Can Qdoba rescue brown rice -- from itself?

The term "flavor profile" isn't usually heard in reference to brown rice -- unless "tastes an awful lot like water-logged wood chips" is considered a valid flavor descriptor. But Qdoba, the runner-up of Colorado's homegrown, fast-casual Mexican chains, is introducing seasoned brown rice as an option in its restaurants. And I may set aside my personal grudge against the bane of grains and give it another go.

I trust Qdoba that much.

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If any restaurant can do it, Qdoba can.
There are very few uber-nutritious foods that I don't like or won't try more than once, but unfortunately for the brown rice industry, those sticky, gummy little grains have been on my "nuh-uh-nope" list. I realize that the combined colon-scraping and complex carb super-powers of brown rice are incredibly and undeniably beneficial, but I have tried regular brown rice on at least a dozen different occasions, and no matter how it's prepared, I'm always disgusted by its overly chewy texture and its taste of wet tree bark. I even tried making it at home once, and it broke my rice cooker.

Brown rice sucks water like a kid with a garden hose, and then turns that water into a slick, gummy sludge that literally turned my rice cooker into a slimy swamp and killed it dead, and the resulting batch of rice was still so chewy and flavored like boiled trees that I gave it a trash-can funeral, and haven't touched the stuff since.

But when I heard that Qdoba -- one of my stand-by local eateries -- was introducing brown rice to its menu, I figured the company couldn't screw it up any worse than I could, and perhaps the fast-cazh wizards behind the scenes could work some transformative magic that has long-eluded me.

Qdoba put out an interactive poll in May 2011, and three out of four consumers surveyed said they would choose a lower-calorie item if taste and portion size were comparable; Qdoba's research showed that diners continually seek new flavors and menu variety. (I could've told them that for the low price of a free burrito.) The upshot? Brown rice is now on the ticket, a cost-savvy choice as well as allegedly a crowd-pleasing one. Qdoba is using roasted garlic, fire-roasted tomatoes, onion and a hint of red chiles to jazz up the freshly-made brown rice.

"Developing healthier menu options continues to be one of our top priorities, however, we refuse to sacrifice taste in our creations," says Ted Stoner, Qdoba's head chef and director of strategic product development. "Our new brown rice was inspired by popular flavors from Mexico like fire-roasted tomatoes and two types of red chiles, which complement our adobo marinated steak and chicken, our slow-simmered pork and many other menu items."

And nothing sells new menu items like making sure people hear that they are both delicious and healthy.

"In addition to offering vital nutrients such as iron and several vitamins and minerals, Qdoba's brown rice is lower in sodium and calories and higher in fiber than our cilantro-lime rice to help fit our guests' wide variety of taste and dietary preferences," says Stoner.

Diners can choose Qdoba's regular cilantro-lime rice or the new seasoned brown rice with any entrees, including burritos, Naked Burritos and Mexican Gumbo -- or smothered with way too much guacamole, since that's how I order everything at Qdoba.

Putting aside the grudge I've been carrying against brown rice for murdering an innocent kitchen appliance, I'm genuinely interested to see if Qdoba can turn those woody, nashy little grains into something worth getting excited about.

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I feel your pain, Jenn; over the years I have tried yogurt time and time again, hoping that I will finally like it, since it is so good for you.  Still cannot tolerate any version.

I love brown rice; but I only eat it at home.  Chipotle  and Chinese takeout I still always get white rice.

I do wish that Chipotle would do a queso.


Qdoba's brown rice is made specially for mainstream tastes; according to its own nutrition page:

there are 250mg of sodium in one serving! (brown rice naturally has <5mg per cup)

what a terrible experience with your rice cooker; here's how i cook brown rice at home:

in a heavy stainless pan boil two cups water; add one cup long-grain brown rice (replace 5% with whole barley for a nutty twist); reduce heat and cover loosely to keep it slightly bubbling; do not time it - use a fork to open a hole in the middle to see if there is still liquid in the bottom; when liquid is gone, rice is done


Their new brown rice offering seems like a weak attempt to try to compete with Chipotle. Does it cost extra for it? It always seems like Qdoba nickel and dimes you for every tiny addition you put on your burrito and you just end up with bland overpriced under seasoned burrito.

ScubaSteve topcommenter

I never liked Qdoba.  Their food is too bland.


I LOVE Qdoba. They offer so much more than Chipotle (which I also love): quesadillas, QUESO, nachos, tortilla soup. But I am most certainly NOT a fan of their brown rice. I do not like the flavor at all.


Last weekend, a friend offered to bring me a burrito and told me he was getting it from Chipotle.  I gave him my order, and when it arrived in a standard foil jacket I dug in.  Almost immediately, I noticed that it was nowhere near as flavorful as my usual Chipotle burrito; the meat was seriously underseasoned and overcooked, beans were bland, the veggies were soggy, and the "hot" salsa had pretty much zero kick.  I mentioned that it tasted different, and my friend said "Oh, it's not Chipotle - I ended up going to Qdoba instead."    

Pretty much confirmed for me that Qdoba is at the bottom of the fast/casual burrito pack (well behind Chipotle and Illegal Pete's for sure).  I'd wager that this new brown rice will be underseasoned and bland, just like everything else they have.


@LeahA Chipotle has quesadillas, for what it's worth.


@monopod @LeahA Oh? It's not on their menu and I've never seen them served. I know they offer a kids' quesadilla but am not aware of a full-size one. But I mainly prefer Qdoba for their queso--it's soooo good! And tortilla soup.

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