You may have seen the ads on TV: the orange shells, the nostalgic road trips, the promise of deliciousness — it’s Taco Bell’s new, heavily-hyped, Doritos Loco Taco. Just the same as the old Crunchy Taco inside, but now with a shell made of everyone’s favorite corn chip. I had to try one.
Was a time, back in the day, when an old-fashioned crunch taco filled with undifferentiated meat was good enough. Back in those days, Mexican food meant “pass the Old El Paso,” Chinese food was Chun King frozen egg rolls, and being patriotic meant laughing at Walter Mondale. To that crowd, the generic Mexican promise of the Taco Bell crunchy taco led to immense sales gains and chain expansion. But not anymore: today’s stoners, teenagers, and broke, overworked twentysomethings need a fancy taco for $0.69. And the Taco Bell/Pizza Hut all-in-one drive-through steamroller has hit a bump. Thus: the Doritos Loco Taco Supreme.
You have to understand how delicious, culinarily, the Taco Bell crunchy taco was to me. I don’t remember when I first had one, but I do remember that the only Mexican I grew up with was Chi-Chi’s, where Restaurant Mexican Food meant “let me fix that Old El Paso for you right here in our commercial kitchen.” I mean, Taco Bell actually had… spicy salsa. It was pretty awesome.
But clearly that’s not enough. Clearly, Taco Bell had to ink a partnership with Frito-Lay and put delicious Doritos around said taco. It’s a big business move and it’s packaged up just like one, with a complete experience as you open it up. First there’s the usual paper wrap around the thing:
Inside, there’s a special featured item we’re proud of bright-orange wrap, to help you remember how awesome the thing you’re about to eat is:
This packaging is notable for it’s delicious-looking photo of what you’re about to eat, and also its QR Code. Then there’s the taco itself:
Note, first of all, that the shell is not nearly as deliciously orange as is promised in the photo. Nor is it as dusted with orange goodness, which is partially good given the color Doritos turn your fingers when you eat them. The shell itself is nice: definitely more flavorful than the normal. But what stands out is how is how little it’s a Dorito shell. Let’s look at a real Dorito:
Different color. The dusting of orange seasoning, of course. But, more than that, the flavor: the nacho. It’s sweet but also spicy, a little rich, a little bit like a cheddar but also… something more. The Doritos taco shell doesn’t have all that. It’s sweeter than the regular corn shell, and richer, but it lacks the nacho bite. Other than that, it’s a nice taco. Of course, it was a nice taco with the old shell too.
That’s the thing that got me thinking: the taco was nice before. If you look at the Taco Bell product line-up, you see a lot of things in there where there was only a Crunchy Taco 30 years ago. Like, for instance, the king of the taco end of their product line until recently, the Double Decker Taco:
The Double Decker Taco is a delicious crunchy taco coated in refried beans and then wrapped in a soft flour tortilla. Mmm, cholesterol! But the funny thing is, these two tacos have something big in common, something Taco Bell would like to keep a secret:
They’re both the identical, perfectly-good filling, wrapped in something that they’re trying to make cover up the rather dull crunchy taco shell. You’d think you’d like that shell, but it turns out it’s just there, and it makes the whole thing dull. That’s why they need Fire sauce, and that’s why they need the Doritos Loco Taco.
It makes sense, when you think about it. After all, if you go to a great Mexican restaurant, what’s the first thing you say? You rave about the tortillas, of course. Well, folks, Taco Bell has tortilla problems. You can’t put a hat on this pig, or even a dusting of delicious orange flavoring.
Well, I mean, you can. And it would be better. Noticeably so. Like the Doritos Loco Taco from Taco Bell. It’s pretty good! But it’s just not quite a Dorito.