Tuesday, January 26, 2010

TBG (Finally) Eats: Del Taco...Again

Current Weight: 166.8 lbs.

Twenty years ago, if you'd told me that my faux Mexican food of choice would be Taco Bell, I wouldn't have believed you. While I confess to having a brief fling with TB's Mexican Pizza -- back then, it was known as "Pizzazz Pizza" -- in the late 1980s, it would've been Del Taco that received the too-frequent fast food review treatment from me if lightly-read blogs had been around at the time.

There were two reasons why Del Taco trumped Taco Bell: (1) Proximity -- when you grow up poor, your fast food options are limited to how far your feet can carry you or wherever you might have 30 minutes to kill between bus transfers. Our apartment was just off of Pacific Coast Highway* in Long Beach and there was a Del Taco barely a block away. The nearest Taco Bell was a few miles down the road. (2) Del Taco not only had better food than the late-1980s, early-1990s TB menu, but they were considered one of the more innovative -- albeit regional -- fast food chains out there.

* -- For those of you who don't live in California, keep in mind that Pacific Coast Highway is a l-o-n-g stretch of road. Perhaps for you, the name invokes picturesque images such this, this and this. The portion of PCH that runs through Long Beach, though, is less about beaches and cliffs as it is Bloods, Crips and Thrift Stores. Mostly Crips.

Del Taco beat Taco Bell to the punch on several items that are now considered staples of both restaurants' menus, including
quesadillas, steak or chicken salads and oversized 1,000-calorie portions of burritos and nachos.

But, a grandiose expansion plan in the 1990s overextended the Del Taco brand right into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Keep in mind, though, that these were the halcyon Clinton days. Fast food companies seemed to rise from their own ashes on a bi-monthly basis. McDonald's recovered from the
Arch Deluxe. Jack in the Box came back from that whole killing people thing. And, less than 10 years after the brink of extinction, Del Taco claimed the largest average sales volume per store of any fast food chain in America.

Full disclosure: Del Taco did it without my help.

I've lived in San Diego for almost 15 years. In that time, I've had five different addresses -- none of which were less than a 20-minute drive from the nearest Del Taco. Meanwhile, I've lived less than a mile from the nearest Taco Bell for at least the last decade. While I won't drive too far out of my way for fast food, I will extend my odometer in pursuit of novelty beer. It was on a BevMo scavenger hunt in Escondido when I noticed the Del Taco right across the street. I know destiny when I see it, yo.

It's extremely rare to find me dining inside a fast food restaurant these days, but if I'd brought this meal home, I'd have run the very real risk of a cold lunch when I walked through my front door. Also, Mrs. Bootleg would've been wondering where her lunch was and we can't have that. Now, I'm not quite sure when I turned into my mother, but the cramped and unkempt eating area nearly ended my gastronomic mission before it began. Then, I noticed a wall full of those 25-cent vending machines -- a Laundromat and liquor store tradition! I can't go back now.

On the recommendation of m'man Smitty, I ordered the Jalapeño Rings. I also asked for a Classic Taco just to see if it was as good as I remembered.

The Rings are $1.99 and only come in one size: big-ass. One of my Twitter followers called Del Taco's Jalapeño Rings one of his top 10 favorite things from 2009. I humbly submit them as the first entry on MY list of favorite things from 2010. Oh, it's not too early. There's no chance they get knocked off.

Deep fried slices of jalapeño peppers that crunch through the not-too-thick batter coating and unleash a decent amount of heat within, one order is almost a meal. In a nice touch, the peppers used are both green and (the more-ripened) red. Even after frying up a batch, the color contrast can still be seen. I couldn't get over the overflowing sleeve with some pieces bigger than silver dollars. They're a little chewy, but it keeps the spices from the peppers and salt-n-(cayenne?) pepper seasoning from the breading in your mouth for a little bit longer. Only downside was the "secret sauce" it came with. The "secret" appears to be two parts Hidden Valley Ranch packet, 200 parts tap water.

Del Taco's Classic Taco sells for 99 cents. They've apparently doubled the meat and cheese from the Classic Taco's predecessor ("The Prologue Taco"?) and, as always, Del Taco differentiates from Taco Bell's regular taco by adding tomatoes atop the ground beef, cheese and lettuce. With all condiments being equal, it comes down to the taste of the taco meat. Del Taco's ground beef has a smokier flavor than TB, but really isn't demonstrably better. Like Taco Bell's regular taco, this is an inoffensive and edible bit of business.

It looks like my ersatz ethnic food list just got a little bit longer.

Grade (Jalapeño Rings): 5 (out of 5)
Calories: 260 Fat: 15g

Grade (Classic Taco): 3
Calories: 200 Fat: 12g


SHough610 said...

Fried jalapeños?!?!?! Well, looks like I have a new life plan.

1) Become famous
2) eat lots of fried jalapeños
3) Get guarantee that I will be host of tonight show after Leno
4) After transition have Leno quietly garroted to prevent Indian (Native American?) giving. (If I fault Conan for one thing it's that he didn't do this step. Really, didn't have the money Conando?)
5) Hire you, Cam, to be my Andy Richter/Kevin Eubanks

That Bootleg Guy said...

"5) Hire you, Cam, to be my Andy Richter/Kevin Eubanks."

...aaaaand, now I have MY new life plan.

Greg said...

I've always much preferred Del Taco's quesadillas, especially the spicy jack. It could just be the lack of access talking now, though.

And LOL about PCH in Long Beach. Not exactly Big Sur, is it? I lived in California Heights before moving to Illinois and I tried not to use PCH, but because of the stupid traffic circle -- it always scared the crap out me when I had to negotiate that.