For those who don’t follow the revolving door of CEOs at chain restaurants, lest you get a case of vertigo, allow me to shorthand the changes at the top of the chalupa at Taco Bell: Two years ago, the fast-food giant lost its innovative chief executive, Brian Niccol, to Chipotle, where he was expected to revitalize the menu and teach employees how to use a refrigerator.
Last year, Taco Bell hired a guy who used to sell sneakers to take over the top spot. Mark King, former president of Adidas Group North America, had, ahem, big shoes to fill. Niccol was widely acknowledged as the guy who turned around Taco Bell’s fortunes with menu innovations, emoji marketing, drunken trips to the drive-through and, more profitably, alcohol of its own. (Niccol’s doing pretty well at Chipotle, too.)
Taco Bell’s latest menu innovation is merely a Super Bowl party-themed riff on one of Niccol’s greatest hits, nacho fries, first introduced a month or so before the CEO decided to live más at Chipotle. King’s twist on Niccol’s nacho fries is to dress them up with shredded chicken, nacho cheese sauce, shredded cheddar cheese, pico de gallo, reduced fat sour cream (gotta watch those calories!) and Taco Bell’s very own buffalo sauce. King has also removed the fries from their paper pouch and dumped them onto a plastic oval tray, because God knows we need more plastic in the world.
I ordered the Buffalo Chicken Nacho Fries at a self-serve kiosk at my nearby Taco Bell. The item comes with the optional add-ons of, among other things, chicken and seasoned fries, which reminded me of the old Jim Gaffigan routine on Hot Pockets: “I saw a commercial for chicken pot pie Hot Pocket. Now they’re just messing with us. It’s just a matter of time: ‘Have you tried the Hot Pocket Hot Pocket? It’s a Hot Pocket filled with a Hot Pocket.’ ”
When I removed the lid (plastic, of course) to review my Buffalo Chicken Nacho Fries, I was struck by the colors: the neon yellow of the nacho sauce, the safety-vest orange of the buffalo sauce, the soft-serve white of the sour cream. I wasn’t sure whether to eat this or just smear it on my chest before starting a shift filling pot holes with the rest of the road crew.
The obvious problem with turning fries into nachos — let alone Buffalo Chicken Nacho Fries, with two more wet elements — is the crunch factor. Unless the fries are preternaturally crisp, you’re going to end up with a plate of mush. My fries were not preternaturally crisp. After a few bites, when the sauces all start to intermingle, your plate begins to look like clown roadkill. Vinegary clown roadkill.
By the way, if you actually like chicken, you may want to order something else: I had to hunt for the thin shreds of bird buried under the sauces and fries. The amount of chicken in this dish can’t be measured by fractions of a pound or ounces or even grams. It must be measured in thread counts, as in, “I got the nacho fries with the 18 threads of buffalo chicken.”
As I was picking over my roadkill, I couldn’t help but wonder why Taco Bell would incorporate the flavors of buffalo chicken into its lightweight Tex-Mex menu. Then it hit me: This, like the Doritos Locos tacos before it, is just drunk food.
Unfortunately for those slithering through the drive-through at 3 a.m. in search of an easy fix, the Buffalo Chicken Nacho Fries require utensils (unless you get the version in a burrito, which is just cheating). No one wants utensils at that hour.
More from Voraciously: