You saunter up to the counter at your local Taco Bell, you order your Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco (taking care not to actually say all of that, for fear of creating the accurate impression that you have paid rapt attention to the television advertisements and planned this trip in advance; instead affecting your best half-distracted I’m-actually-ordering-this-for-my-demented-great-uncle face and muttering, "Uh, yeah, gimme one of those ranch Dorito tacos, I guess, and a Pepsi"), and then you watch the taco assembly station behind the counter so that you may verify with your own eyes that the Taco Bell workers do, in fact, assemble the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco and that it is not, say, spewed fully formed from the skull of a corporate executive with a Windsor knot the size of a grapefruit and green neon dollar-signs for eyes.
Then there's a moment when the woman working the taco assembly station reaches up into the metal bank above her to grab the shell for your taco. Operating very quickly, with her head down, she distractedly grabs a fiery orange nacho-cheese-flavored Doritos Locos Taco shell, and you experience a millisecond of genuine worry before she notices her mistake—Oops, I don’t need the taco shell covered in safety-cone-colored nacho-cheese-flavored Taste Sand—puts the fiery orange nacho cheese-flavored Doritos Locos Taco shell back in its place—I need the taco shell covered in rainbow-colored salad-dressing-flavored Taste Sand instead!—and grabs the correct Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco shell. And then everything is OK.
Try not to look too deeply into this moment, the moment when you actually feel your heart palpitate in anxiety at the prospect of receiving a Taco Bell taco not coated with rainbow-colored salad-dressing-flavored Mystery Taste Sand. However much it may seem otherwise, the Taco Bell checkout counter is not the place for sifting through the sad ashes of one's degraded, undifferentiated-taco-meat-contaminated life. The sobbing, the sitting down on the floor, the deeply symbolic removal of one’s clothing—these tend not to enrich the Taco Bell experience for one's fellow diners.
It's easy to fall into a what-is-the-world-coming-to froth at the notion of PepsiCo-owned Taco Bell concocting a taco shell made out of PepsiCo-owned Doritos, and then sequelizing this sleazy, brazen branding amalgam with a variant coated in what's essentially artificial mayonnaise flavoring. And then not being too ashamed of itself to advertise this synergistic nightmare on television. And then actual human beings eating these heinous fucking things as though they are actual food and not the woodchipped remains of a particularly crass highway billboard.
The reality, though, is that I think we all understand that Taco Bell is to food what the propeller beanie hat is to transportation: wildly insufficient, but not altogether un-enjoyable if approached with the right attitude—where "approached with the right attitude" is just a long-winded euphemism for "inebriated to the point of incoherence." Even the cybernetic corporate attack drones at PepsiCo understand this, which is why Taco Bell markets itself explicitly at the late-night drunkard demographic, cashing in on the sublime openness to the absurd which characterizes insomniac substance-abusers. If the notion of a taco made out of Doritos seems offensively stupid to you by the cold light of day, just know that, somewhere out there in the world, there's a coworker or drinking buddy or leathery bean-eating hobo who has heard you, deep into the wee hours of morning and baked out of your mind, ask, "Hey, you know what would be awesome?" and then go on to propose making macaroni-and-cheese, but, like, with Cheetos instead of macaroni, man, whoa.
It’s a credit—a terrifying, terrifying credit—to the ingenuity and technical know-how of the people at PepsiCo, that the repurposed military AI responsible for generating their new product ideas is now capable of so convincingly replicating the unbounded stoner-think of Taco Bell’s core consumer base. With a little bit of fine-tuning, eventually this large, monolithic, ominously humming supercomputer will be able to crank out products targeted perfectly at all sorts of different demographics—DRIED CHERRIES AND GOAT CHEESE FOR THE YOGA MOMS GZZT GZZT—and then it's just another hop, skip, and jump to full sentience and the eradication of mankind. The only question is whether consumption of Dorito-sheathed tacos will wipe us out first.
Which I guess raises the question we're all here to have answered, after all: What does the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco taste like? Is it good? Should I do the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco to myself? I'm sorry to say that my research into the subject might not be of much use to the regular Taco Bell customer, as I was, in fact, fully sober (mostly sober) (sober enough to drive, damn you!) when I ordered and ate mine. How did it taste? Perfectly fine, I suppose, in the way that, ultimately, most of Taco Bell’s offerings are perfectly fine, in the sense that they all taste exactly the same. The rainbow-colored salad-dressing-flavored Mystery Taste Sand which coated the taco shell did not, in the end, unpleasantly overwhelm the usual Taco Bell flavors of salt, garlic powder, chili powder, salt, cumin, salt, salt, and onion salt. Honestly, it added a welcome vinegary tang. And some much-needed saltiness. It didn't especially taste like a Dorito; it didn't especially taste unlike a Dorito. It was soggy and overly salty, but still, somehow, it tasted good.
That’s precisely The Thing about Taco Bell’s offerings: For as agitated as you might get over the anonymous, assuredly Z-grade taco meat, the waxy cheese and mealy half-green tomatoes, the wan lettuce and sodden taco shells and the salt, oh dear God the salt, so much salt oh God my head is actually shrinking from the salt, they fucking desalinated the entire fucking Pacific Ccean for this one fucking taco—for as much time as your body will almost certainly spend violently expelling the marginally digested Taco Bell food from itself later on—it's kind of hard to get around the fact that, yeah, OK, it tastes good. The Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco tastes good. I'm gassy, my lower gastrointestinal tract feels angry, my hair and teeth are falling out and I can’t see and I have a goiter with a goiter of its own, but yeah, it tastes good.
I should feel suspicious about that. Everyone should. Nothing so obviously made from shredded car tires and dumpster runoff, nothing which so assuredly contains the absolute last remains of the absolute saddest animals, nothing coated in a flavoring dust which almost certainly originated inside a radioactive meteor, ought to taste good. It ought to taste horrible. It ought to set off our oh fuck this shit is gonna give my unborn children tentacles alarms instantly. The processes and technologies and chemicals and Satanic pacts deployed to make it taste good—delicious, even—can only be that much more horrifying and catastrophically unhealthful than the tires and sludge and snouts and assholes they were deployed to mask.
We should never eat at Taco Bell. However, that’s not what you are thinking as you eat your Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco. What you are thinking is, "Woohoo Dorito taco! This is awesome! Hey guys, let’s go to the park and jump-kick the chipmunks!" You are not thinking. You are drunk.
They've got you just where They want you.
Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His work can be found destroying everything of value in his crumbling home. Peevishly correct his foolishness at email@example.com. Image by Devin Rochford.