The fast food commentariat lost its collective mind when Taco Bell introduced the Doritos Loco Taco in March, but I rolled my eyes and dismissed it as a clumsy blunt force gimmick destined for the greasebin of history. My mistake: the Doritos Loco has since become the best-selling Taco Bell product of all time. The once-struggling franchise claims to have moved 100 million DLTs in the first 10 weeks; I try not to repeat contextless numbers, but in this case the sheer holy-crap magnitude of selling nine figures' worth of tacos speaks for itself. That's about one Loco per every other meat-eating, teeth-having American.
Of course just because everyone's eating them and writing about them doesn't mean they're worth a damn, but it does mean I need to undo my dereliction and finally join the fiesta. I biked on over to my nearest Bell and dropped $1.29 on Doritos Loco and 40 cents more on a Supreme, then I set about to judging whether this mishmashed stoner's delight is worth any fraction of its hype.
Well, mea even more culpa: Not only did I underestimate the Doritos Loco's cultural significance and staying power, but I was also wrong to dismiss it on purely gustatory grounds. They didn't shove 100 million of these down our throats on marketing alone. This is worth a lot of the hype and all of the price.
The stock version of the DLT is simply a Taco Bell beef taco transplanted out of its plain corn case and into a Dorito-sanctioned hard shell. I can't believe I failed to realize just how much this would alter the experience. Despite my sluggishness regarding the Loco, I try to fulfill my professional obligation to stay at the vanguard of the fast food industry. This means I'm always trying big, new things at the expense of staying familiar with the classics. Therefore I had forgotten just how basic a Taco Bell taco is.
Now, basic doesn't necessarily mean bad, especially for $1.29. The Taco Bell taco is one of the more satisfying options in the sub-Jefferson fast food price category. But it's nothing more than seasoned beef, shredded lettuce, and cheese shards on a fairly bland shell. That's a pretty good time, but a time that is greatly enhanced by the introduction of a Dorito-dusted exoskeleton.
As noted last week in the New York Times, the Dorito Loco shell is not simply a classic Dorito recast as a taco holder. It certainly has the iconic Nacho Cheese flavor, but it's not as intense as a straight-from-the-bag Dorito. This is to the good, because even at the reduced dosage, the Dorito character threatens to overwhelm the taco innards. In fact, the lettuce and cheese utterly disappear (as well they should), leaving your tongue to enjoy a well balanced battle between seasoned beef and seasoned corn chip.
The entry-level Loco was good, and the Supreme version was even better. Of course, I say that as a man who enjoys sour cream in places where a lot of people don't enjoy sour cream. Your position on sour cream will determine your appreciation of the tricked-out Loco, since 40 cents worth of supremacy gets you a big squirt of the white stuff and a handful of irrelevant diced tomatoes.
In addition to having an expertly calibrated flavor, the shell remains structurally sound even after several minutes of absorbing seasoned beef sweat, but I do have two minor quibbles. When I gnawed off a piece of the shell to compare to a straight Dorito, I was struck by how stale it seemed. To be fair, it was not stale for a Taco Bell shell. But it didn't taste as fresh as a bagged Dorito, presumably due to the storage and accessibility demands of fast food. This doesn't really mar the Loco-eating experience, because when you appreciate it on its own terms as a taco ingredient, it's plenty fresh enough. So I guess the moral here is eat it like a normal person and you'll be fine.
My other gripe is more with the New York Times' reviewer William Grimes than with the Dorito Loco itself. He claimed that his hands stayed clean throughout lunch and theorized this was due to the reduced seasoning. On this matter, the paper of record is contradicted by my fingers of record.
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