and almost as good as the traditional barbacoa you’ll get at a classic SoCal taqueria. Almost. Seriously, if you’ve ever left Chipotle thinking the chain is seriously lacking in flavor, you must not have tried the barbacoa yet.

1. Pollo Asado

Burrito
Chipotle

Calories: 210

Protein: 22g

Permanent Menu or Limited?

Pollo Asado are currently available for a limited time. We kind of expect this one to be a lock for menu inclusion though, it’s far and above the best Chipotle protein.

Tasting Notes:

Here we are at our number one choice, the new Pollo Asado. It’s the chain’s first new chicken recipe in 29 years, to which we say, “what the fuck took so long, Chipotle?” The Pollo Asado is delicious, it’s smoky, spicy, tender, and juicy with an appetizing red color. The chicken is cooked whole and then chopped, which helps it to retain its juiciness, and it’s noticeably more tender than Chipotle’s original chicken option.

The flavors wash over the palate in waves, and black peppercorns and oregano tumble into a waltz of zesty citrus and gently spicy notes, accentuated by a touch of fresh cilantro that adds a depth of flavor that most other Chipotle proteins lack. There isn’t a Chipotle build that this chicken won’t shine in, whether you’re all about the burrito, bowl, salad, or taco, Pollo Asado is the ideal choice.

If you’ve never been a fan of Chipotle (weird that you’re here), go off menu and ask for the Pollo Asado in a quesadilla and prepare to get your mind blown. You’ll forget that you’re eating at Chipotle, this stuff is that flavorful.

The Bottom Line:

Chipotle would have to be insane to not put this on their menu permanently. The Barbacoa has always been the juiciest and most tender Chipotle protein, and it’s still the juiciest, but the pollo asado is equally tender, and much more savory. It’s perfectly marinated in a blend of zesty citrus and earthy achiote and black pepper, which truly makes it taste like nothing else at Chipotle.

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