I just had my first tacos from Taco Bell. Unbelievable, I know, but we don’t eat a lot of quick-service food anymore and in the days when I did, Taco Bell did not have as many locations as they do now, so they weren’t as accessible. There’s a brand new Taco Bell location at 161 S. Harlem Ave. in Forest Park, so I decided this was a good place to try these popular Mexican-ish and undeniably American tacos.
Early this month, the national chain rolled out two new tacos: Doritos Cheesy Gordita Crunch-Flamin’ Hot Cool Ranch and Flamin’ Hot Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos. As with kid’s candy and many ice cream products, Taco Bell menu items are powered by novelty, so they’re compelled to introduce new flavor combinations regularly to keep the eating public interested in what they’re offering. This is not the approach of, for instance, McDonald’s, the worldwide leader of the fast food market, which tends to have very few specials and focuses on a stable list of menu offerings.
In the All-American spirit of innovation, Taco Bell has worked with Frito-Lay/Pepsico to integrate the flavors of Doritos’ corn chips (like Cool Ranch) and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos with Taco Bell’s version of Mexico’s most famous sandwich. But this is an All-American snack, bearing only superficial resemblance to the Mexican variety. How American are Doritos? Let’s put it this way: they were invented at Disneyland.
In 2015, I read The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth about Food and Flavor, the main thesis of which is that industrialized food, like many Frito-Lay products, deliver the flavor that is processed out of the ingredients. The manufacturers of these products add new flavors to put taste back into the food and, in the view of author Mark Schatzker, trick the human body into believing that it’s receiving necessary nutrients when all it’s really receiving are lab-created artificial flavors.
When Doritos first came out in 1966, their “flavor” was “toasted corn,” like what’s served along with salsa in a Mexican restaurant. When sales of Doritos weren’t quite what the makers were looking for, they flavored the chips with taco seasonings and sales took off. A few years later, they introduced Nacho Cheese-flavored Doritos, and sales continued to climb.
Doritos are tremendously popular. According to Statista, in 2020, over 99 million Americans purchased Doritos — that’s a third of the U.S. population. So when Taco Bell decided to incorporate Doritos into their hard taco shells, they knew what they were doing.
The two new novelty menu items with the extremely long names referenced above contain basically the same ingredients: lightly spiced beef, lettuce, cheese, nothing out of the ordinary. The addition of the word “Loco” in their names seems intended to suggest Dorilocos, the popular Mexican street food that’s starting to show up stateside, and which I reported on last August. The “Gordita” is a pita-type flatbread wrapped around the red taco shell made of Doritos — the advantage of the flatbread is that it holds the crumbling taco shell together, and there’s a pleasant textural difference between the soft bread and the crunchy taco shell.
These are not outstanding tacos; they are, at best, “not bad.” I do not, however, have a problem with the lack of “authenticity” evidenced by these tacos. They’re not like anything served in Mexico, but that’s not really a problem. They are prime examples of American-Mexican food, like fajitas, but that is certainly no reason to avoid them. I had to try them at least once, and now I have.