Which Chain Makes the Best Burrito Bowls?

Los Angeles Tacos

Tacos every Tuesday from taco trucks and taquerias all over Los Angeles.

[Photographs: Farley Elliott]

As a person with an unfailing dedication to tacos, I'm not entirely sure who orders bowls at Mexican chains. People trying to be healthy by forgoing the tortilla? If so, bowls may not be your answer. They're still loaded up with all sorts of gut busters, like cheese and piles of rice and loads and loads of meat and vegetables.

They're also generally not any smaller than the burrito you would have gotten anyway. Is it some sort of gluten thing? I don't know much about gluten except that judging by the public fear of it, I thought it was going to have a bad guy cameo in The Dark Knight Rises.

Yet, plenty of chains offer bowls as viable alternatives to the tacos and burritos I've come to love. So be it. With similar (or, on occasion, exact) ingredients as what's found in my burrito, I can swing a bowl. Heck, I usually opt for the ice cream cup over the cone, so there! Now, down to business. Which Mexican chain makes the best bowls?

Since this is all scientific and whatnot, we've listed the criteria for judgement below, just like every other chain competition we've done so far. But first, let me be absolutely clear about one thing: While the bowls are popular options at pick-it-yourself chains like Chipotle and Qdoba, there's nothing new there that we haven't already covered in our previous steak, chicken, carnitas, ground beef, fish and vegetarian burrito iterations.

Let's get to work on the bowls!

The Criteria

  • Main Ingredients:Be it meat, veggies or some sort of alternative protein option, there is always a main ingredient involved. If it's meat, the flesh should be tender and flavorful, showing off a deft cooking hand. Beef should be well-salted, chicken benefits greatly from time over an open flame, offering a smoky bite. Vegetarian bowls still need to bring it with their options, whether it's grilled vegetables that keep just enough crunch, or meat substitutes like tofu that can often come off too dry or underseasoned.
  • Toppings: Basic bowl toppings include cilantro, onions and pico de gallo, plus a salsa or similarly sassy sauce. No matter what, sauce should not be the main flavor of your bowl. Similarly, veggie toppings like tomatoes and any greens should still have some color and firmness to them, so as not to mush up and create a pile of pasty dissatisfaction.
  • Rice and Beans: The staple of any fast food Mexican-inspired bowl, the rice and beans make up the bulk of the operation. Beans should ideally be served whole yet tender, with a fall-apart quality that traps in juices and salt until just the right moment. Rice should be seasoned, either with lime and cilantro or through more traditional burrito-style means, but without too much clumping and stickiness.

The Chains We Tried


El Pollo Loco Pollo Bowl
El Pollo Loco Ultimate Bowl
Wahoo's Wafu Bowl
Wahoo's Kalua Pig Bowl

Wouldn't Kick This Taco Out of Bed

Baja Fresh Loaded Chicken Bowl
Baja Fresh Steak & Shrimp Bowl

Not Recommended

Taco Bell Steak Cantina Bowl
Taco Bell Chicken Cantina Bowl
Taco Bell Veggie Cantina Bowl
Rubio's Grilled Shrimp Grande Bowl
Rubio's Grilled Chicken Grande Bowl