The Restaurant That Beat Taco Bell In A New Survey For The Best Mexican Fast-Food Chain

Whether it's a craving for chips and salsa or the weekly Taco Tuesday meal, Mexican food has earned its spot among other favorite American comfort foods. Although people can debate recipe or flavor authenticity, the reality is that many people in the United States turn to Mexican dishes to find that "full belly, happy heart" feeling. According to a 2019 survey from YouGov, Mexican food ranked as the second most popular food in the country, falling just behind Italian cuisine. 

Because Mexican food has surged in popularity in the United States, more and more restaurants feature this style of cuisine. According to CDHExpert, a 2017 survey showed that approximately "9% of all restaurants" in the country featured Mexican dishes on menus. And according to FranchiseChatter.com, Mexican food falls just behind the burger as the most common menu item in America.

While Americans clearly love their Mexican food, they also have their favorite restaurants, and that includes the quick-service realm.

Which quick-service Mexican chain rises to the top?

Whether it's the flavor, the menu value, or something else entirely, one chain rises above the rest. Even if guac costs extra, a new Mashed survey showed that 41.83% of people prefer Chipotle to other quick-service Mexican restaurants. The brand's focus on fresh ingredients, its dedication to the environment, and its commitment to offering more plant-based options, in addition to a variety of meats, has won over eaters.

As Chipotle's expansive menu has shown, the ability to customize Mexican dishes, especially with a vegetarian slant, has created a loyal following. And when it comes to the "build your own meal" option at fast-food restaurants, Chipotle is one of the original creators of the forward-thinking idea. From burritos to tacos to bowls, the chain has a lot to offer. 

Chipotle keeps things fresh and unique for consumers

Chipotle founder Steve Ells originally wanted to be a fine-dining chef, CNBC reported in 2017. But he fell into the burrito-making side of the restaurant world and never looked back. Chipotle is a household name in the quick-service world, and for good reason — its business model has inspired countless other restaurants to follow the lead of its customizable meal options.

In addition to offering diners the ability to customize their orders from start to finish, Chipotle keeps things fresh by adding new menu options from time to time. In March, for instance, Chipotle added pollo asado to its list of protein options, while still keeping the original chicken adobo on the menu. The spicy marinade created another menu option for customers who want to add a bit of heat to their meal.

What makes Chipotle the best?

If you're a cheese lover who's tried to order a quesarito at Chipotle, the chain hears you, too. Chipotle's quesadillas are now officially off the "secret menu" and are listed on the official menu (per Today), although you can only order them through the chain's website and mobile app. But the addition of the quesadilla in March 2021 paid off — CNN reported the following month that 10% of orders included a quesadilla after it was added to the menu. (The quesarito, though, remains a "secret menu" Chipotle option — and one that might leave employees annoyed if you order it.)

Clearly, listening to its fans and keeping its menu options fresh have helped make Chipotle one of the most successful quick-service restaurants around.

Which Mexican chain was the runner-up?

While Chipotle came in first place in Mashed's poll, it was followed by another fan-favorite: Taco Bell. The fast-food chain placed second in Mashed's poll, with 26.24% of the votes. 

With those late-night hours, menu deals, and other specials, the classic Tex-Mex chain has plenty of devoted fans. The chain has also been behind some of the most interesting Mexican fast-food items – some of which are now discontinued – including the Waffle Taco, Nacho Fries, and Crunchwrap Supreme. (And, of course, we can't forget the fan-favorite Mexican pizza.)

Rounding out the list of the best quick-service Mexican food chains were Moe's Southwest Grill (13.88%), Qdoba (11.41%), and Del Taco (6.65%). While Mashed's survey only took the above five options into account, some people could argue that other quick-service Mexican restaurants could give the top rankings a run for their money. From Torchy's Tacos to Taco Cabana, there are plenty of options popping up all over the country. Because of the growing competition (and America's desire for the delicious cuisine), Mexican food may get more days on the weekly dinner menu than just Tuesday. And we're more than okay with that.