Taste Test: Chipotle Adds Pollo Asado

Since opening its first eatery at 1644 East Evans Avenue in 1993, Chipotle has grown from a scrappy startup to full-on fast-casual domination. In the process, a lot has changed. For years, founder Steve Ells operated with some longtime rules — including not adding new menu items. But food safety problems that peaked in 2015 led to Ells leaving the CEO post in 2017. He was replaced by former Taco Bell exec Brian Niccol, who, among other changes, dared to add queso to the menu — a launch that went not-so -smoothly and led to the queso blanco redo of early 2020.

These days, Ells has completely stepped away from the company, which moved its headquarters out of Denver in favor of California in 2018. But despite the growing distance from its Denver roots, Chipotle still has a special place in many Coloradans’ hearts (and stomachs ) — which was clear on a recent weeknight when I stopped by the original location on Evans to try its latest change, the limited-time launch of a new chicken option: pollo asado.

While the OG Chipotle was once known for its edgy industrial decor and indie playlist, it’s now a pretty bare-bones corporate box. The small location is a table-less machine, churning out burrito after bowl after taco in a flurry of flying lettuce and spilled salsa. The staff was on the edge when I dropped in — and rightfully so, considering the line that grew nearly as fast as the pile of online order tickets that kept stacking up.

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The first Chipotle is near the University of Denver campus.

Molly Martin

At one point, the employee at the start of the ordering line ran into a stack of tortillas that just kept ripping. Frustrated, she disappeared into the back to find a new bag while I watched in horror as someone farther down the line ordered their burrito with just rice and extra cheese. Huh? But I was on a mission.

Chicken is by far Chipotle’s most popular protein, so it makes sense for the brand to capitalize on that with a new version for people to try. “We’re thrilled to introduce fans to another flavor of chicken that brings a whole new dimension to any Chipotle order and will certainly be a crowd-pleaser,” says chief marketing officer Chris Brandt in the announcement of Chipotle’s first chicken update ever.

In order to really get a sense of how the pollo asado tastes, I opted for a kid’s taco meal, which is packaged with the meat and two topping choices in separate sections of a cardboard container. I also got the same meal with the regular chicken for a side-by-side comparison.

click to enlarge Staff work at a fast pace filling online and in-person orders.  - MOLLY MARTIN

Staff work at a fast pace filling online and in-person orders.

Molly Martin

Like the original chicken, the pollo asado is hit with a blend of spices and seared on the flat top. Unlike the standard, it then gets hit with a marinade as well as lime juice and cilantro. That makes for a very up-front citrus- and cilantro-heavy flavor. There was some lingering heat from Guajillo chiles, however.

I’d never picked up on the smokiness of the original Chipotle chicken before, but compared to the new, brighter pollo asado option, it stood out. On its own, I preferred the pollo asado, but once I loaded it into a tortilla with pico and cheese, the lime and cilantro blended in with the other ingredients and the mild spice was lost. The original chicken, though, adds that smoky dimension (which comes from smoked paprika in the spice blend, according to copycat recipes posted online), making for a taco-eating experience that was better overall.

The bottom line: The new pollo asado is good, but if you’re opting for the lime- and cilantro-spiked rice, pico or any other addition that has similar flavors, it’s going to get lost in the mix.

Speaking of which, my favorite stop for a fast burrito remains the still-Denver-based Illegal Pete’s — which has a location just a block away from the first Chipotle. There the burritos are mixed before they’re wrapped, which means you never get a bite of pure rice. Plus, the margaritas are strong, the playlist is always on point, and the queso has never caused a country-wide backlash.