Eat

Yo No Quiero Taco Bell

…if you’re careful, you can navigate your way through a venereal disease and a stomach virus to have an enjoyable meal here.

Story by Shay Neary - imshaybutta@gmail.com Photos by Albert Nicolello
Photo ©Albert Nicolello

Photo ©Albert Nicolello

Taco Bell, a chaotic place that has a brash and sunny feel, with very high, dark ceilings. The large darkened maroon counter with hovering counter people and sun-kissed orange walls with gleaming plastic booths and a central three-sided bar where multi-colored soda machines stand sentinel at each end. The walls display colossal photos of Mexican Taco Bell themed collages, Aztec-clad goddesses and deco-page artwork from some warehouse in Hoboken…

There’s something enjoyably preposterous about Taco Bell’s atmosphere of machismo. As I drank my Baja Blast soda (a signature drink here) straight from the plastic orifice I had to pour it into, I thought, “Makes you feel like a man, doesn’t it?” Even the menu is carefully styled, it’s odd font, printed on the lit up sign in a vibrant white on deep agave blue background, suggesting a vintage manual typewriter with show-card print. I kept expecting to see a Don Quixote-like character from a beer commercial — billed as “the most interesting man in the world” — exhorting us to “Yo No Quiero Taco Bell, me padres!”

Photo ©Albert Nicolello

Photo ©Albert Nicolello

The restaurant is nothing if not awkward. The lady who took my order was entirely having a conversation about my contacts, in front of me, while we chatted about the menu, then describing the (excellent) Dorito Nacho Cheese Taco at my disposal and letting me know that the food was not what I might think. “We don’t like to call it Mexican here,” she said. Then continued on about my contacts… (Amateurs…)

Indeed, if great Mexican food is what you’re looking for, better to head somewhere like Chipotle or Dos Caminos. What Taco Bell offers is not that, but rather a small selection of odd; poorly made, street style dog food shaped into different pastries or shells to mock a sort of south-of-the-border tapas selection. They make bank off of feeding a parody of cheap food to the youth, massing with an appetite after smoking up some hash.

Photo ©Albert Nicolello

Photo ©Albert Nicolello

Food is served in cardboard containers, paper shifts, and Styrofoam. Very optimal for sharing in the garbage disposal they are serving. As the restaurant’s name suggests, tacos are the menu’s mainstay, and I liked about two of them, but the Bell in the name suggests more of a ringing sensation, which the restaurant lacked in all forms.

The tacos were overly salty, and contained a knot of soy gristle (which I don’t know is possible, since it’s not meat), and the chicken was slathered in sauce. The tortillas are small — the mini, six-inch version — and they fall apart easily; two bites and my tacos were in pieces. Note to management: eating tacos that dissolve in my hands does not make me feel like a woman, or a man.

Photo ©Albert Nicolello

Photo ©Albert Nicolello

I had other complaints, a litany of them, in fact. Grilled or Fried Potatoes, plopped in sour cream-heavy sauce, was a soggy, cheesy mess. A bowl of potatoes with cheese sauce and sour cream is not Mexican… it’s Irish… Gordita’s were not the fried, split and stuffed tortillas I expected, but rather deep-fried little cheese contained shells filled with soy chicken and Baja sauce, wrapped in something that had the resemblance of Naan and an old gym sock which had been showered and stepped on after a homecoming football game. It was a tragic day in Mexican history.

There were some successes: Taco Bell’s Caramel Apple Empanada excels with excellence. They were the perfect amount of crisp apples and caramel sauce filling in a shell with warm vanilla custard. But sadly, none of these things are traditionally Mexican. They are more North East United States, German, Dutch and Welsh descended… which is depressing because the caramel was the only “Latin” thing in their dessert.

Photo ©Albert Nicolello

Photo ©Albert Nicolello

The bottom line is, if you’re careful, you can navigate your way through a venereal disease and a stomach virus to have an enjoyable meal here. Try Chipotle, its cheaper and more delectable. They also don’t charge you a $1.00 extra for chicken instead of beef…. That’s because the beef is a grade above dog food. Congrats Taco Bell! This is one place where being there when you’re drunk is four-fifths of the fun.

Taco Bell

(-) No Stars

18 E 14th St

(between 5th Ave & W Union Sq)

New York, NY 10003

Photo ©Albert Nicolello

Photo ©Albert Nicolello

THE SPACE Seating for at least 80 in an airy multicolor room designed to suggest a glamorous nightclub. Wheelchair access through front door.

THE CROWD A diverse and sedate early crowd of couples and families yields during the later hours to potheads, boisterous hipsters, and overly ghetto drunk patrons.

THE BILL Ranging Items from $1.00 to $8.00. All major credit cards accepted.

WHAT I LIKED Baja Blast Soda, Doritos Nacho Cheese Chicken Taco, Potatoes Con Carne, Caramel Apple Empanada.

RATING (-) No Stars. Check yourself into the ER for food poisoning after dining here.

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