Chipotle has finally rolled out its first new protein option of the year! The brand spent much of 2022 dishing out new meat options, from the garlic guajillo steak, to the pollo asado, and it helped to keep its bare-bones menu interesting throughout the year. We were big fans of the new meats, but unfortunately, each was only available for a limited time. Which left us wondering, what does the brand have in store for us this year?
Well, three months into the year they’ve finally given us an answer (and a new delicious fajita quesadilla) with the new Chicken Al Pastor! We have to say we’re a little torn about this. On one hand, we’re happy Chipotle has brought us something new, but on the other hand… we really liked some of last year’s options and were hoping Chipotle would reintroduce them to the menu and give at least a few permanent menu statuses.
Maybe the Chicken Al Pastor will be delicious and that won’t matter, but it seems insane to have something as good as the Smoked Brisket locked away. Does Chipotle think they’re Prince or something? Hits this good shouldn’t sit in a vault!
The new Chicken al Pastor features grilled chicken marinated in adobo spices, seared morita chili peppers, ground achiote, and a splash of pineapple juice and finished with lime and cilantro. The new option is available at Chipotle’s worldwide, which is dope, because it means everyone can get it, but what’s not cool is… this isn’t exactly al pastor.
Aside from being chicken instead of the traditional shavings of pork shoulder slow-cooked and shaved off a trompo (the big spit you see at the taco stand) this is just… well, grilled chicken that’s chopped up. It’s not even chicken shwarma! Now, there is no rule that says al pastor has to be shaved pork or cooked on a rotating spit, in fact ‘al pastor,’ which translates to ‘shepherd’s style’ was traditionally made with roasted lamb and introduced to Mexico via Lebanese immigrants (which is why I mentioned shwarma), but there is an implication that comes along with ‘al pastor,’ and Chipotle isn’t quite meeting that.
The flavor profile is similar, but without the trompo and the unique seared edges it provides on the meat, I think the name is a bit of a stretch here, which means Chipotle’s worldwide will be introducing ‘al pastor’ to a vast audience while not at all capturing the magic of what people should expect from al pastor.
But that’s judging a book by its cover (and its name) — how does this stuff actually taste? We found out by testing it out in a burrito and fajita quesadilla, here is our verdict!
Chicken al Pastor
For this taste test, I tried the Chicken al Pastor in a burrito (salsa, beans, rice, lettuce, cheese, chicken) and a fajita quesadilla (chicken, fajitas, cheese). In terms of versatility, the protein works great in both. The chicken has an initial burst of mild spicy flavors before bringing on some earthy smoked notes and finishing with a punch of sweetness that dances nicely on the taste buds alongside a hint of lingering heat. The pineapple notes are just barely there, but not in a tart or intrusive way, instead I think the pineapple’s main use is as a simple tenderizer. This chicken is incredibly tender, with a soft mouthfeel that is easy to chew through and bursting with flavor.
Instead, the majority of sweetness seems like it’s coming from the achiote, it has a certain floral and nutty characteristic that becomes incredibly addicting. For that reason, I think the Chicken al Pastor tastes better in the burrito, it needs more ingredients to distract from it, I found the quesadilla to be just a bit too sweet for my liking.
Dipping the quesadilla in sour cream, salsa, and guacamole fixes that issue, but it’s something to keep in mind if you don’t dip!
Now that I’ve had the Chicken al Pastor, my best guess is that this protein would serve a bowl incredibly well. That allows for maximum ingredient mixing with each forkful.
The Bottom Line:
Chipotle has done it again! The brand has no consistently released new protein options that absolutely dunk on what’s on the permanent menu. The Chicken al Pastor is more flavorful than Chipotle’s stock chicken and is absolutely worth a trip to your nearest Chipotle. We get it Chipotle, you know how to marinate meat, now give us some damn nachos!
Find your nearest Chipotle here.