Special Report

The Top 15 Mexican Chains in America

Source: Keithready / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

5. Del Taco
> U.S. sales: $817 million
> Number of U.S. units: 580

The original Del Taco opened in the Mojave Desert town of Yermo, California, in 1964. The chain has locations in 15 states today, focusing on California, Oregon, and Washington (though Las Vegas has more Del Tacos than any other city). Fast-food tacos, burritos, tostadas, and quesadillas make up much of the menu, though there are also American-style burgers. Beyond Meat vegan options are available, and ground turkey tacos are also offered, as a lower-fat alternative to the ground beef versions.,

Source: Photo taken by Bobak Ha'Eri. November 15, 2005. / Wikimedia Commons

4. Qdoba Mexican Eats
> U.S. sales: $835 million
> Number of U.S. units: 743

Qdoba comes out of Denver, where its ancestor, called Zuma Fresh Mexican Grill, opened in 1995. In 2003, after it had grown to 85 locations in 16 states, Qdoba was acquired by Jack in the Box, which ran it until it was sold to a private equity firm in 2018. It now operates in almost every state, plus Washington, D.C. Customers build their own burritos, burrito bowls, taco salads, quesadillas, nachos, or tortilla soup variations. Impossible brand plant-based protein is an option.

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3. El Pollo Loco
> U.S. sales: $868 million
> Number of U.S. units: 484

Though Restaurant Business lists this chain in the “chicken” category, not the “Mexican,” and although chicken is the only protein on the menu, El Pollo Loco calls its food “L.A. Mex” — which it defines as “SoCal lifestyle meets Mexican heritage.” Fire-grilled chicken is the thing here, by itself (or with beans and rice, fries, etc.), in “Pollo Fit Bowls,” or in the form of burritos, tostadas, or “overstuffed” quesadillas. The original Pollo Loco was in Sinaloa, Mexico, and there is a Mexican chain today, unrelated to the U.S. one. The American company has units all over California (and especially in the southern portions of the state), as well as in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Texas, and Louisiana.

2. Chipotle Mexican Grill
> U.S. sales: $4.805 billion
> Number of U.S. units: 2,452

In business in 47 states and the nation’s capital (as well as Canada, the U.K., France, and Germany), Chipotle has been one of the great fast-food success stories of the late 20th and early 21st century — despite repeated problems, apparently now solved, with food safety, leading to hundreds of cases of food poisoning. Founded in Denver in 1993 and now based in Newport Beach, California, it helped popularize the build-your-own trend with its sort-of-Mexican burritos, tacos, bowls, and salads.

1. Taco Bell
> U.S. sales: $10.410 billion
> Number of U.S. units: 6,588

The monster of the Mexican chain business (though how Mexican it is may be argued), with sales more than twice those of second-place Chipotle, Taco Bell has outposts in all 50 states (though not, for some reason, Washington, D.C.) — an average of 141 per state. California has the most with 822. (Now owned by Yum! Brands, owners of KFC, Pizza Hut, and other chains, it also operates around the world.) Chain founder Glen Bell ran two other small taco chains before opening the first Taco Bell in 1962 in Downey, California, near Los Angeles. Hard-shell tacos (including those with Doritos shells), quesadillas, burritos, chalupas, and made-up hybrids like Quesaritos, Crunchwrap Supremes, and Cheesy Roll Ups are among the specialties.