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Would you like fries (or onion rings or chicken tenders) with that?

Fast Food: Taco Bell's New Loaded Grillers

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[Photographs: Will Gordon]

I like fast food and I should eat it more often. The problem is I work from home and there are no fast food joints in my neighborhood, so it's never my easiest lunch option. Lately I've noticed that I pretty much only eat fast food the one time a week this job requires. Sometimes the boss barks assignments between mouthfuls of oatmeal and whiskey, but for the most part my inspiration comes from television commercials.

I'm looking for new and interesting fast foodstuffs to write about, so I don't pay much mind to the inedible elements of the ads. Or so I tell myself. Who knows how many times I've been sucked into trying yet another crispy chicken something something just because the ad featured a cute dog and/or dog-walker. But I do know that Taco Bell doesn't get a lot of coverage in this column, and while I think it's mostly because their alleged innovations tend to really be repackagings, it could also be at least partially because I'm turned off by their predominant marketing angle.

Simply put, I find Taco Bell ads too aggressive (and often aggressively stupid). I'm not an exxxtreme bro looking to break all the rules. I'm just a regular old hit-or-miss guy looking for lunch on the sloppy side. You got anything for that, Taco Bell? Or are chalupas fit only for more radical lifestyles? Have you nothing Grilled and Stuft for the desk-bound set? And when Taco Bell's not judging me for being a sedentary conformist, they're mocking their customers for being slobs: Their secondary move, after challenging the potential customer's manhood, is to point out that hey, we're all gonna die someday, might as well die fat, screw it, come eat a Fourth Meal.

I don't know how Taco Bell decided it represents the anarchic edge of fast food. My mother, a cautious woman who wouldn't let us watch Murder, She Wrote and enforced a 7 p.m. bedtime until midway through my sophomore year of college, made tacos every week. Taco Bell food isn't appreciably more barbaric than the competition's; I wish they'd accept that as a compliment rather than an accusation of insufficient Neanderthality.

All right, that's off my chest and now let's see what's on my tray. Oh lookie here, a trio of Taco Bell Loaded Grillers, the new 99-cent wraps inspired by casual restaurant appetizers and lauded on the small screen for their ability to foster antisocial behavior. (They're inconvenient to share, you see: "Wings, skins, or nachos for one.") Loaded Grillers come in Spicy Chicken, Beefy Nacho, and Loaded Potato* format, and they're mostly all right. Let's break 'em down.

*So the potato one's double loaded? Shouldn't it be like Ass-Kickin' Mountain-Climbin' Potato? Or at least Cheesy Potato?

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Spicy Buffalo Chicken: The moist, tender chicken was much better than I expected from a 99-cent fast food item. Alas, it was overwhelmed by too much of a white goop that purported to be reduced-fat sour cream but tasted like lemony mayonnaise. The "lava" sauce was only mildly spicy, but it wasn't bad, and the Spicy Buffalo Chicken Griller could have used more of it. The problem here was primarily in the design: The tortilla seemed too big for the job, which made the sandwich taste predominantly like wheat and sauce. For the price, you can't ask for more chicken, but you can ask for a wrap better proportioned for the task.

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Beefy Nacho: The red tortilla chips were a thoughtful addition that provided a great textural contrast to the beef paste, which tasted nice and peppery but was ground so fine it seemed born of a can rather than a cow; it reminded me of beef-flavored refried beans. There was, of course, pump-action nacho cheese. Like its Spicy Buffalo partner in Loadedness, the Beefy Nacho rendition was either understuffed or overwrapped, but it was still 99 cents well spent, as it managed to somehow be far spicier and more flavorful than the parts would have suggested.

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Loaded Potato: This was my favorite, but it won't be yours unless you share my unlikely fondness for Taco Bell's Fiesta Potatoes, curiously sweet home fries that taste like they were dusted with Hostess Powdered Donettes sugar. The bacon bits were flabby and rubbery; they seemed underdone and pepperoni-like in both texture (unfortunate) and spicy flavor (fortunate). The nacho cheese sauce was mild and bland and just fine, the sour cream was judiciously applied and tasted less tainted than the goop in the Buffalo Chicken (different condiment gun?), and the flavors all melded together nicely.

About the author: Will Gordon loves life, particularly the parts of life that involve bourbon and Totino's Pizza Rolls. You can eat and drink with him in Boston or follow him @WillGordonAgain.

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