Archives for posts with tag: Tomatoes

McDonald’s has made some fairly large (for them) changes to their menu recently. Last spring they introduced several new Signature Crafted burgers in an attempt to offer fresher and more varied choices to diners as they face competition from fast casual burgers chains in all markets. This follows a failed attempt to induce customers to customize their burgers via kiosk, which never was fully implemented nationwide. The Signature Crafted burgers have some customization options (as I’ll detail below), but they’re primarily offered as set sandwiches, with your choice between Sweet BBQ Bacon and Pico Guacamole, with usually a third option that varies locally. It took me some time to make it to a McDonald’s to give the new selections a taste, but I’m sucker for a guacamole burger, so I always knew I’d make it in eventually.

McDonald’s Pico Guacamole Burger contains “freshly prepared Pico de Gallo, creamy guacamole, real buttermilk ranch, white cheddar, and lettuce … served with a fresh lime wedge.” I ordered it as a meal with a large fries and soda, which was $8.79 before tax.

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Before I go into how the food actually tasted, I think it makes sense to review the ordering procedure because it was confusing. As someone who used to work at a McDonald’s and has been eating there pretty much my whole life, the ordering process for the Signature Crafted sandwiches was unclear.

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For these sandwiches, there’s a three-step map which is laid out on a mat by the counter. It makes sense in hindsight, but confused me as a first time consumer. The first step is to choose your protein: a burger or piece of crispy/grilled chicken. Second step: choose your toppings (i.e. Pico Guacamole). Lastly, you must select your bun, which can be an artisan roll or sesame bun. Seems straightforward, right? However, I couldn’t just go up and order a Pico Guac burger. Their register is set up to do it step by step, and I got tripped up when I made my order, the needed to retrace my steps so the cashier could input all of the information.  I also was trying to order the Buttermilk Crispy Tenders, and the worker at the register misheard my order and almost gave me a different burger. It took us a minute to sort out what I actually wanted.

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Now that I’ve done the blogging equivalent of yelling at clouds for a few paragraphs, how about I discuss the burger?! The Pico Guacamole burger came boxed, wrapped in paper and served with a lime on the side. The box is standard now for “fancy” burgers, but I have never been served a piece of fruit with my order at any fast food restaurant. And in an industry which sometimes struggles to give good, fresh produce as sandwich toppings, the lime looked surprisingly healthy. I don’t think the burger necessarily needed the lime, but as a courtesy, I gave the inside of the burger a squirt before starting to eat.

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The paper worked to keep the burger in one piece. My first bite wasn’t too special; just like a regular cheeseburger. The toppings were inconsistently applied and I was eating on the barer side. While this is a general strategy of mine so the last bites are always the best, perhaps I should start giving myself better first impressions.

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When I got to taste everything together, I enjoyed the burger. This is a classic fancy burger combination, so the flavors combine well and my overall enjoyment came down to the individual components, which were fine to quote good. The pico de gallo and guacamole were the standouts, as they should have been considering the name of the burger.

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Tasting some of the pico alone, I was pleasantly surprised by how fresh it tasted, unlike most fast food vegetables. I also detected some salt and other seasoning (may have been the lime). While I’m not 100% certain I’d want to eat a whole bowl of this with some chips, I’d definitely champion it over the soupy flavorless concoctions most fast casual chains call salsa. Plus, as someone who despises raw onions, keeping the tomato:onion ratio tilted heavily in favor of tomatoes is a major plus for me. While not every burger can have pico, maybe this is a solution around mealy/limp fast food chain tomatoes. Just chop them up and season them to hide them!

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I also want to compliment the guacamole. It had chunks of actual avocado and some spice, maybe from some jalapeños. This was another quality condiment, and as someone who’s a sucker for guacamole burgers the toppings here are really top notch. Because it was actual guacamole and not too soupy or dense, the guacamole generally stayed in its place on the bun.

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Running through the other toppings here, the white cheddar was not good. Somehow it didn’t melt, which was off-putting. It was sandwiched between room temperature to slightly cool pico and guacamole on one side and adhered to what should have been a hot burger on the other side, yet it never melted into meat.

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The lettuce was also not really needed. The burger already had a veggie component and the pico de gallo added some crunch, so the lettuce was literally just filler. Lastly, the burger patty was typical McDonald’s. It served as a vehicle for everything else without detracting too much from the proceedings. The meat is always going to be on the dry side, but I like their burger seasoning.

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There was a buttermilk ranch added to the sandwich. I can’t say that it stood out in any way, but there’s always the chance that it provided some tang to the other ingredients and elevated their flavors. Or it added unnecessary calories.

The paper wrapper kept the burger together and generally in one piece until the very end, making it easier to eat (and take notes) without using 50 napkins. Not every chain can pull that off so it should be noted when it occurs.

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Overall, the burger is a solid win for McDonald’s. I can’t speak for the other new topping combinations, but I would 100% consider ordering the Pico Guacamole Burger again if it stays on the menu. The flavor profile was quite good. There was a lingering spice, I think from the guacamole, that was pleasant and not overpowering. The fresh vegetable toppings lifted the burger beyond a normal fast food experience, which is what McDonald’s was aiming for. I think if you’re a fan of guacamole burgers, this one is worth your time. Or, if you find yourself at a McDonald’s and want something that strays beyond their normal comfort zone, then this is also worth a shot.

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Before the introduction of Taco Bell’s Nacho Fries, my biggest hang up with going to Taco Bell was their lack of fries. Since I can remember, and from what I’ve heard before then as well, fries have been my favorite food. I judge fast food and regular restaurants by the quality or lack thereof (I see you In-N-Out) of their fries. I will make substitutions if food I order does not come with fries. I have strong opinions on the best fry shapes. I have an ongoing desire to go to McDonald’s one day and eat a whole basket of fries and nothing else (around 3 large orders). So it goes without saying that as much as I love Taco Bell, when I ate there, I was choosing fast food, but foregoing the opportunity to eat fries, which always caused at least a small pang if regret if the Taco Bell wasn’t paired with a KFC or Long John Silver’s. With the introduction of their new fries, I no longer will suffer from that feeling. Without wasting any more time, let’s review into this important development.

Taco Bell offers the fries as a regular side with nacho cheese, and a nachos-like portion served in two sizes: Supreme (small) and BellGrande (large). The Supreme and BellGrande versions are fries “dusted with bold Mexican seasonings [topped with] seasoned beef, diced tomatoes, reduced-fat sour cream and that warm and magical Nacho Cheese Sauce.” The Supreme size is $2.49 and BellGrande is $3.49. You can also get a box of fries with a cup of Nacho Cheese Sauce for $1.

I ordered the BellGrande portion. Words can’t express my excitement as I waited for my food. I kept trying to peek into the kitchen to see when my order would be finished. After what felt like an eternity, but was probably only two minutes, I got a bag with the food. I rushed to my table to empty the contents, and my first emotion was disappointment. The size of the fries container was small in terms of both fries and toppings. I thought the BellGrande portion would be larger and I expected more toppings. At least at my initial glance, I’d rather have saved the $1 difference between the Supreme and BellGrande sizes.

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Getting into the actual food, these were standard fries.  Coming out of the kitchen, they were crispy and looked to have an extra layer of batter on them. Obviously, they weren’t cut in the back, but they seemed to be acceptable fresher type fries. There was a small amount of spice scattered on them, but I can’t recall it standing out in any way. I’d have liked a more aggressive shake of the seasoning because I think it could have really elevated the fries.

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After trying to fries alone, I tried one with just some Nacho Cheese Sauce. It was standard Taco Bell nacho cheese, a little spicy and kinda cheesy, which I generally enjoy. I thought the pairing went well together and would consider the $1 fries option in the future. The fries were still crispy after a dip in the cheese and the flavor complemented the fries. If you want something plainer, and control over the amount of topping on the fries (as well as the option to prolong the crispiness), the $1 option is a good order.

I then started digging into the meat of the dish, literally and figuratively. The tomatoes didn’t really add much. The BellGrande Fries are meant to mimic nachos. However, unlike chips, which have a broader base and can be used to scoop up other foods, the fries need the toppings to adhere to them. Tomatoes don’t adhere to fries at all, so I resorted to using a spork, which was a lot of effort for tiny tomato pieces that weren’t really necessary to the dish. They weren’t strong in taste nor did they have enough of a textural contrast to be there. If Taco Bell wanted to add a vegetable, I think a pepper would have worked better.

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The beef is standard Taco Bell ground beef. I can’t remember the last time I had ground beef on fries, but it’s a great addition and hit the marks I was expecting from the fries in terms of replicating a plate of nachos. In addition, not that I wanted the Nacho Fries to be filling since I was ordering a lot of other food, but if you were looking to make the fries a focal point of your meal, then the beef adds some heft to the plate.

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After a few bites, I realized I needed a utensil even when I wasn’t trying to eat the tomatoes. The fries were getting pretty soggy and messy, and using my hands didn’t seem to be a viable option anymore, especially since I was taking pictures and notes. Using the spork also let me mix and match bites to try out different combinations and prevented the fries from getting boring by replicating the same bites throughout the meal. I’ve complained before about food getting boring, but the choose your own adventure aspect here let me pick around and choose the best bites, which usually was the fries with the Nacho Cheese Sauce and some ground beef.

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I’m not a big fan of sour cream and don’t really need it on my nachos. The sour cream did nothing to persuade me to eat it more in the future. If you like sour cream, then it’s fine here, just like it is on nachos. Some guacamole would have been nice instead, and it would have had a similar texture.

The Nacho Fries become messier and messier as I went along and looked pretty gross as I was finishing. Nachos are never exactly an aesthetically appealing food, but with everything combined and congealing at the bottom of the plate, it was not pleasant to look at.

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When eating, I made the mistake of not eating the fries fast enough. I’m a slow eater in general, plus when I eat for the blog, I need to take notes and pictures as I go along. However, under the weight of all the toppings, the fries got soggy very fast. My recommendation is that if you order the fries along with other food, eat the fries first.

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The fries were more filling than I anticipated from initially looking at the container. Granted, before this Taco Bell order, I had eaten Burger King’s Flamin’ Hot Mac n Cheetos, but I still think these serve as a solid base for a meal.

The summary of the experience here is good and bad. It was a good first effort by Taco Bell on the fries front. The fries were acceptable, if not great, and I feel like the base components of the fries, Nacho Cheese Sauce and ground beef worked well together and provide a solid foundation from which to move forward.

The biggest negative is that the fries got soggy very fast. Even the fries that weren’t under a mountain of cheese and beef lost their crispiness fairly quickly. Unless you’re fine with soggy fries, these need to be eaten immediately. I wouldn’t even recommend ordering them at the drive thru at this point. After the fries lose their crisp, it’s a big soggy mess. I’m not sure if they need to fry these twice or if the sogginess is from a lack of quality, but they need to work on building a stronger fry.

Also, I don’t think this was a good value at the price. I must have misunderstood the commercial, because I thought it was available with chicken or steak. At the price point offered for BellGrande, I expected one of those meats. Ground beef as the only meat option was slightly disappointing. It’s also an easy fix. Chicken and steak would add another texture and really make the taste better while also reducing some of the mess. Taco Bell already sells those meats, so it’s just a matter of adjusting the pricing.

I offer a qualified endorsement here. Taco Bell has laid the foundation for future success with some small tweaks. If you’re excited like me to try the new addition to the menu, then it’s definitely worth your curiosity. I trust Taco Bell to make improvements to make these even better in the future.

The paradox of introducing a new base ingredient in the implication that the previous incarnation was somehow less than. (And how’s that for an opening sentence on a blog about fast food?) Was it not healthy? Maybe it was full of additives? Or not properly seasoned? Regardless of the reason for replacing the old food, some credit should be given to a restaurant which is looking for ways to improve their core products.

This, of course, brings us to Wendy’s “new” Grilled Chicken Sandwich. The new is in quotes because the sandwich debuted in October 2016 and I ate in in November when it was actually new, as opposed to July 2017 when Wendy’s has already begin rolling out new products based around the grilled chicken (R.I.P. Fresh Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich, we hardly knew ye). My opinion and unscientific polling indicate that Wendy’s for whatever reason(s) (probably the salad bar that I haven’t seen in 10+ years), is considered the healthiest of the bigger fast food chains, so their grilled chicken sandwich is more important that, say, Burger King’s.

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Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich “is a juicy, all-white meat chicken breast fillet, marinated in a blend of herbs, topped with a smoky honey mustard, vibrant spring mix and fresh-cut tomato, all served on a toasted, multigrain bun.” It’s priced at $4.29 for the sandwich and $7.29 for a combo with medium fries and soda.

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As a note, I ate the Taco Salad first, but this sandwich was still hot when I ate it. Taking the sandwich out of its wrapper, it did smell like real chicken. To be clear, I didn’t put my nose directly up against the sandwich, but it had a strong aroma. As I looked at the sandwich before eating, it appeared to suffer from poor sandwich construction, like everything else at Wendy’s. I pulled up the top bun to see the insides. The lettuce looked crisp and fresh, but it also protruded enough from the bun as to make picking up the sandwich slightly difficult. It has also just dawned on me that I received regular iceberg lettuce and not the spring mix as advertised. Either they made a change after I ate it, or I wasn’t given the proper toppings. I also didn’t initially find a tomato, which struck me as an odd choice. Of course, as we’ll soon discover, a tiny one was added, but it was hidden by the giant lettuce.

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My first bite, by design, was only chicken. It tasted well seasoned, my guess is that lemon pepper features prominently in their spice mix. As good as it tasted, the texture of the chicken was a problem. The texture was soft and off-putting. I ate before noon, so it’s doubtful the chicken sat in a holding tray for very long, if it was cooked that morning, and I’ll give this location the benefit of the doubt that the chicken wasn’t originally cooked the night before and then served to me the next day. But discounting those two possibilities leaves an extremely unfavorable impression of the chicken.

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As I ate the components together, the lemony flavor from the chicken stuck out. It combined with the sweetness of the honey mustard, to produce what is probably a good taste if you like honey mustard. But I don’t, so the sweetness didn’t do anything for me. If it had been replaced with some barbecue, or hot sauce or even a flavored mayo I would have much preferred the sandwich.

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The multigrain bun didn’t have any special taste beyond having grains sprinkled on top.. Unlike most specialty fast food bun, this was fine, without any weird taste, and it fit the “healthier” theme of a grilled chicken sandwich.

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Taking everything into account, the sandwich felt plain and repetitive in taste, which is a common weakness for grilled, white meat chicken. There was no real depth or variation of flavor. I tasted lemon and sugar in every bite.

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The experience was made worse by the sandwich falling apart as I ate it, because there was too much honey mustard. The plus of the sandwich disintegrating was my discovery of the tomato hiding underneath the lettuce. Unfortunately, it was too tiny to make any difference in texture or flavor in the sandwich.

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One compliment I can definitely give Wendy’s is that they did not skimp on the chicken portion. It was substantial. The large chicken breast give the sandwich heft, and made it filling, even without eating a Taco Salad. Unfortunately, it’s a big piece of chicken on a substandard sandwich. The lemon taste was too much. The chicken needed more salt to balance the lemon, and maybe a little more black pepper, or a spicy sauce. The honey mustard was too sweet and there was too much of it. It was literally dripping out of the sandwich.

While I applaud the effort, I just don’t see myself ordering the regular Grilled Chicken Sandwich again, unless they make some tweaks. As they add variations to the menu, I’m sure I’ll come across it again and check to see if they solved the seasoning and texturally issues, but I don’t need the honey mustard overload again.

 

Days like today are why I started this blog. Today’s item was the most requested post I’ve had since I started the blog (yes, I will take requests within reason). Even I was curious how the hell they were going to pull this off. Without further adieu, today, I review Taco Bell’s Naked Chicken Chalupa.

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I’m late to this party, since I was abroad when it was released (see the Burger King Italian Stacker post). Needless to say, I was incredibly excited for the chance to finally try this Frankenstein. I had flashbacks to KFC’s Double Down, which used fried chicken as the ‘bread’ on a sandwich. Taco Bell was going for the same experience, except they weren’t filling the ‘chalupa shell’ with any meat: just veggies and sauce.

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Taco Bell describes the Naked Chicken Chalupa as “a Chalupa shell made of crispy, marinated all-white meat chicken and filled … with crispy lettuce, diced tomatoes, cheese and avocado ranch sauce.” The Naked Chicken Chalupa is $2.99 on its own, pricy for a Taco Bell item, or $5 for a box, which comes with the chalupa, a Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos taco, crunchy taco and medium soda. I ordered the box, plus an extra crunchy taco, because I can’t help myself.

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Before we begin, a quick note: as I wrote the post, I kept alternating between taco/chalupa in describing the food. It is technically called a chalupa, but we all know this is a chicken taco. Don’t be confused.

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The tacos all came in a literal box. When I opened the box and took out the Chalupa (shiny wrapper in the picture), I was struck by how small it was. I think the price relative to the Taco Bell menu, tricked me into thinking this would be larger than it is. Upon taking it out of the wrapping, I was impressed by the breading on the chicken. It had a nice color, and it smelled fantastic. I sized it up, then tried to figure out how to eat it. Yes, I know how to eat it a taco, but it was presented in the cardboard taco holder that the Doritos Locos Taco comes in, which makes it a little awkward to eat. Also, the shell is chicken, which is stiffer than a normal tortilla. When I tried to pick it up, the tomatoes perched on top kept spilled out.

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Eventually, I took my first bite, which was only chicken. It was quite crunchy and was well-seasoned with some spice. The chicken was slightly dry, but I’m going to be grading the meat on a curve here (no pun intended) because to fashion chicken into this shape, I’m sure we’re working with some unnatural additives to the meal.

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My first two bites were only lettuce and chicken. The cheese coverage was lacking, and the aforementioned tomatoes were laying on the table. The lettuce helped to cool some of the spice, which came in handy later, but otherwise, this was just eating some good-tasting, oddly-shaped chicken. By my third bite, I got some of the avocado ranch sauce. It had a light green hue and really went well with the taco. I didn’t really get an avocado taste, but maybe it was just for color purposes. Regardless, I may not love ranch dressing, but it does well when tastefully applied to fried chicken.

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The weird part of the experience is eating a taco with an iceberg lettuce filling. As mentioned above, a lot of my tomatoes fell out, and what little cheese there was was concentrated at the top. With the sauce in the heel of the chicken shell, that meant a lot of chicken and lettuce bites. Those two ingredients are fine, and the chicken definitely carries the flavor of the whole thing, but it would have been nice to have something else in there. My immediate thought was bacon. Any other viable (i.e. available at Taco Bell) meat wouldn’t pair well with the chicken, but bacon would add a different, smoky taste, and extra crunch. I wouldn’t be shocked if this the Naked Chicken Chalupa is released with bacon at some point. The other drawback: I wouldn’t have been opposed to more of the sauce. I didn’t add any sauce on my mown, and since the chicken was a little dry for me, more sauce would have helped.

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As I continued eating, and this seems to be a recurring theme here, is the creeping spice. About halfway through the taco, I needed a soda break, and I definitely felt the heat over the last half of the taco. While on the subject of the shell, the fried chicken held its shape as I ate. It didn’t break or get soggy. The coating didn’t crack and fall to the table. It was really well done.

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Obviously, the easy comparison here is the Double Down, but this is served in a manageable portion. I can understand someone looking at the Double Down and thinking it’s too gross and they didn’t want to/couldn’t eat it. Because of the smaller size here, that’s not valid.

I mentioned at the top that my first impression was that this was smaller than I anticipated. Despite its stature, it was really filling. After finishing the Naked Chicken Chalupa, I realized that I had three more tacos to eat and felt a pang of regret. I ate those tacos, but I didn’t need to order beyond the box. This was really good and unlike other items where I’ve liked them, but they wouldn’t supplant my usual order, if I was at a Taco Bell tomorrow, this would take the place of my usual order. Go for the curiosity, the Instagram likes or the gluttony and don’t be afraid, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The Naked Chicken Chalupa is worth your time, if only to say you ate it. Also, no bread, so less carbs, you’re doing your body a favor!

Bonus Fast Food Connoisseur Spouse Review: This one is good because of the chicken.

 

 

My earliest memories of Wendy’s was that it was different. Growing up in Massachusetts, we weren’t exactly blessed with a plethora of fast food options. While I could watch TV and see commercials of all these new and strange places, the local fare was fairly standard: McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Wendy’s. I didn’t see a Taco Bell until I was teenager (so deprived, I know). While offering subtle differences, McDonald’s and Burger King basically sold the same thing, and KFC was the fried chicken place (when they started serving Crispy Chicken Strips, my mind was blown).

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Wendy’s, on the other hand, was always different: square burgers, the salad bar, chili. For whatever reason, I ate my first chili at Wendy’s, and then used that to experience my first chili and cheese fries. Before it became a new market to penetrate to make up for flagging sales as Americans tried to eat healthier, Wendy’s was already aboard the salad train. So when Wendy’s started airing commercial recently advertising the return of the Taco Salad, I was intrigued.

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Wendy’s Taco Salad is “topped with … chili, shredded cheddar cheese, diced tomatoes, chunky salsa, and yellow corn tortilla rounds.” It looked delicious in the commercials… or at least as delicious as a fast food salad can look. When ordering, Wendy’s offers the Taco Salad in regular and half portions, which was fantastic for me, as I could sample the salad without letting my whole meal ride on liking it. The half portion is $4.29 and the full sized option is $6.29.

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I was confused when my order, which also included a grilled chicken sandwich meal (post coming soon!), came in four bags. It seemed (and was) wasteful, and I didn’t know why I needed two hands to grab my small order. Well, the Taco Salad is served disassembled. That’s right, the commercial is even more deceiving than usual! Sure, you can make a delicious taco salad, but to get it looking like the ad, it’ll take you about ten minutes, and you’re too hungry for that. I complain about this with Subway, and I’ll do it here too: serve what you’re advertising. If I want it custom made, then I’ll let you know, but I shouldn’t have to assemble my own salad.

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Anyway, the lettuce, tomatoes and cheese were in one bowl. I got a tub of salsa, a tube of sour cream, a small bag of tortilla chips, and a small portion of chili, filled halfway. I put all the ingredients in the bowl except the tortilla chips. Originally I wanted them to line the outside of the bowl, like the commercial, but I realized 1) that was going to take a lot of effort and 2) that was impractical for eating purposes. I wound up crushing them into small pieces and mixing them up with everything else.

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I’ll run through the items one by one, then go into how everything tasted together. First off, the chili was disappointing. It was extremely liquid without much meat or beans. It served as the de facto dressing of the salad… if a meat stew can do such a thing. It was a much better sauce than the salsa, which was thick and tasted really oniony. Fans of the blog already know that I generally despise onions, so the salsa was really off putting. The taste was strong enough that as soon as I tasted a bite, I immediately knew whether it contained salsa. The sour cream honestly didn’t have much of a taste, and I mainly used it to mix with the chili and salsa. The vegetables seemed fresh: lettuce was green and crunchy and tomatoes had real texture.

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Eating everything combined, the hot chili melted the cheese and made it nice and gooey. It went really well with the salad. Aside from the salsa bites, I really enjoyed this. With so many different ingredients, it was easy to switch up the flavor in each forkful so it didn’t get repetitive. Also, meat dressing is really good. I highly recommend it.

There were some issues though. It was extremely salty for a salad, which makes sense since everything in it was probably loaded with sodium. The tortilla chips were also an awkward addition. I mentioned before that I tried to crumble them into the salad, like a flat crouton, but getting pieces along with other elements of the salad was difficult, and the chip edges were sharp. They wound up being most useful when I just used them to scoop up parts of the salad, like a nacho.

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For a half a salad, the Taco Salad is a good portion. I don’t regret trying it, though to be honest, I’m not sure when I would actually order it again. If I’m eating fast food, I want fries, and I didn’t like this enough to order it as the main portion of a meal. I think if I wanted a Taco Salad, I’d go to a place that would make one for me, and not ask me to put it together. I really enjoyed this after I started using the tortilla chips as nachos, but again, if I wanted nachos, I’d go to a place that specializes in them. I also wouldn’t order chili salad nachos. So this definitely was not a fail, and if you’re curious, try it while they’re still serving it, but it does have limited appeal.