Doritoing the Taco

People always refer to “gilding the lily” as if it’s a bad thing. And look: Lilies are nice and all and I recognize that there’s not much demand to improve them. But only a fool wouldn’t trade a straight-up old school lily for a lily covered in solid gold. Gild that thing. That’s what I say.

Me, here, Jan. 17, 2011.

Flowers are great and all, but I dismissed that Shakespeare-inspired idiom in a sandwich review last January with no particular inclination toward lilies. I actually had to Google-image them now just to determine what they look like.

They’re pretty and they probably smell nice, but they mean very little to me. So when I said “gild that thing,” I never considered the feelings of those who might hold lilies dear, who believe the lily perfect in its natural, un-gilded form. A more apt phrase that expresses the same cavalier and unnecessary excess but cuts nearer to my heart is this one: Doritoing the Taco.

I have never bit into a Taco Bell taco and thought, “You know? This could be saltier, more flavorful, nacho cheesier.” I’ve never really considered how or why it should be improved at all, save a packet or two of Fire Sauce. It is Glen Bell’s Mona Lisa, a towering fast-food masterpiece in a tiny package: The crunchiness of the shell, the tastiness of the beef, the cooling crispness of the lettuce, the creamy flourish of the cheese.

Just after midnight on March 8 at the Taco Bell near the Wal-Mart on Gatlin Boulevard in Port St. Lucie, cars snake around the drive-thru lane and into the half-full parking lot. There’s a shiny SUV with dark-tinted windows, a sportscar, a pickup truck and a crossover. There’s a banged-up compact full of oily looking locals crawled up from Florida’s gloriously seedy underbelly. Whether by design or by coincidence, they are just in time for the debut of Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Taco.

At the menu board, there’s no mention of the new product. But when I ask the disembodied voice from the speaker if they have them yet — as if I don’t know, as if I didn’t RSVP on the Facebook page and call ahead to make sure — the woman offers them in regular and Supreme versions. I order one of each and proceed to the nearest empty parking spot for my Fourthmeal.

Perhaps I’m mistaken, but the shell of the regular Doritos Locos Taco seems a bit thicker than on the traditional Taco Bell taco, perhaps to emphasize its Dorito-ness. That’s good: It’s hearty and crunchy. The inside stuff is the same: lettuce, cheese and seasoned beef, all predictably delicious.

But the powdery Dorito stuff on the outside upsets the delicate taco balance a little bit, and dries up the tongue before it even reaches the inside parts of the taco. And there’s no clear evidence of synergy here: It tastes like a Taco Bell taco inside a Dorito, so it’s still great, no doubt. But I can’t comfortably say the pairing clearly benefits either component.

The Supreme version is better. The tanginess and creaminess of the sour cream both complements the flavor of the Dorito stuff and mitigates its dryness. Add some Hot Sauce on there and it’s pretty damn delicious. Better than a Volcano Taco, though? A Crunchwrap Supreme? A Cheesy Gordita Crunch? Hardly.

This might disappoint some of you to read, I understand, but if I were to simply provide fawning coverage of every single step Taco Bell takes, it would trivialize everything I write about Taco Bell. We need to call this what it is: A clever marketing gimmick aimed to hype up the brand — which is working, if the midnight lines in Port St. Lucie are any indication — but more of a novelty item than the paradigm-shifting Taco Bell innovation I hoped for.

I suspect with some experimentation the Doritos Locos Taco shell might prove a valuable Taco Bell ingredient in other incarnations: A Cheesy Doritos Gordita Crunch would probably be amazing, for example. But on its own, it seems like living a little too mas even for me.

To Dorito the Taco, “to throw a perfume on the violet, to smooth the ice, or add another hue unto the rainbow, or with taper-light to seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish, is wasteful and ridiculous excess.”

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