Dining Out: Qdoba’s robust flavors pack a punch

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Why: Qdoba has all the items one expects to find on a Mexican grill menu, ranging from “naked” to fully loaded tacos, burritos, salads, and more, plus a breakfast menu that offers breakfast burritos and quesadillas. This location is the chain’s first franchise in SW Washington and is already attracting diners in search of fresh value on the go.

Where I found Qdoba differs from closely related food establishments in this category is the flavors. Instead of an overall fresco fresh taste, it presents slow-cooked marinated foods packed with robust characteristics.

Atmosphere: Diners will appreciate the simplistic, clean dining accommodations and the build-as-you-go meals they’ve become accustomed to at places such as Subway and Chipotle. Seating ranges from standard-height tables and chairs to taller, bar stool seating.

What I Tried: I decided on the Craft 2 option, which allows for two portions of selected menu items. I chose the Mexican Gumbo and the Ancho Chile BBQ Burrito with chicken added. When ordered as part of the Craft 2, this burrito is served naked, Qdoba’s term for foods served without tortillas, so I also added a flour tortilla on the side.

My dining companion had the naked version of the Taco Salad — it came in a bowl instead of a deep-fried flour tortilla — and she added steak. She also had the 3-Cheese Nachos with Pulled Pork.

The Ancho Chile BBQ Burrito was the highlight of my meal. I had a little bit of the mild Salsa Verde added and this turned out to be a delicious choice with the combination of flavors already present. The barbecue sauce has spicy chiles in it that give it a kick, and there’s also an overall sweet, mole-inspired essence.

Mexican Gumbo at Qdoba is made by simply layering rice, beans and tortilla soup. This is likely more impressive if ordered on its own in a larger portion, because the size of the dish when you order the Craft 2 doesn’t allow for optimum consistency. The gumbo complemented the burrito as a side, and cilantro brought harmony to the gumbo ingredients.

My dining companion agreed that all the flavors gave a strong impression. The only thing that she felt could have been better about her meal was the steak on the taco salad. Though very tasty, it could have been heated before adding it to the taco salad.

The 3-Cheese Queso on top of the tortilla chips was rich in flavor and the pulled pork, which I also tried, was very tender and lean.

Highlights beyond what I tried: There are four sauces to choose from — Warm 3-Cheese Queso, Poblano Pesto, Ancho Chili BBQ Sauce and Ranchera Sauce — in addition to five salsas, which range from mild to extra hot. Kids’ meals for 12 and under, at just $3.99, allow smaller portions of main menu items.

Other observations: It is easy to go vegetarian at Qdoba by just leaving off the meat. With the calorie count clearly visible on the menu, watching one’s calorie intake is made easy as well.

The staff is friendly and courteous.

Qdoba offers catering in the form of hot taco, nacho and burrito bars and box lunches.

Cost: All menu items are under $7, with most in the $6 to $7 range.

Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday. 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Telephone: 360-448-2694

Where: 155 N.E. 192nd Ave., Camas

Health Score: Qdoba received a score of 5 on August 9. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.