An LA Taco Snob Ranks Every Fast Food Taco From Worst To Best

Growing up in Los Angeles equips you with two key attributes: 1) an ungodly amount of patience for sitting in traffic, and 2) enough experience eating tacos to be a certified taco expert. I’m also Latino, which means my authority on what makes a good taco is essentially bulletproof. Am I saying that every Latinx person living in LA is a Jonathan Gold-level authority on tacos and Mexican food who would make respected Mexican chefs like Aarón Sánchez weep with pride?

Yes, that is what I’m saying. Come at me.

I have other hallmarks of a true LA taco snob, too. I’ve already published a hierarchy of the best tacos the city has to offer (most of my picks are on the east side, another taco snob hallmark), I make my own salsas, and I’m one of those people who says “but tacos don’t even need cheese” even though I know damn well they taste better with it. Plus I always, always rep for my favorite LA street vendor.

But being a taco snob can be a lonely life. Because there are times when you’re away from your home turf and you have to try things on the fly, compromise, or — gulp — hit the drive-thru to get your taco fix. It may not happen anytime soon (my beloved spots are near where I’m riding out the pandemic), but it will happen. To help prepare myself (and you) for just such an eventuality, I went on a quest last week to find the best fast food tacos on the market.

Before we dive into my definitive ranking of fast food tacos, here is something I discovered on my odyssey: If you compare a fast food taco to an authentic corn tortilla street taco, you’re never going to be satisfied. They should be recognized as two vastly different items. So if you came to debate “authenticity” with me, know that this isn’t the place. Once you accept the fast-food taco as its own beast, the snobbiness starts to fall away and you’re able to appreciate them for what they are.

*A brief note on fish tacos*

On this list, you’ll find all sorts of chicken and beef-based tacos, but you won’t find any fish tacos. Mostly because I don’t like fish tacos and I’m especially dubious of any fish taco you can pick up at a fast-food restaurant. This shouldn’t be a problem unless you’re a huge Baja Fresh fan, in which case, you have my sincerest apologies on multiple levels.

Let’s go!

15 — Burger King — Crispy Taco

Oh boy. I knew things were going to get dark during this ranking, but I didn’t know I’d experience something quite as awful as Burger King’s Crispy Taco. First of all, it was news to me that Burger King even had a taco. Not only have I never noticed it on the menu, but I’ve never heard a single person ever mention tacos from Burger King.

For good reason.

The meat here is questionable. It’s crumbly yet wet. Salty yet flavorless. It’s more texture than anything. This might as well be lobster at a diner, something inexplicable on a menu for variety’s sake, not for the intention of ever being truly savored.

It’s the Dream Cafe from Seinfeld.

The Bottom Line:

Close your eyes, point to the menu and there is a high chance you’ll land on something better than Burger King’s Crispy Taco.

14 — Carl’s Jr — Crunchy Beef Taco

Carl

The Carl’s Jr Crunchy Beef Taco is a lot like the Burger King taco only (marginally) better… because there is less of it. Seriously, this taco is probably the thinnest taco in all of fast-food. The shell-to-fillings ratio is all off here. Luckily, the shell tastes better than Burger King’s entire taco. The taco sauce isn’t bad either, it provides a nice, warming heat but is still mild enough for people who can’t tolerate spice.

The major miss on this taco is the lettuce, I’ve had the Crunchy Beef Taco on a few occasions now and every time the lettuce has been white and flavorless. At that point don’t even put it in, Carl!

The Bottom Line:

A step up from Burger King. Better shell and less taco overall, which — in this case — is a gift.

13 — Taco Bell — Chicken Soft Taco

Taco Bell’s chicken is the worst chicken I’ve ever tasted. That’s it. That’s the review. You can also order it with tomatoes and sour cream, which does nothing to improve the experience.

The Bottom Line:

The worst chicken I’ve ever tasted in my life, yet somehow still a better overall experience than I had at Carl’s Jr or Burger King.

12 — Baja Fresh — Baja Taco

I’m pretty split on the Baja Taco. On one hand, I love the grilled double corn tortilla, I’ll take cilantro on tacos every time it’s offered to me, and Baja Fresh’s salsa options — which include verde, a chunky red sauce, and a spicy six chili sauce — offer pretty deep complexity, for a chain.

But then there’s the meat.

If I had to rank Baja Fresh’s non-fish protein options it would go 1) Tender Steak, 2) Pork Carnitas, 3) White Meat Chicken. The chicken is almost inedible. Now, I’m not expecting fresh non-frozen chicken from Baja Fresh (ironic as that is), but the texture here is rubbery — like it was reheated after being pre-cooked. I’m not saying it is, I have no idea, but it tastes like what I imagine Subway’s grilled chicken would taste like if it was cut up and thrown into a taco.

It’s bland, it’s dry, and relies on the salsa to impart any flavor.

The Pork Carnitas are a significant step up but are generally pretty dry. The steak is tough but has a flavorful outer char.

The Bottom Line:

For the love of all that is holy never order the chicken! The other two are… middling.

11 — Baja Fresh — Americano Taco

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I prefer Baja Fresh’s Americano Taco over the Baja. Fast food flour tortillas taste better than fast food corn tortillas. The romaine lettuce is a nice addition, the tomatoes pack a lot of much-needed flavor and are a great compliment to any of Baja Fresh’s salsa options, and the inclusion of jack and cheddar cheese offers a big step up.

While I appreciate the Baja Taco’s attempts to recreate a taqueria-style street taco, the Americano just has more flavor. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

The Bottom Line:

The better of the two Baja Fresh tacos.

10 — Rubio’s — Classic Chicken/Steak Taco

Rubio’s is a very small step up from Baja Fresh, mostly because their meat is of slightly higher quality. Unfortunately, the salsa options are much more limited here than at Baja, but the classic taco features cheese, romaine lettuce and is topped with a creamy spicy chipotle sauce that results in an all around better flavor experience. The tortillas here are also leagues better.

The Bottom Line:

A mid-tier fast-food taco. Too bland to be considered good but inarguably a taco. That’s an improvement from the bottom five on this list!

9 — Rubios — Grilled Gourmet Taco Chicken/Steak

While Rubio’s Classic Taco is just so so, the Grilled Gourmet is actually pretty good. As I mentioned before, Rubio’s corn tortillas are solid and they’re made all the better when toasted cheese is melted on top of them. The Grilled Gourmet also features avocado slices, a roasted version of their Chipotle salsa, cilantro, onions, and bacon.

All fast food tacos would be better served with some bacon!

The Bottom Line:

One of Rubio’s best menu choices. That being said, you’re still at Rubio’s.

8 — Chipotle — Tacos (Crunchy or Soft)

It might surprise some that someone who calls themselves a “taco snob” would rank the more “authentic” offerings from Chipotle in the middle of this list. I mean, these tacos contain meat that can actually be identified, and that’s saying something, right?

Unfortunately, while being able to choose between chicken, steak, barbacoa, carnitas, and carne asada is nice, none of that really matters when your food is as flavorless and uninspired as Chipotle’s fare.

Chipotle’s entire menu just lacks character. No single item on the menu — aside from the MEGA-LIME chips — tastes like any creative thought was put into it. It’s like making a sauce without tasting it. It doesn’t matter that you followed a recipe with perfect precision, if you don’t dip your finger in, taste it and see how the spices are coming together, it probably won’t come out very good. We’re not suggesting the burrito makers at Chipotle dip their fingers into the guac or the salsa to see if the stuff tastes good (God knows the chain has already had food contamination issues), but the point stands.

You can order these tacos crunchy or soft. Not a lot of people know that, which is probably because this choice doesn’t really make a difference.

The Bottom Line:

Chipotle is a master of options but doesn’t know anything about how flavors come together. Because of that, this taco tries to pass itself off as “authentic” and falls short.

7 — Qdoba — Tacos

Qdoba suffers from all the same problems that Chipotle does, only I’m not nearly as angry over Qdoba. Honestly, the two chains are interchangeable in my eyes, though Qdoba has better meat options, like the Grilled Adobo Chicken, Pulled Pork, and Smoked Brisket. Their fajitas are also more flavorful, and they’ve got cotija cheese.

Alas, I’ve never in my life once craved Qdoba. Jack in the Box from a drive-thru at 3 AM after two too many drinks? Definitely. But Qdoba? I’ve eaten at Qdoba for two reasons ever: 1) morbid curiosity and 2) this article.

The Bottom Line:

A tiny step up from Chipotle. Not a regrettable choice, but definitely a forgettable one.

6 — Taco Bell — Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Taco

Now see, this is what a fast-food taco should be. It’s tacky and eating one kind of feels like a dare, but come on, the taco shell is essentially a giant folded Dorito. If you ate the shell alone, it’d be an enjoyable experience and that’s hard to say for any fast food taco.

Honestly, this taco should’ve been called the “Americano Taco.” It’s such a bastardization of what a taco should be that I kind of appreciate it. It’s truly Frankensteinian.

The Bottom Line:

If you like Doritos you’ll love this. If you don’t, it’s time to grab a joint and run through a bag.

5 — Jack in the Box — Two Tacos

Are these ranked way too high? Absolutely. First of all, Jack in the Box uses American cheese in these tacos. They just slide a slice of American cheese into a taco shell.

What? I’m sorry, what?!

If that isn’t f*cking crazy enough, it almost seems like they age the lettuce. You don’t cure lettuce in a wine cellar, friends. That’s not the way. The taco sauce’s flavor can only be described as wet and no one — Jack in the Box included — knows what the hell kind of meat this is. Seriously, this is the description of the taco straight from the Jack in the Box website: “Two crunchy tacos with American cheese, shredded lettuce, and taco sauce.”

That’s it. No meat call out at all. Jack knows we’ll roast him.

Having said all of that… have you ever had one of these while drunk or stoned? Tacos aren’t a meal from Jack in the Box, they’re an add on. Jack in the Box is full of stoner food, it’s why they made the “Munchie Meal,” and this is their crown jewel. The next time you’re high, go to Jack in the Box, order Two Tacos, Curly Fries, Mozzarella Sticks, and, f*ck it, an Oreo Milkshake.

Will you regret your decision an hour later? Yes. But for the previous 59 minutes, it’ll be the most amazing fast food indulgence you’ve ever enjoyed.

The Bottom Line:

A stoner staple. Never eat sober.

4 — Taco Bell — Beef Soft/Crunchy Taco

Taco Bell’s meat is weird. For the longest time, when Taco Bell was the only prominent “Mexican” fast food offering, we all just collectively agreed that this was beef. Sure, ground beef tacos exist. They can often be delicious. But there is something about Taco Bell’s meat that just seems… suspect.

It’s wet, greasy, and flavorful, but I just know what I’m eating isn’t 100% beef. My only gripe is that once I’ve had one of these, I burp the flavor for a full 24hrs. That experience alone makes me pause on ever opting for the Taco Bell drive-thru.

I can’t explain it. To me, the soft flour tortilla version of this taco is vastly superior to the crunchy version, but I’ve been known to order one of each when that Taco Bell craving strikes.

The Bottom Line:

Good enough to eat sober!

3 — Del Taco — The Del Taco Crunchy/Soft

Del Taco is massively underrated. It doesn’t enjoy the same cult status amongst stoners, teenagers, and college kids as Taco Bell, but just about everything the Bell does, Del Taco does better. They slow cook their beans, the tacos are less greasy, their meat isn’t as wet and actually tastes and looks like ground beef, and their cheese is freshly grated.

Also, they have fries! That might seem like a random aside, but buy a Del Taco taco, throw some crinkle-cut fries in there, and prepare for one of the tastiest fast food tacos you’ll ever experience. The beef is well seasoned, with a nice peppery bite, the lettuce never feels old, providing you a crisp mouthfeel and the salty crinkle-cut fries offer that addicting umami.

The Bottom Line:

More mature and refined than Taco Bell.

2 — Del Taco — Grilled Chicken Taco

Fast food tacos sometimes feel like an afterthought. They’re generally designed to be added to your meal, rather than a meal unto themselves. But Del Taco’s Grilled Chicken taco is something you might actually go to Del Taco for. We don’t know we can say that about any of the tacos that preceded this entry. At Chipotle and Qdoba, people generally opt for burritos or bowls. Rubio’s and Baja Fresh have the fast food fish taco scene on lock. And nobody is visiting Taco Bell or Jack in the Box for their standard tacos alone.

But Del’s Grilled Chicken Taco is actually good enough to base a meal around. The chicken is as good as fast food chicken can be. Again, the freshly grated cheese makes a major difference, and each bite is infused with some creamy habanero sauce or Del Taco’s “savory secret sauce” (which is just modified sour cream.) Both sauce options are good, but a packet or two of Del Taco’s green or red sauce will still really help to enhance the flavors.

The Bottom Line:

A fast-food taco you don’t have to feel ashamed for ordering.

1 — El Pollo Loco Chicken Avocado Street Taco

This is a curious one because I never, ever, ever order tacos from El Pollo Loco. Hell, most of the time I don’t even remember that El Pollo Loco has tacos. But they do, and they’re pretty f*cking good.

In fact, I think they’re the best fast-food tacos in the game (obviously). First, you have a thick and flavorful stone-ground corn tortilla (though El Pollo Loco’s quality varies, sometimes you get a stale tortilla) thick fresh slices of avocado, cilantro dressing, Pico de Gallo, queso fresco, and El Pollo Loco’s tasty marinated chicken.

Top it off with El Pollo Loco’s avocado salsa and you’ve got an absolute flavor bomb. Everything melds together like a great taco should and feels greater than the sum of its individual parts. While overall I believe the best fast food tacos are the ones that don’t try to be authentic, El Pollo Loco’s Chicken Avocado Street Taco provides an experience I can’t deny.

The Bottom Line:

Did you know El Pollo Loco had tacos? They do, and they’re actually pretty good. The bridge between fast food tacos and the real thing.

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