The Good: Different food selection from most fast food restaurants, Inexpensive, Lots of locations
The Bad: Like most fast food places, not overly nutritious, Fairly mediocre quality food
The Basics: A good fast food option which offers tacos, burritos and other faux-Mexican food, Taco Bell is consistent, inexpensive and tasty in a salty/cheesy way.
As I consider places I frequently eat out at, I have to consider hypocrisy. After all, if I eat someplace knowing it’s not terribly nutritious, that the food is not even of a particularly high quality, and that I even actively seek out a certain chain restaurant when on cross-country trips, how could I not recommend it? This is where I find my thoughts drifting on Taco Bell. Here’s why: after four trips across the United States, I’ve discovered that independent restaurants are truly hit or miss. In the middle of nowhere, one can find an independent restaurant with exceptionally expensive food that is lousy – as that restaurant operates under the principle of “we’re the only game in town.” So, I’ve started to enjoy one of the odd benefits of the United States; the consistent quality of food that comes with chain restaurants. Fast food restaurants may not have the healthiest food in the world or even the highest quality, but it tends to be inexpensive, consistent and taste good (especially when one is on the road). And for those criteria, the place I most frequently find and find myself if Taco Bell.
Taco Bell is a fast food chain which makes American Mexican food (real Mexican food being quite different from the tacos and burritos served at Taco Bell or in Old El Paso dinner kits!). The chain, which is almost constantly growing as one of Yum Corporation’s most successful chains, specializes in inexpensive meal options and virtually every option on their menu is meat, cheese and flatbread (burrito shells) with vegetables as a garnish and lots of sauces to spice up the basic dishes.
Taco Bell’s is a chain restaurant and they have achieved fairly complete penetration of the United States, being found all over the country. In fact, trailing only McDonald’s, it seems like Taco Bell has locations virtually everywhere, making it one of the staple fast food restaurants. In addition to freestanding Taco Bell restaurants, Taco Bell is a frequent fixture in American malls as its chief demographic seems to be younger people with moderate amounts of disposable income.
Taco Bell locations tend to set themselves apart from most areas they are in by having a brownish stucco appearance on their buildings. The brand’s color scheme is purple and green and the brand is as consistent with their outward appearance as regional styles allow. Virtually every Taco Bell restaurant is equipped with hard plastic booths and a few tables which are purposely uncomfortable. Taco Bell, like most fast food restaurants, is a chain hoping to do business in volume and thus, they do not want customers getting too comfortable and lingering at the restaurant.
Like most fast food chain restaurants, Taco Bell’s does not have traditional waitstaff. Instead, one places an order at a main counter, above which hangs the menu and their order is assembled by a team and the customer picks their food up further down the counter. Taco Bell’s tends to have a younger staff in many of their locations, which might also account for why it is so popular with teens. The young workforce tends to mean drastically inconsistent service from location to location, though managers tend to be older and problems get resolved quickly and efficiently as a result.
Taco Bell specializes in inexpensive food which tastes good on a hot and salty level, but has little in the way of enduring nutritional value. As a result, some of the most popular options are items that cost $.79, $.89, and $.99 each. So, for $.79, one may purchase a “cheese wrap,” which is a soft tortilla shell with melted cheddar cheese rolled up. This is actually not bad for the price, especially if one garnishes it with the free taco sauce that Taco Bell has in packets at their check-out counter.
My favorite dish at Taco Bell is also one of the most expensive which Taco Bell offers; a grilled steak quesadilla. The grilled steak quesadilla is a large soft burrito shell which has seasoned beef strips placed on it, is covered in cheese (and some sauce I always insist they not put on it and usually my request is met), and then the shell is folded over itself and the entire thing is flash-toasted. This both melts the cheese and makes the shell crispy, so it’s like a fancy, meaty grilled cheese sandwich. For $2.99, it is a little pricey, but I’ve found the beef or chicken grilled quesadillas are nowhere near as good.
Recently, Taco Bell has begun making burritos based upon a weight for value concept. Their half-pound burrito line is a collection of deals which were much more of a deal when they were $.99. Still, it is hard to argue with the half-pound beef and potato burrito. For under two dollars, one may get a burrito which is a quarter pound of little fried potatoes and a quarter pound of seasoned (with taco seasonings) ground beef and a squirt of nacho cheese. This has become a favorite for me largely because it’s pretty much all of the joy of a cheeseburger and fries without having to make the decision of which to eat first. Wrapped together, the wrap is hot, flavorful and relatively inexpensive.
This brings me to the thing my partner always gets, but I can’t stand. My partner likes Taco Bell’s Chicken Soft Tacos. The chicken soft taco is a small soft shell taco with usually about five inch-long strips of chicken that is then smothered in cold, fresh lettuce and tomatoes. My sense of taste is closely related to temperature and invariably, the chicken gets cold almost instantly in this taco and the balance between meat and vegetables is seriously off. If I wanted a salad, I would order a salad; when I order a chicken taco, I want meat and cheese.
On the flip side, on the cheap menu, there is also the wonderful option of the Nachos Supreme. For less than a dollar, one gets a small tray of nachos topped with refried beans, taco sauce, and melted nacho cheese. I’ve never had these not served hot and this makes for a great, inexpensive snack.
To drink, Taco Bell is part of the United States’ affair with soda pop. However, for variety and distinction, Taco Bell offers fruitistas. The fruitista is a fruit shake (instead of most fast food chains’ milkshakes) which features frozen fruit juice with a soda base. As a result, flavors like the strawberry mango fruitista offer the consumer a cold, fruity beverage while still giving them a little fizz. The fruitistas are good, but a small cup (the only size I’ve found) is almost three dollars, making it one of the more expensive options at Taco Bell.
The menu is fleshed out with tacos and burritos, many of which have sour cream (which I always ask to have removed and never seems to be a problem). For dessert, Taco Bell offers cinnamon twists. This fried little puffed up dessert is like Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal served warm and in a puffy form. The sweetness and cinnamon compliments well the salty nature of all of the rest of Taco Bell’s food.
Taco Bell is an inexpensive dining option and while it is not at all healthy, it is consistent and it tastes good. And, frankly, having seen many dives everywhere in the United States, sometimes the purple and green sign with the bell logo shines like a beacon away from hunger and it’s hard not to recommend the restaurant under those terms.
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© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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