In queso wars, Del Taco is a bigger winner than Chipotle

Both Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and Del Taco Restaurants Inc. introduced new queso dishes in the past month. But the latter chain may get more of a sales boost from the melted-cheese item than its rival.

That’s the view of BTIG LLC analyst Peter Saleh, who sees the Tex-Mex dish as more compatible with the rest of the menu at Del Taco. The California-based chain interprets Mexican food more liberally than Chipotle (in addition to tacos and nachos, its lineup includes burgers and fries). And queso — a goopy bowl of melted cheese — seems to fit.

“While Chipotle’s recent launch of queso has received the lion’s share of attention from customers and investors (much of which has not been positive), we believe queso could actually be a more meaningful sales driver for Del Taco,” he said in a note on Monday.

The item could contribute up to 4 percentage points in same-store sales over time to Del Taco, both by increasing traffic and the amount that customers order, he said. Saleh, who recommends buying shares of Del Taco, raised his sales estimates to reflect the benefit. He has a neutral rating on Chipotle.

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