Which Chain Makes the Best Steak Taco?

[Photographs: Farley Elliott]

We've moved up from the beef taco basement, and boy the amenities are nice up here. After a couple of weeks reporting on various chain tacos, it's finally time to step into the steak taco ring. Who cooks the best carne? Or, really, who even bothers to try making things taste like carne asada? The answer is: basically no one.

Don't let that stop you from reading more, though. We tried 16 different steak taco options from some of the most well-known taco chains. Some, of course, are better than others. Here's what we looked for:

The Criteria

  • Steak: Look, this isn't Ruth's Chris or Peter Luger. It also isn't Mexicali Tacos, so while an association with true Mexican carne asada tacos might be stylistically accurate, it's functionally flawed. Chain steak tacos should arrive with a few tasty grill marks, or, at the very least, a nice crust for salty texture. Speaking of which, you've got to season your meat, from the fast food chains to the sit-down joints. Unseasoned, overcooked steak makes a quick death of any taco.
  • Toppings: You're likely to find some combination of the following four toppings on any fast food taco: shredded lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cheese and sour cream. For the veggies, it's important that they maintain freshness, both in appearance and bite. No sad, soggy tomatoes or pale cilantro. The cheese (when present) is usually low-grade cheddar, and can often be mixed with a few strands of Jack for a real fiesta! Depending on the steak taco style, sour cream might be replaced by guacamole or a heartier, richer cream sauce, but it should never overpower the remaining ingredients.
  • Tortilla: Most steak tacos come with soft tacos as a default, although build-your-own spots will always give you options. For soft tortillas, the preferred variety is generally flour, although corn does occur. Regardless, the tortilla should be warm and pliable, with none of the pale flakiness or gumminess that can come from poorly steamed tortillas.

See all the tasting notes in the slideshow >>


The Chains We Tried


Baja Fresh: Original Taco
Taco Bell: Fresco Soft Taco
Del Taco: Taco Al Carbon
Rubio's: Gourmet Taco

Wouldn't Kick This Taco Out of Bed

Taco Bell: Fresco Hard Taco
Taco Bell: Soft Taco
Baja Fresh: American Soft Taco
Qdoba: Hard Shell Taco
Qdoba: Soft Taco
Chipotle: Hard Shell Taco
Chipotle: Soft Taco

Not Recommended

Del Taco: Soft Taco
Del Taco: Fat (Flatbread) Taco
Rubio's: Street Taco
Rubio's: Classic Taco
Wahoo's: Soft Taco