The 8 Biggest Flops In Chipotle History

When it comes to high-quality food served quickly, there are few eateries with a group of followers as devout as the die-hards of Chipotle. The fast-casual chain has been a reliable place for people to get their burrito fix since 1993. In the years following, Chipotle's footprint has expanded to an astonishing 2700 stores across the U.S. (per Investopedia). Many folks appreciate the stability that's found in the Mexican grill's offerings, but appetites do grow and Chipotle has had to innovate in order to satisfy. 

Chipotle has tried it all, but unfortunately, not every one of those new creations has been well-received. Whether it is adding a traditional Mexican sausage that failed to catch on, a veggie-based rice option that fell flat, or a dessert that wasn't so sweet, Chipotle has taken chances and paid the price. Some menu flops have had higher visibility (looking at you, queso), while others still haunt us (you may want to stop reading if you actually like sofritas). 

There are many reasons certain dishes have failed, but there's one thing in common among them all: Chipotle may be creating with diners in mind, but that doesn't mean diners will always be ecstatic over the outcome. This is the story of Chipotle's biggest menu flops.

1. Cauliflower Rice

Gluten-free diets have been all the rage in recent years, so it was no surprise when Chipotle introduced cauliflower rice in January 2021. However, the limited-time menu offering was met with a mixed reaction. Entering into a world reeling from global pandemic and partisan divides, did Chipotle's cauliflower rice really ever stand a chance? These days most Americans are seeking out comfort foods. Still, the idea for low-carb vegetable rice came from a good place. Restaurant Business reported that Chipotle's R&D was inspired by a customer outcry for additional, healthier, "lifestyle" options on the menu. Cooked simply and seasoned with cilantro and lime, cauliflower rice seemed like too easy of a shot to miss.

And yet, feedback for Chipotle's cauliflower rice left a lot to be desired. The Takeout had issues with the general flavor (or lack-of). Business Insider described the base as "mushy" and lacking "the ability to support toppings." These comments were echoed widely across the internet, including by grain-free diehards like The Keto Minimalist. Considering that toppings are Chipotle's bag, the extra $2.25 for veggie rice seemed to be a worse idea with every mouthful. 

2. Chorizo

Centuries after the Spanish successfully introduced chorizo to Mexican cuisine (via WLRN), Chipotle tried to introduce it to their diners. Unfortunately for both customers and Chipotle, the spicy sausage never had a good opportunity to take off.

According to Nation's Restaurant News, in 2011 Chipotle tried out chorizo in nearly all of their New York stores, but the sausage was ultimately shelved. That is, until 2015, when the chain began to test out chorizo again, this time in their Kansas City market (via The Kansas City Star). A year later, Chipotle rolled out the spiced ground pork and chicken sausage nationwide. But despite plenty of fanfare (Chipotle rarely adds new meat options to its menu), chorizo failed to catch fire. Thrillist wrote that the flavors were mostly lost when combined with beans and rice, even recommending that in order to taste it guests should ask employees to "scoop it right into your hand." Eater offered a harsher critique, describing Chipotle's sausage as "the 1% of chorizo that tastes like garbage."

By 2017, chorizo was removed from the menu, and though it returned briefly the following year, apparently not enough fans have been clamoring for another comeback.  

3. Queso

When it comes to menu flops there are few events that stand out as clearly as Chipotle's queso crisis of 2017. How could something that seemed so good in theory — something with such strong customer demand — end so badly? Then again, did it ever really end? Chipotle's queso has been a point of contention for customers since its release, yet somehow, it has managed to remain on the menu. It's the flop that keeps going.

Queso is a beloved sauce by many, but it's hardly the type of food that Chipotle typically focuses on. Yet as The New Yorker reported, the company initially released the cheesy dip with wholesome intentions. Chipotle's queso was made with aged cheddar, tomatoes, and several kinds of chilis — just the sort of craft dip you'd expect from them. But it wasn't the sort of cheese dip you'd actually want to eat. The queso was thin, the flavor sour. A Twitter user called it "a chip dipped in disappointment." The Motley Fool wrote a simple headline that captured the mood of the moment: "Everybody Hates Chipotle's Queso."

Rather than back off, Chipotle doubled-down. According to The New Yorker, the recipe was quickly tweaked, but that resulted in a grainy texture like the undissolved cheese powder in a box of Kraft macaroni & cheese. These days, Chipotle has released a newer "queso blanco" (per CNN). While the internet may have moved on, the new queso's success is far from certain.

4. Buñuelos

Before taking their chances on queso, Chipotle tried to satisfy a sweet tooth. That's right: The company known for a rarely-changing, savory menu was once prepared to unleash a dessert onto the hungry masses.  According to Restaurant Business, Chipotle's first attempt at a sweet menu option was a simple Mexican dish that the company just couldn't get right. 

The year was 2017 and Chipotle was trying to stage a comeback. E. coli outbreaks had set customers scrambling in every direction but through the front doors, and the company desperately wanted fresh ways to entice both new and old eaters to come back (per Bloomberg). Buñuelos were born into that mayhem. A fried tortilla topped with honey, sugar, and cinnamon seemed like a simple way to do that (via The Motley Fool). Unfortunately, the queso catastrophe had yet to show Chipotle's R&D department that simple isn't always easy. (Buñuelos aren't typically a tricky thing, unless you're cooking them for a nationwide audience, apparently.)

In comments to The Denver Post, a spokesperson for the company made clear that Chipotle's spin on a popular Mexican dessert would not be the dish that returned them to glory. The item was placed on hold after it failed to become a "hit." Although buñuelos never left the company's test kitchens, it also never had to become a nationally lampooned menu flop. 

5. Carne Asada

Chipotle was founded on principles of integrity; their promise is to serve quality food made from fresh ingredients grown or raised naturally. But in this case, that commitment to high-caliber ingredients ultimately led to what might be called a successful menu flop.

For Chipotle, beef has often been a point of pride and a thorn in the supply chain. The company has proudly served grass-fed beef for years, but as Eater reported in 2016, several of the known issues with food safety came from the same marinated steak. Since then, Chipotle has doubled-down on the quality of their meat, even going so far as to preemptively remove dishes that didn't end up making the cut. In 2019, carne asada was one such casualty.

Initially the thin-sliced, lime-marinated beef was a hit. Thrillist called it "beautiful" while Business Insider referred to it as "fresh and impressive." Then, carne asada disappeared from the menu, returned briefly in 2020, and was dropped once again. With so many taste buds touting the merits of this meat option, what went wrong?

According to Chipotle, the beef supply chain was unable to meet customer demand while also maintaining the company's standards (via MarketWatch). These standards involve sourcing beef that is pasture-raised and free of antibiotics and hormones. Apparently, only 5% of beef actually reaches that mark. As it seems, Chipotle's carne asada menu flop was the result of too much of a good thing.

6. Mexican Chocolate Shake

Despite the shortcomings of their first try at sweets, Chipotle refused to give up on offering customers a complimentary option to the savory specials of their Mexican-inspired menu. Try as they might, a second attempt at dessert had as little success as the first. 2018 saw the limited trial of a "traditional" Mexican chocolate milkshake (per CBS News). The frozen drink was based on Mexican drinking chocolate, which is normally served hot, spiced with chilis and cinnamon.

Only a small amount of Chipotle eaters had the opportunity to sample the shake, though the frosty mix did make it out of the test kitchen, unlike buñuelos. While the dessert had some good feedback from Buzzfeed, the development process stalled. Considering that the chocolate shake was conceptualized along with current menu favorites like Chipotle's quesadilla, diners are left to draw their own conclusions about why the sweet beverage was never rolled out nationwide (per Daily Mail). 

Did the milkshake's flop come down to a failure in flavor? Was it a lack of hardware on Chipotle's part, as The Motley Fool suggests? Maybe everything comes back to the queso and the folks at Chipotle are just scared of being hurt again. We've all been there.

7. Smoked Brisket

Chipotle's doesn't have a long history with adding new meat options to their menu, but there have been a few over the years. Carne asada has had back-and-forth appearances. Then there is chorizo sausage which made an entrance and then a (quick) departure in the middle of the last decade. When Chipotle announced this year that a smoked brisket option would be coming to burritos, bowls, tacos, and quesadillas across the country, fans were reasonably excited. But after tasting the premium-priced barbecue, many began to reconsider their enthusiasm.

The biggest problem diners seemed to have with Chipotle's brisket is that the meat is too dry. Chipotle's Chief Marketing Officer Chris Brandt said in a press release that "this isn't your standard brisket experience," and apparently reviewers agree. 

In a collection of reviews from Eat This, Not That!, one Twitter user even comments that they, "got that Chipotle brisket because it was free and I was still overcharged." Considering the brisket options comes in at $1 more than the premium steak, order it at your own risk. The full story of this menu flop is still ongoing, but unless Chipotle can change the recipe, it may be an addition the company won't want to remember.

8. Sofritas

What defines a menu flop? Is it only a failure if the company gives up on it? The answers to these questions may be found within Chipotle's introduction of the tofu-based sofritas. The first new protein addition to be fully by Chipotle released in twenty years, the vegetarian option was lined-up to be a hit for the chain when it dropped in 2014 (per Business Insider). While Chipotle has stuck by it in the seven years since, the term "success" isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think about sofritas.

When Daily Beast reviewed Chipotle's vegetarian filling, the polite feedback was the that the flavors were bland. Others haven't been so kind. PopSugar declared that sofritas had the texture of "tofu skin," and that the high sodium content made the vegan protein more worrisome than just going ahead and eating meat. The scrutiny got saltier from there. Here at Mashed, we ranked sofritas among the worst Chipotle menu items

Despite the general discontent over the flavor and texture of sofritas, Chipotle has not wavered in their dedication to the vegan protein and it remains on menus nationwide. Maybe the head honchos really like the flavor, or maybe they're locked in a long-term distribution deal with tofu producers Hodo Soy

Blink twice if you've ever been trapped into eating Chipotle sofritas!