- Taco Bell’s nacho fries are the best new fast-food menu item that debuted in 2018.
- Long mythologized, the fries immediately set themselves apart from the competition by refusing to stick to fast-food industry norms.
- More than 53 million orders of the fries were placed during the limited-time offering’s original run from late January to April.
In the course of my life, I’ve eaten many a fry.
I’ve gorged myself on McDonald’s French fries, both salty and fresh as well as lukewarm and mealy. I’ve preached the gospel of Arby’s curly fries. I’ve dabbled in Chick-fil-A’s waffle fries, a middling option boosted by the quality of the chain’s signature sauce.
I thought I’d seen it all in the world of fries. Then, at the dawn of 2018, Taco Bell brought a new contender to the game.
I had long heard tales of Taco Bell’s loaded fries, sold almost everywhere around the world except the US. In August 2017, I argued that bringing the fabled fries to the US could result in a dish that is far superior to nachos as we know them.
In 2018, my calls for international fry equality were finally answered.
In late January, the fast-food chain added $US1 nacho fries to the menu for a limited time. Instead of taking the classic fast-food route, Taco Bell topped its fries with a spicy seasoning and served them with a side of nacho cheese.
The fries were everything I hoped they’d be.
It was a bit of French-fried genius to serve slightly spicy fries with nacho cheese, immediately setting the new fry on the block apart from rivals. Taco Bell’s fries are fairly hefty and a bit floppy – certainly less crisp than offerings at chains like McDonald’s. But the thicker cut is a smart move for Taco Bell, as it guarantees the potato can balance out the spices and rich nacho cheese.
Taco Bell also made the smart move to treat the fries as building blocks.
Lacking the icon status of McDonald’s fries, Taco Bell highlighted the fact that the nacho fries could be dipped in cheese, loaded with toppings, or even put in a burrito. They were quality fries, sure – but they were also yet another ingredient in customers’ arsenal for building the gut-busting fast-food extravaganza of their wildest dreams.
These fries do not win the title of fast-food menu item of the year for taste alone. They defined industry trends, such as the year’s short-lived celebration of the dollar menu (fries originally cost $US1 before prices were raised to $US1.29 when reintroduced later in 2018).
The dollar menu is dead
Most importantly, they boosted sales.
In May, Taco Bell parent company Yum Brands reported that nacho fries served as a significant sales driver for the chain, with more than 53 million orders placed before the item disappeared from the menu in April. Taco Bell’s same-store sales increased by 1% in the first quarter fries were on the menu. According to the company, roughly 25% of Taco Bell orders in the quarter included fries.
While nacho fries returned for another limited-time run over the summer, they are sadly once again off the menu. Yet, for their creativity and zeitgeisty spirit, they easily win best new menu item of the year.
Let’s just hope McDonald’s cheesy bacon fries – set to debut in January – can compete.
- Read more in our Retailer of the Year series:
- These are the brands that blew up in 2018
- Abercrombie removed its shirtless models and turned up the lights in stores, leading to the biggest retail comeback of the year
- We visited dozens of stores this year, and these were the messiest by far
- We visited a lot of department stores in 2018. Here’s which one was the best to shop at.
- Amazon’s likely multimillion-dollar disaster on Prime Day proved it’s not immune from embarrassment