- Del Taco, a West Coast Tex-Mex chain, has a larger but less creative menu than its more popular competitor, Taco Bell.
- While Taco Bell is known for its crazy flavours and snack-food collaborations, Del Taco’s menu sticks to a wide range of simple classics, including tacos, burgers, fries, and tamales.
- I ate at Del Taco for the first time during a trip to Los Angeles, and despite a few surprisingly good items, I was sorely disappointed by most of the food that I tried.
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If Taco Bell is the rebellious older brother who dropped out of college, spent a year trying to be a professional skater, and somehow magically found international success as a pop graffiti artist, then Del Taco is the straight-laced younger brother who went to college, graduated with a business degree, and despite a respectable career in bulk paper sales, remained in the shadow of his senior sibling his entire life.
I’m not saying Del Taco is boring. In a way, it’s much more interesting than Taco Bell. Taco Bell’s menu pretty much has six ingredients: meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, beans, and tortilla. Add a dash of Dorito dust here and there, and that’s basically it.
Del Taco’s menu, on the other hand, contains those six ingredients plus the ingredients for burgers, fries, and tamales. Oh, and Del Taco was the pioneer of the Beyond Taco. But is the food actually good?
Some people say that curiosity kills cats, and I say that curiosity also kills food writers – slowly, with clogged arteries and elevated blood pressure. So when I went to Los Angeles, my curiosity led me to the mysterious realm of Del Taco for the very first time.
I took the subway (yes, LA has a subway!) to a Del Taco restaurant in East Hollywood.
Del Taco’s aesthetic is halfway between Taco Bell and Chipotle. It’s got that shiny, “our food is good for you” look.
But its expansive menu was paralyzing. There was everything from burgers to tacos to tamales to bowls.
There were even two tiers of taco: the Tex-Mex “world famous” tacos, and the more Mexican-style “kitchen crafted” tacos.
I ordered and took a seat. Since it was mid-afternoon, the restaurant was fairly empty.
In order to get a good idea of what Del Taco has to offer, I ordered a ridiculous amount of food. Yes, I did get stares.
The sheer variety in Del Taco’s menu has always intrigued me. Why sell a burger at the same place that sells tacos?
I nibbled at a fry before I dug into my feast. It was just ok for a fry — surprisingly crispy and flavorful for a crinkle-cut fry, but not the kind of fry that keeps you coming back for more.
Del Taco was one of the first major chains to add a plant-based “meat” option to its national menu. I was beyond excited to try the Beyond Taco.
At $US2.49, the Beyond Taco is a full dollar more expensive than the Del Taco, its meaty counterpart.
It doesn’t taste unlike a beef taco. But it also doesn’t taste very satisfying. It’s just really salty. It tastes similar to a Taco Bell taco, but with pico de gallo and more cheese.
Next, I tried the flagship taco: the Del Taco ($US1.49). It seems pretty confident to give your standard Tex-Mex taco a branded name. Imagine if Taco Bell sold “Bell Tacos.”
There’s no denying that the real beef taco tastes better than the Beyond Taco. But it still doesn’t taste all that good. It’s just fine.
And somehow, it doesn’t have the same fresh and satisfying balance that Taco Bell’s tacos always seem to have. It’s just not quite as flavorful.
I reached for a sugar-dusted mini churro ($US1.09 for two) to balance out all the salt I had just consumed.
I’ve had really, really good churros, but I’ve never had a bad one. Fried dough and sugar are a pretty killer combination.
This sweet, crunchy stick of joy was no exception to the universal law of churros.
But there were still many paths to tread, the next of which was the Del Combo Burrito ($US3.59).
As with Taco Bell’s burritos, I couldn’t really tell what was in this burrito. It was salty mush inside a bland tortilla. Pass.
Onward and inward, I moved to my next platter: regular queso nachos and an avocado veggie bowl.
I love me a heart-stopping pile of nachos. But nothing that topped these $US4 nachos was appealing.
The queso tasted fishy. Why?!
The avocado veggie bowl ($US5.39) was basically the five tenets of Tex-Mex in a bowl, plus avocado.
It was resoundingly bland: watery beans, limp lettuce, and soggy tomato over plain rice.
I moved on to the platter with the cheddar quesadilla, cheeseburger, and tamales.
The cheese quesadilla ($US2.89) was very flat and very stiff.
Usually, my problem with quesadillas is that they’re not crispy enough. This one didn’t have that problem.
In fact, this one was so crispy, even the cheese inside was crispy, not gooey. Each bite was hard, dry, and disappointing.
Throughout this meal, I often asked myself “Why?!” One of the most pressing questions at the back of my mind was: Why sell burgers at a taco joint?
The only reason I could think of would be if that burger was really, really good.
But while the Del cheeseburger ($US3) wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t much different from your standard fast-food value cheeseburger.
The beef was actually pretty tender and juicy, but the bun was slightly over-toasted and the toppings thrown on sloppily.
As a tamales lover, I was impressed and excited to see tamales on Del Taco’s menu. Tamales are seasonal items that were added this November. They cost $US2.19 apiece.
But the shredded pork was so dry it was stringy, and the corn flour exterior was crumbly and flavourless.
To cleanse my palate, I dove into some good ol’ chips and guac ($US1.49).
The chips were crispy. Not gourmet by any means, but they hit the spot.
As did the guac. Soft and buttery, the guac was easy to eat and went well with the crunchy, salty chips.
Finally, I moved on to the “kitchen crafted” tacos, which are currently a test menu item. I’d ordered one of each.
I started off with the steakhouse taco, which cost $US2.69.
Never before have I used the word “rancid” in a review. But that’s how I’d describe the spicy mayo on this taco.
The beef just wasn’t good. It was chewy and tasted kind of off. The fresh toppings were fine, however, and I appreciated the inclusion of fries.
I still had three more tacos to go, and my first bite had made me apprehensive.
Next, I tried the chimichurri steak taco ($US2.49).
Again, the toppings were great. I loved the tortillas, pickled onions, cilantro, and shredded cabbage.
But the beef just tasted bad. I guess that’s why adding Beyond meat to Del Taco’s menu made sense: the meatless “beef” isn’t much of a downgrade.
I don’t even want to talk about the chicken guac taco ($US2.19). Again, the toppings were great. The chicken was just bad — over-salted yet bland, and definitely not fresh.
One bright spot, surprisingly, was the beachside fish taco ($US2.89).
The fried fish slab was relatively inoffensive, and the addition of guac to the taco’s quality toppings made for a pretty delicious bite.
There was no denying that this was surprisingly delicious for a fast-food taco. But for the same $US3, I could get a much fresher and tastier taco from a truck or a mum-and-pop.
Despite some surprising bright spots — the fish taco, churro, and guac and chips — my meal at Del Taco was overall one of the worst I’ve had in a long time.
The chain’s sprawling menu, although intriguing, is probably its biggest weakness. With that many ingredients and flavour combinations to keep track of, Del Taco is setting itself up for failure. If it wants to stand a chance against the competition, it would benefit from a major menu revamp.
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