We tried all 6 of Chipotle's bowls designed just for dieters, and while the options were tasty, we found one major flaw
Katie Canales/Business Insider
- In March, Chipotle announced it was adding two new burrito bowls for vegan and vegetarian customers.
- The vegan and vegetarian bowls are the newest additions to the restaurant's diet-friendly line of Lifestyle Bowls, which were launched in early 2019 to cater to customers abiding by popular diets.
- The Lifestyle Bowls line consists of six burrito or salad bowls. According to the company, the bowls and their default ingredients are:
- Double Protein Bowl: White rice, black beans, chicken (full portion), steak (full portion), red salsa, romaine lettuce, and sour cream
- Vegan: Sofritas, brown rice, black beans, tomato salsa, roasted chili-corn salsa, and romaine lettuce
- Vegetarian: Fajita veggies, brown rice, pinto beans, guacamole, tomato salsa, roasted chili-corn salsa, and sour cream
- Paleo Salad Bowl: Romaine lettuce, barbacoa, fajita veggies, green salsa, and guacamole
- Whole30 Salad Bowl: Romaine lettuce, carnitas, fajita veggies, tomato salsa, and guacamole
- Keto Salad Bowl: Romaine lettuce, carnitas, red salsa, cheese, and guacamole
- The purpose of the chain's new line of bowls is to take the guesswork out of ordering meals that fit within their diets.
- There's nothing new in any of the dishes, since the bowls consist of existing ingredients, but we taste-tested all six of Chipotle's Lifestyle Bowls to see what each one offers, how they compare, and whether they live up to their mission.
- Each Lifestyle Bowl cost around $12 or $13, except for the vegan and vegetarian options, which were under $9.
- While each bowl holds merit for offering customers entrees aligned with their respective diets, we found the Keto Bowl stood out for its perfect combination of carnitas, cheese, and guacamole.
- We also found one caveat when it comes to ordering these bowls.
- Here's how they all compare.
- Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.
Chipotle's vegan and vegetarian bowls are the newest additions to the chain's existing lineup of Lifestyle Bowls.
Burrito bowls aligning with Paleo, Keto, Whole30, and high-protein dietary restrictions were added to Chipotle's online and app menu earlier this year to cater to health-conscious customers — and hopefully to drive more traffic to the chain's app in the process.
We were a little skeptical since the dishes aren't really anything new, but simply re-branded dishes consisting of existing ingredients.
The Keto Salad Bowl, for example, cost $11.90 online. When we built it ourselves online as a regular salad bowl with the same ingredients — romaine lettuce, carnitas, red salsa, cheese, and guacamole — it also came out to $11.90.
So we made a trip to a Chipotle in San Francisco, California, to try them all out for ourselves. We asked a crew member for one of each: the vegan bowl, the vegetarian bowl, the Paleo Bowl, the Keto Bowl, the Whole30 Bowl, and the Double Protein Bowl — and for the most part, it was a seamless process.
We encountered one small hiccup when we went to order the vegan and vegetarian bowls, though. While we were able to simply order the other Lifestyle Bowls by name in the restaurant, the Chipotle crew member taking our order asked us to customize both our vegetarian bowl and vegan bowl.
Caught a little off guard, we hastily asked for our toppings. But we goofed and ordered cheese on our bowl, which is not a vegan option at Chipotle.
It even says so on Chipotle's website. People who abide by a vegan diet don't eat products that come from animals and opt for plant-based foods instead. Oops.
Ordering a non-vegan ingredient may not be a mistake many practicing vegans make, but for customers wanting to order a Lifestyle Bowl to take the guesswork out of ordering, we found that having to customize the order allowed more room for error.
Interestingly, when we looked at the receipt, the names on the orders also weren't what we expected. For example, the Paleo Salad Bowl was itemized as a "Barbacoa Bowl" with a side of guacamole.
It turns out that the Lifestyle Bowls are designed to only be available as menu items online or on the app. If customers want to order Lifestyle Bowls in-store, they need to be prepared to instruct the Chipotle employee on how to build the bowl, a company spokesperson told Business Insider.
So while we were able to easily order some of the Lifestyle Bowls in-store by name without reciting their contents, a company spokesperson said this was likely only because the employees at that location may have had more experience building them for digital orders — but this isn't guaranteed.
As we found when ordering the newer vegan and vegetarian bowls, you have to know what you want in your bowls when you order in-store, or you might wind up with something that doesn't fit your diet. We think this is a pretty important caveat to keep in mind.
Meanwhile, there's little room for error when ordering on the website or app, where the dishes are labeled by their Lifestyle Bowl names, except for the Double Protein Bowl. You don't have to put much thought into what you're ordering because Chipotle has already done the thinking for you.
If you order a Vegetarian Bowl online, for example, there's already a fixed set of ingredients. And if you try to edit the bowl's ingredients, the site will give you a warning that you're deviating from the approved list of ingredients for that diet.
In fact, the same alert will appear if you try to edit the contents of any of the Lifestyle Bowls when you're ordering online.
And labels were written in marker on the tin lids of each so we could keep track of what was what, which was helpful since they all looked so similar.
Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol told Business Insider in January that the restaurant's No. 1-selling meat is chicken and that making customers aware of other menu options has been a struggle.
He said the Lifestyle Bowls could help with that. And though there's chicken in the Double Protein dish, lesser-known proteins are featured in the other bowls, like barbacoa (beef), carnitas (pork), and the chain's vegan protein, sofritas.
The vegetarian bowl, on the other hand, comes loaded with beans for protein instead of sofritas, as well as guacamole and fajita veggies, which the vegan bowl doesn't come with. It cost $8.95.
The vegetarian bowl was the first bowl we taste tested — and it set the bar pretty high. The overall mix of Mexican flavors, formed by the vegetarian ingredients we were able to choose from, was perfect. But we may have also just gotten lucky with the combination we chose.
While the default ingredients in the vegetarian bowl are fajita veggies, brown rice, pinto beans, guacamole, tomato salsa, roasted chili-corn salsa, and sour cream, we changed up the pinto beans for black beans, nixed the corn salsa, and added cheese to our vegetarian bowl.
Even as meat-lovers, we declared the meatless dish worthy of ordering again in the future, which is saying a lot.
Our carnivorous tastebuds were looking forward to a dish that boasted some hefty portions of meat, though.
The Double Protein Bowl wasn't customizable like the vegetarian bowl was for us. The Chipotle employee automatically scooped in the bowl's set ingredients: white rice, black beans, red salsa, romaine lettuce, sour cream, and two full meat portions, one of chicken and one of steak.
Since there were two protein portions, the cost came out to $12.90. At eye level, the bowl was visibly bursting with ingredients, more so than the others given its extra portions.
But too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, which was the case with the Double Protein Bowl.
The packed meat in the dish was overpowering, with each bite largely consisting of only meat and a tiny bit of lettuce. There was an off-putting texture — and way more saltiness — to the bowl as a result.
It wasn't difficult to move on from the Double Protein Bowl to the next bowl to try: the Vegan Bowl.
The vegan bowl came with sofritas, the chain's vegan, organic, plant-based protein. And since the Chipotle employee asked us to choose which kind of rice, beans, and toppings we wanted, we went with brown rice, black beans, fresh salsa, corn, and non-vegan cheese, with the cost coming out to $8.95.
On the plus side, Chipotle's chips are definitely vegan, according to the website, so vegans can safely indulge in the salty side order.
As far as how a bowl consisting of mostly vegan ingredients fares, it was pretty tasty, but not really anything extraordinary. But there's also room for error with the vegan bowl since it was just our iteration of a vegan dish at Chipotle that didn't impress us.
The vegan bowl, with the sofritas at the heart of it, was intended to make customers more aware of the plant-based protein, Niccol told Business Insider earlier this year. As for the sofritas, it was excellent.
The Keto Bowl was the first dish we tried that featured Chipotle's carnitas. It also came with romaine lettuce, red salsa, cheese, and guacamole, which was an extra $2.45, bringing the total to $11.90.
Eaters adhering to the keto diet strictly limit their carb intake but can heavily prioritize fats.
So cheese and avocados are a go, and the two ingredients played a big role in the Keto Bowl.
They, as well as the carnitas, were actually the dish's shining stars.
It was delicious ...
... but at the end of the day, it was a salad bowl consisting of five ingredients with a diet name attached to it. We were really starting to see a trend here.
The paleo, or Paleolithic, diet is based on our perceived idea of what our caveman ancestors ate — so that's whole vegetables, fruits, meats, and nuts, as well as no grains, legumes (beans), or dairy.
The Paleo Bowl, then, comes with romaine lettuce, fajita veggies, green salsa, guacamole, and two big scoops of barbacoa. The $2.45 extra guacamole made the total $12.40.
It's the only bowl out of the six that comes with the tender meat, which is a plus for customers who are fans of barbacoa ...
... and it was good, but at this point, all the entrees were beginning to blur together.
Especially when we got to our last bowl to try: The Whole30 Bowl. Whole30 is another trendy diet that encourages the consumption of whole foods and bans processed foods, grains, sugars, and dairy, among other things.
The diet's corresponding bowl comes with romaine lettuce, carnitas, fajita veggies, tomato salsa, and guacamole. The total, with the $2.45 for guacamole, came to $11.90.
It was good, but it tasted and looked almost exactly like the Paleo Bowl.
And compositionally, it was exactly the same except for different salsas and meats.
By the end of the taste test, we had concluded that there was nothing particularly wrong with any of the bowls. They were all appetizing ...
... even the Double Protein Bowl, despite the overwhelming amount of meat in it.
The plant-based sofritas in the vegan bowl was delicious and even better than some of the meat we tried.
Any of the bowls that contained the crunchy fajita veggies was instantly elevated.
And each bowl was brimming with ingredients, so the likelihood of feeling hungry after finishing one would probably be slim.
Our favorite bowl, however, was the vegetarian bowl that we customized ...
... but it was our own personal curation of the dish that won us over. Since almost all of Chipotle's ingredients are vegetarian, the possible combinations are endless.
So if we had to choose from the more curated dishes in the Lifestyle Bowls lineup that we ordered, the Keto Bowl succeeds in leaving a mark.
Something about how the carnitas, cheese, and guacamole mixed together convinced us that, even though we aren't Keto dieters, ordering the bowl in the future wouldn't be the worst idea.
The winner aside, the biggest appeal of the Lifestyle Bowls seemed to be how they allow dieters to dine out worry-free while also staying within their goals.
Eating home-cooked meals, not at a restaurant, is a habit long associated with healthy eating.
So it would be a huge help to have the ability to walk into a restaurant and order a dish built around a diet you're adhering to.
But that's less of a focal point of the Lifestyle Bowls, since they're designed to be more of an online ordering feature.
You're better off sticking to ordering online or in the app to take full advantage of the Lifestyle Bowls — the in-store experience with ordering them is unpredictable, and you may order the wrong thing, which isn't helpful when you're trying to stick to a diet.
Plus, a helpful notification pops up if you attempt to edit the contents of your order online.
The Lifestyle Bowls are advertised to be exclusively available through the app or website, which makes sense given the chain's broader goal to turn to technology to boost sales.
And while there is value in being able to turn to dishes that correspond with your dietary restrictions, it seems to be limiting not to put more of a focus on them in-store ...
... especially if the mission behind the Lifestyle Bowls is to help "those who have committed to living a healthier lifestyle by making it easy to order delicious bowls that only contain the real ingredients permitted by certain diet regimens."
It's also worth noting that people following specific diets aren't limited to ordering only the Lifestyle Bowls that correspond to those diets.
The Paleo Bowl, for example, comes with green salsa and barbacoa, while the Whole30 Bowl comes with tomato salsa and carnitas. Both salsas are interchangeable for both diets, and someone following the paleo diet could feasibly eat carnitas, so they could also order the Whole30 bowl.
Someone following the paleo diet could also feasibly order any of Chipotle's proteins except for the plant-based sofritas, since it contains soy, but they could also customize their bowl with a different protein.
If you're looking to switch things up, you can check out Chipotle's ingredients page for guidance on what you can order for your specific dietary restrictions.
Overall though, it's a clever concept on Chipotle's part, taking ingredients already beloved by customers and combining them into dishes marketed towards patrons following particular diets, with the intended purpose of making ordering easier on them.
Time will tell if it'll catch on in-store.
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