The Best Fast-Food Tacos, Ranked

The Best Fast-Food Tacos, Ranked The search for the best fast-food tacos is not a quest to be taken lightly. When you’re craving tacos—like within 10 minutes or else—there are a plethora of options on hand. This is a great thing. The more tacos there are in the world, the better off we all are. And since taco cravings can strike at any time, having access to cheap and easy alternatives via fast food is a boon. With so many choices, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed when it’s decision time. Should you go for crunchy or soft? Chicken or beef? Or potato? (Vegetarian tacos do exist!) What kind of salsa? Cilantro and onions or lettuce and cheese? What about both? With tacos, the options can be myriad. Never fear—I did the bulk of the research for you by ranking the best fast-food tacos. This is a breakdown of some of the most popular places to get quick-serve Mexican food and a focus on the most common or popular taco ordered at each place. Let’s save the best for last and kick off with the worst taco options, gradually improving as the list goes on. Qdoba Mexican Eats Calories: 230 Fat: 20 g (Saturated Fat: 4.5 g) Sodium: 590 mg Carbs: 15.5 g (Fiber: 2.6 g, Sugar: 0.5 g) Protein: 10.3 g Sadly, the tacos I tried from Qdoba were the worst ones. A trio of tacos is one of the entrée items you can order from this chain, along with bowls, burritos, quesadillas, nachos, and salads. While not well-known for its tacos, the chain is one of the most popular Mexican fast-casual spots. There are 12 locations in California, and most in Southern California are on college campuses. Since you have to buy three at once, it is a more expensive option at $12.03, which means each taco would cost about $4. The look: These tacos look appealing, which is a reminder that looks can be deceiving. The ground beef is nicely browned with a rich caramel color. The chili crema adds a nice orange pop to the lettuce and cheese. And since one of Qdoba’s selling points is that none of its toppings cost extra—not even guacamole or queso—almost every customer adds one or the other to their item. I added guacamole on the standard ground beef taco and went with flour tortillas, though corn is available. The taste: Disappointing at first bite. The tortillas are stale and too thick. The warming press didn’t get them to that chewy, flexible, and warm state that other places easily achieved. The beef is over-seasoned, cold, and has a strange aftertaste, like it’s been sitting around for hours. The chili crema and free guac and toppings are an incentive, but the flavor isn’t there. I ate one of the tacos from my trio for the taste test and threw the rest out. Jack in the Box Calories: 170 Fat: 9 g (Saturated Fat: 3 g) Sodium: 360 mg Carbs: 16 g (Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 1 g) Protein: 6 g Unlike most other burger-first fast-food chains, Jack in the Box offers tacos, too. Not only that, the chain offers incredibly cheap tacos. If this is what you want when a taco craving strikes, there is nowhere that comes close to the price deal. Normally, you pay 50 cents per taco, which is about the best deal you’ll get anywhere. But, because where I live in southern California can be very expensive, my outlet sold the pair for $1.79, which is still the cheapest on this list. The look: The deep-fried shell gives this taco a thinner look but in a good way. It does look a little greasy, but with a taco, that’s what you want. You can see that the thick slice of American cheese has been melted and mixed into every bite with the hot sauce-doused lettuce and the ground beef. The taste: Jack in the Box’s meat is less textured and more soft, but the flavor is still good. Combine that with the hot and melty American cheese—plenty of taco spots sprinkle the cheese on cold—and the heat from the hot sauce, and it’s a nice bite. It’s an American-inflected setup that doesn’t taste particularly Mexican, but it’s a quick, cheap, greasy snack when needed. Oh, and did I mention it’s greasy? It was by far the most oily, so keep that in mind, as it can be a good or bad thing, depending on your tastes. Del Taco Calories: 300 Fat: 20 g (Saturated Fat: 11 g) Sodium: 520 mg Carbs: 14 g (Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 2 g) Protein: 16 g Del Taco’s standard offering comes in crunchy or soft iterations, and there’s also the slightly smaller (and cheaper) Snack Taco. I tried both crunchy and soft. The crunchy was better in this case, so I’m adding it as a contender to the list. It still wasn’t in the upper echelon of tacos you can get for $2 in two minutes, but it’ll do in a pinch. The look: Though the crunchy shell is arguably more reminiscent of a lesser taco, in this case, it gives the item a nice structured look with some black speckling and texture. It’s stuffed with layers of beef, shredded lettuce, and finely grated cheese that leads to better melting. Plus, it has diced tomatoes on top, which sets it apart from Taco Bell’s version of the crunchy taco. Even with a few bites taken, the shell holds together and doesn’t crumble. The taste: The tomatoes go well with the crunchy corn, but they mush into the flour tortilla in the soft taco version. If you’re comparing this to the slightly better-known Taco Bell option, you’ll notice the meat and ingredient list are similar, but the meat at Del Taco is a lot spicier—and it comes with tomatoes. That doesn’t make it better than a Taco Bell taco, but it does make it a solid option. For crunchy taco lovers, this is one of your best choices. El Pollo Loco Calories: 340 Fat: 19 g (Saturated Fat: 6 g) Sodium: 830 mg Carbs: 18 g (Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 2 g) Protein: 2 g It’s right in the name—El Pollo Loco is all about the chicken. That’s been the case since the chain launched, so its signature chicken avocado taco was the obvious choice. If you’ve ever been to EPL, you might notice that most menu items contain chicken and avocado. Several more items include the signature cilantro dressing or avocado salsa. It’s a savory, creamy, green menu, and this taco brings more of the same. One taco cost $4.40. The look: This is an excellent example of how a taco should hold up, even if it has a short way to travel in a brown paper bag to your table. The guacamole was sticky and prevalent enough to hold the sides of the tortilla together, making it easier to eat, and the cheese boosted the creaminess of the avocado and added a great texture and color contrast. The taste: Instead of avocado slices, my taco was covered in really good creamy guac with no real spice, so it had a vegetal flavor. The chain has and always will have great-tasting chicken and great pico de gallo (salsa fresca). It was all wrapped in a thick, chewy flour tortilla and topped with Jack cheese and lettuce. This is a cold taco, so the cilantro dressing and a little extra avocado salsa were perfect. If anything, the taco could’ve used a little spice, but it’s pleasant and mild for kids or adults who don’t want to deal with heat and still want a snack. It almost feels more like a burrito than a taco. Baja Fresh Calories: 395 Fat: 27 g (Saturated Fat: 10 g) Sodium: 350 mg Carbs: 21 g (Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 0 g) Protein: 10 g Baja Fresh offers a slightly healthy alternative to other Mexican fast-food restaurants, so it’s not surprising that its Baja Taco is quite, ahem, refreshing. It’s a menu staple and comes Baja-style with a double corn tortilla, a preferred protein and salsa, and onion and cilantro toppings. The chicken is the classic, so I ordered the Baja chicken taco and added the six-chili salsa, which is medium-hot. The look: Sadly, this tortilla began to disintegrate almost immediately. It may have broken apart because it isn’t reheated before the taco is assembled (or maybe it is, and it’s just not done thoroughly), or because the chicken is juicy and moist, or due to a large dollop of wet salsa. Whatever the reason, the wrap broke down. This taco is $3.99, and I want it to hold together better at that price point. The taste: Despite the not-so-appetizing appearance, this is super tasty. The chicken is flavored nicely, and the grilled flavor comes through. The salsa is hot and salty enough to balance the sweeter tortilla. This is the only taco on the list with a double-wrapped tortilla. Another bonus is that Baja Fresh still has its customer-accessible salsa bar in the store, so you can stock up on as much pico de gallo and salsa verde as possible to go with the small side of chips added to every order. Now, that’s hospitality. Taco Bell Calories: 180 Fat: 20 g (Saturated Fat: 4 g) Sodium: 500 mg Carbs: 18 g (Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 1 g) Protein: 9 g Taco Bell has many taco options, but the soft and crunchy tacos are the classics. Both come in under the $2 mark at $1.79. Since the crunchy taco feels more like an at-home meal kit than the soft option, I decided to rank the soft one—it was also a lot better looking and tasting. (If you want a better crunchy taco option, my pick is Del Taco, listed above.) The look: The tortilla is flexible enough to keep its shape, framing the taco in a half-moon shape on the plate that showcases the simple toppings—ground beef, shredded lettuce, and shredded cheese. It’s a classic and one of the most popular fast-food options in America for a reason. It looks great, the proportions are solid, and for the quality, that under-$2 price point can’t be beat. The taste: The meat is well-seasoned and has a nice texture, which is one of the reasons I’ve picked Taco Bell over other places. The chain uses both chili pepper and cocoa to season its beef. The lettuce is a little lackluster, and the cheese isn’t melted, but the meat is good enough to draw these other two ingredients in. Another reason Taco Bell wins on taste? The sauces. Mild sauce is a must, or spicier if you can take it. Vegetarians can order the spicy potato soft taco as a swap for the beef, though there’s an even better potato option at Chronic Tacos. Chronic Tacos Calories: 405 Fat: 27 g (Saturated Fat: 10 g) Sodium: 550 mg Carbs: 23 g (Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 0 g) Protein: 10 g Despite being a southern California-founded company, Chronic Tacos wasn’t on my radar. Multiple engaged, cheerful employees greeted me when I walked into the shop. They seemed genuinely happy to talk to me, and this wasn’t the mood at any other spot on the list. Chronic Tacos is well-known for its customizable, DIY setup with a whole world of toppings, proteins, and styles. One favorite that’s always on the menu is the potato taco, so I opted for that one. The look: This fried corn tortilla is stuffed with mashed potatoes and cheese and then garnished with a choice of toppings. I got cilantro, onions, and lime—the preparation Chronic Tacos calls “street style”—plus the salsa verde, a medium heat. The taste: This taco blew me away. I wasn’t expecting it to be in the top two options, but it was one of the best in terms of flavor, composition, and balance. The tortilla is crunchy from being deep-fried, but still a little chewy—not too crispy or overdone—and the salsa verde was good. The cheese melted great into the potato, and the onions and cilantro added a hint of pungency and herbaceousness, making for a great overall bite. I will return to this restaurant to try more options and other items. Chipotle Calories: 560 Fat: 23 g (Saturated Fat: 9 g) Sodium: 1,240 mg Carbs: 46 g (Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 2 g) Protein: 45 g Did you think it was going to be anything else? Chipotle has built its brand on providing the most delicious, fresh, generously portioned Mexican-inspired fast food in the country. Nothing on the list even came close (except maybe Chronic Tacos). Due to Chipotle’s signature customization process, you can turn your taco into almost anything you want. I chose the classic grilled chicken to compare to competitors like Baja Fresh and El Pollo Loco. You can get one or three tacos, and the customization process allows for more non-traditional add-ons like rice and beans. I kept it to chicken, lettuce, cheese, and the green chile tomatillo salsa for consistency’s sake. The look: This is one of the largest tacos by far and is overly stuffed with toppings (as is the Chipotle way), so that’s likely why it’s higher in calories than most of the other options. Then again, it’s only $3.64, so it’s about the same price as tacos at the different restaurants. With the generous portion of fresh lettuce and cheese, it looks more like a salad than a taco, but a hearty portion of chicken grounds it back to taco territory. The taste: Few competitors come close to the taste of fire-grilled Chipotle chicken—El Pollo Loco is one—but the juicy, smoky flavor of the meat is the driving force. Aside from the incredibly well-seasoned chicken, the super fresh and thick tortilla is great, the lettuce tastes clean and crispy, and the salsa brings just enough heat to balance the cheese. If you’re hungry and ready to spend about $4 a taco, there’s no better option than Chipotle.

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