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I Tried 7 Popular Fast Food Tacos—This Is the 1 I'll Order Again and Again

Hit up the drive-thru on Taco Tuesday.

<p>Dotdash Meredith Food Studios</p>

Dotdash Meredith Food Studios

Tacos are a beautiful, complex thing. They come in various sizes and shapes; corn or flour; soft, crunchy, or Doritos Loco; and filled with just about any protein, veggie, fruit, or cheese imaginable. And yet whenever someone asks if you want to get a taco, whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free grazer, you instinctively and enthusiastically say “yes.” There’s a reason it’s the only food that has a dedicated weekday devoted to it.

As a result of its universal appeal, you can also get a taco pretty much anywhere—a Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant, the back of a groceria, a concession stand, a food truck, a school cafeteria, or even a gas station parking lot. Of course, you can also get them at the drive-thru of many fast food places, whether they specialize in American-Mexican cuisine or not.

Most fast food tacos are built the same, bare-bones—just ground beef, cheese, and lettuce. Almost all of those available at these uniquely American swift-service institutions come in the form likely adapted by Mexican-Americans, the pre-fried open-topped crunchy corn shell.

Even within these narrow criteria, there is a vast range of results, from grease-soaked to stale, beefy to bland, and everywhere in between. Here is a ranking of the fast food tacos we tried, including the top two we’d get again (and again).

The Best Fast Food Tacos, Ranked

Honorable Mention:  Chipotle Steak Tacos

Is Chipotle fast food? Most locations don’t have a drive-thru, so that’s a check in the “no” column. Some folks might argue that the ingredients seem fresher, so that might be strike number two. But since Chipotle is definitely NOT a traditional sit-down Mexican restaurant or cantina (and because we wanted to round out our roundup) we decided to park and go inside—only to find there was no ground beef.

We stuck with bovine though and got the steak (which was extremely salty), but we don’t feel like we can fairly rate this taco among its fast food counterparts. So, why are we even writing about it?

Because…

6th Place: Qdoba Ground Beef Taco

...Then we CAN include Qdoba, which lands in the same quick-but-not-fast gray area as Chipotle, but it does offer a ground beef-cheese-and-lettuce taco.

Now you might think that the focus on premium, slower-cooked ingredients should give Qdoba an unfair advantage. But perhaps its focus on topping-packed burritos is a distraction from the simpler things, because the taco meat was practically flavorless and the shredded cheese sparing, leaving poor lettuce and a slightly stale shell (probably from sitting around and watching burritos roll by) to do the heavy lifting.

Next time, we’ll add a couple of dollops of three-cheese queso.

5th Place: Hardee’s/Red Burrito Hard Beef Taco

Very solid. The shell has a nice crunch, the lettuce is leafy and not just watery trash, and the thick-shredded cheese melted just right. But the real standout here is the seasoned beef, fresh and packed with a nice zest that assures the eater it’s not just a crumbled day-old Hardee’s hamburger.

We’re not sure we’d go out of our way to get this taco, but it’s a nice crispy add-on to throw in the bag along with the Hot Ham ‘N’ Cheese and Frisco Angus Burger.

4th Place: Jack in the Box Tiny Tacos

These are just too much fun. No cheese or lettuce—just meat tucked into the cutest bite-sized corn shells you’ve ever seen. Our box of 13 extremely pop-able tacos went faster than free chips and salsa.

And we didn’t even get the tangy avocado lime sauce for dipping!

3rd Place: Jack in the Box Crunchy Tacos

Even though Jack in the Box is known as a burger joint, this taco is actually the best-selling menu item (moving 554 million tacos each year, according to The Wall Street Journal in 2017).

Like anything with a cult following, these tacos can be polarizing, no doubt due in part to the fact that the beef-packed shell is deep-fried before cheese, lettuce, and sauce are added. This coats the taco in a greasy sheen that makes the taco’s paper sleeve almost transparent out of the bag.

But while we don’t mind the grease (we’re at a fast food restaurant, after all), the thing we enjoyed most about this taco was the triangle of American cheese that melted evenly and mixed with the medium-heat taco sauce to give this snack a truly distinctive fast food flavor that we found totally craveable.

2nd Place: Taco Bell Crunchy Taco

Now we come to the real deal. While tacos are but an afterthought to the other eateries on our list, they are the heart and soul of these next two. That’s probably why they’re the best. It’s also probably the reason there is a longstanding rivalry between devotees who swear their favorite fast food taco chain is the best.

For instance, Taco Bell enthusiasts will quickly point to the widespread legend that founder, Glenn Bell, invented hard-shell tacos. This is at best, apocryphal, and at worst, it’s offensive (some historians believe hard tacos are an adaptation of a type of fried taco that is authentic to traditional Northern Mexican cuisine).

But while the Bell’s crunchy taco might not have been the first-ever made, for many of us, it was probably the first we’d ever had—and thus it’s the standard to which we compare all other tacos. And with its consistency across outlets all over the country—the same lightly seasoned beef, finely shredded cheese, cool lettuce, with a reliable crunch everywhere you go—it makes for a fine measuring stick.

1st Place Winner: Taco John’s Crispy Taco

<p>Dotdash Meredith Food Studios</p>

Dotdash Meredith Food Studios

If Taco Bell invented the crunchy taco (like we said, it probably didn’t), well then, Taco John’s fans can boast that their taco chain invented Taco Tuesday (which likely isn’t true, either). What this rivalry really comes down to, at least when we’re talking about a basic hard-shelled taco, is the only real reason we’d order a hard taco instead of a soft one in the first place: Texture.

Taco Bell’s crunchy taco is almost unfailingly firm, giving you the crunch you want when you bite in and send cheese and lettuce plummeting into the open wrapper. But Taco John’s cooks its crispy shells fresh in-house every day, which gives the taco a particularly pleasing lightness—almost a flakiness—when you crack one open.

That crispness—and a slight advantage in beefiness of the meat—put Taco John’s just over the top for us.

Read the original article on All Recipes.