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Today's post was supposed to be an easy one. Try Taco Bell's new Triple Steak Stack, write a few words for and against, spend an inordinate amount of time taking photos, and call it a wrap. But somewhere it got more complicated than that. I blame Will Gordon.
Nearly two years ago, Will got his hands on the "New" Triple Steak Stack, and wrote this piece artfully examining and slowly eviscerating an over-priced, one-note sandwich. For will, the sandwich's saving grace was the steak, and in the wake of a rough publicity year for Taco Bell (is it ever not a rough publicity year for them, though?), featuring well-executed steak in a sandwich that was basically just steak is a win. High-fives all around the bell-shaped table in the executive boardroom.
So here we are, two years later, and the Triple Steak Stack is back. I mean, it's "New." Whatever, I'm not getting into that now. Nor am I calling out the extremely tenuous relationship between the Triple Steak Stack and actual Mexican cuisine. (Admittedly, I'm not sure if it's more or less egregious than "Mexican Pizza".) I don't need to—the Triple Steak Stack 2013 Edition is an unmitigated failure for one reason alone: they messed with the meat.
While the meat in Will's Triple Steak Stack was laudable—"Tender without being mushy, and the marinade was peppery and reminiscent of a better brand of quickie mart beef jerky"—the 2013 edition reminded me of Salisbury steak in the taste department, but got significantly lower points when it came to texture. If there's one positive improvement it's that at $5.49, this still-too-soft sandwich is now an easy 'pass' in favor of something else.
Might I suggest the new Cantina Double Steak Quesadilla?
Admittedly, most of the "more complicated" part of this column is my own doing. I could have just skipped over Chef Lorena Garcia's latest contribution as I did the other 6 "new" items on the Taco Bell menu (deep breath, Lee...), but man, am I glad I didn't. The story opportunity seemed too perfect: Triple Steak vs. Double Steak. Sometimes, less is more. Well, sort of.
Don't let the name or the $5.19 price fool you, the Cantina Double Steak Quesadilla is over 30% larger than the Triple Steak Stack (438 grams vs. 303 grams). But wait, there's more!
The Cantina Double Steak Quesadilla dwarfed the Triple Steak Stack at every turn. The packaging and presentation is better (think "room service" compared to "the drive-thru at Taco Bell"), and the the quesadilla even comes with an bonus package of chips, salsa, and sour cream (actually, it wasn't entirely clear why the chips were in the box, but still, it's a nice surprise. Something about a gift horse?).
Most importantly, it appears as though the meat that Will described way-back-when has made its way into the Cantina Double Steak Quesadilla. Since the two menu items are both effectively meat, cheese, and bread, it's no surprise that the one featuring textured steak strips is a clear winner. The meat had a slightly smoky flavor, and while it was a little dry, they trounced the alternative (remember: Salisbury steak). I preferred the quesadilla without sour cream and salsa, since the toasted tortilla provided a welcome first-bite crunch, but the salsa was bright and pleasant, more akin to your average Mexican restaurant salsa than one would assume.
Looking back, I guess it wasn't as complicated as I thought. It was the best of the Taco Bell steak offerings, pitted against the worst. Plus, I got to help some people save $.40. That's pretty cool, right?