Hybrid foods are hit or miss. When they're honest attempts to expand the human dining experience by combining the virtues of two or more complementary yet previously segregated items, the results can be extraordinary. Pizza bagels, peanut butter cups, and Jell-O shots are classic examples of disparate foods joining forces to increase global happiness.
But far too often, you end up with a worthless joke of a Frankenfood that was clearly cobbled together just for the sake of novelty. Ramen burgers, turduckens, and car bomb shots are prime examples of compound foodstuffs that would have been better left to their own devices.
Fast food outlets are notorious for their willingness to make strange fryolator-fellows out of any couple of ingredients lying around. This is understandable, given that so much of the business is driven by launching (and advertising) new products while maintaining a streamlined pantry. A competitive chain needs to churn out several paradigm-humping curiosities a year, but it can't afford to get bogged down by sourcing and managing actual new ingredients.
Taco Bell deserves credit for attempting two legitimate innovations in recent years: 2012's Doritos Loco Taco was of course a naked attention grab, but by powder-coating a hard taco shell with Dorito dust they introduced a new ingredient into their notoriously conservative canon. It's also an improvement upon their base model hard taco. This spring's Waffle Tacos proved to be pretty shitty, but they were at least an admirably bold creep beyond the chain's comfort zone.
Now they're coming at us with the Quesarito, a half-assed collision of preexisting conditions masquerading as the cronut for the Mountain Dew-in-the-morning set. A Quesarito is a quesadilla wrapped around a burrito. This means that instead of having cheese inside a normal burrito, you have it trapped inside the double-hulled tortilla of your burrito. The innovation here is to give you more bland, pasty tortilla to chaw through on your way to the underwhelming mess of rice, meat, sour cream, and not-hot sauce trapped inside.
The Quesarito is pure, unmitigated bullshit. And before you tell me fast food sucks and what did I expect, let me establish that I don't come at these reviews with the intent of ripping apart easy targets. I am on record praising Taco Bell's eggs. I'm not a hard grader. I tried all three Quesaritos—chicken, steak and seasoned beef—in a comprehensive attempt to find redeeming attributes, because I try to be fair (and because the Fast Food Pulitzer isn't going to just hop itself up onto my shelf), and I came away with very few nice things to say.
The tops and bottoms of my adequately sized 'aritos were visibly grill-marked, which was pleasant. The cheese layer was mercifully thin though ruthlessly bland. At least there wasn't enough of it to leak out all over the goddamn place; the same can not be said for the sour cream or the pungent, earthy, and awful chipotle sauce, which provided scant heat but loads of "Wait, does hot sauce go bad?" regret. Instead of standard Taco Bell rice, the Quesarito comes tricked out with the special "Latin rice," which is allegedly cooked in garlic and onion powder and comes with a few little flecks of green that are probably supposed to be cilantro or eternal hope or what not. It's fast food rice.
The shredded chicken did nothing to offend my tongue, but there wasn't enough of it to elicit a full opinion, as the few shards that did deign to join this pitiful party were overwhelmed by the sour cream, chipotle sauce, and concentric circles of tortilla. The steak was, well, come on, it was the steak portion of a $3.29 bastardized burrito; given that, it was fine—tender and tasteless and therefore not as bad as it could have been. The seasoned beef version is probably your least-worst bet. It tastes like taco-flavored Hamburger Helper might, with just enough spunk to stand out.
I know it's unfair to ask for too many optional accessories on a burrito-like substance in this price class (the chicken and seasoned beef editions are $2.79), but the Quesarito experience would be greatly enhanced by a couple of beans, a few shreds of lettuce, a splort of salsa, anything to compete with the sour cream and chipotle sauce. As conceived, there's just not enough going on once you cease being amazed at the xxxtremity of the gimmick.
A Brief, Pleasant Digression
Let me tell you about the dirtbags hired to rip the weeds out of the little patch of sand in front of my apartment the other day. They were talking loudly a couple feet from my desk for several hours, so I have a few insights into their lives: For example, one called his ex-wife a fuckin' retard before acknowledging that she might have been justified in leaving on account of his side lady who "looked like a porn star and fucked like one too" (and who also, in an admittedly endearing touch, liked to read his fantasy novels).
Then there's the other dirtbag, the one who has stopped dating so as to avoid inflicting his chaos on anyone else's life. I liked that guy right away, because he had some self-awareness, and he was making an effort to minimize unhappiness in his sphere of influence. The first dirtbag grew on me as the morning wore on, too; he was a little braggy about his porn nerd at first, but that was just to give him the strength to open up about his own weaknesses and failures, and the steps he's taking to improve. (He hasn't used "real drugs" in over a year, he's back on good terms with his mom.)
After the first hour of this accidental reality show I was rooting for them to pipe down and finish up, but even more than that I was rooting for them to do a good job. Not because I give a shit what the alley in front of my building looks like, but because I took a liking to these happy-enough n'often-do-wells and I wanted them to have a little pride in their work. I'd heard enough to know that these two dudes wake up disqualified from having great days, but that doesn't prevent them from having decent days. A big part of having a decent day is making responsible choices, and for these guys the most responsible course of action was to bang out the weed gig as quickly and efficiently as possible so they could feel good about doing honest work for honest pay, and maybe get asked back to deal with the gutters in the fall.
I feel the same way about $3 lunch. When we walk into Taco Bell, we're making certain concessions. We're not going to eat anything fresh or healthy or excellent, and that's OK. Not every meal has to feature kale or lamb or the transfer of a $5 bill. But you can take care of your wallet and your Taco Bell craving without resorting to the Quesarito. Get two Dorito tacos, get a Gordita, get however many chalupas $3 will bear; just do whatever it takes to avoid the Quesarito. You're better than that, and tomorrow's a new day.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter@WillGordonAgain.
Art by Sam Woolley.
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