I often tell people that if I could marry a restaurant, it’d be Taco Bell. Consummating our relationship after the wedding would be messy and dirty in the best kind of way. Imagine the smell afterwards. I just publicly admitted that I’d have sex with a fast food restaurant and yet I’m not ashamed of myself. James Beard Awards, here I come!
As far as fast food restaurants go, Taco Bell has an impressive ability in its execution that others don’t. This superpower is being able to use its stable of main ingredients—meat, beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, hard taco shells, and flour tortillas—to create a menu of infinite possibilities.
The same ingredients that go into their Burrito Supreme get mixed with those from the Mexican Pizza, and this gives birth to the Crunchwrap Supreme (yes, yes, I know, it has cheese sauce added, but this is Taco Bell; who’s really counting), which is easily one of my favorite items on the menu—yet I never order its parent items. And don’t get me started on the magnificent Doritos Cheesy Gordita Crunch, which is the baby of the Gordita and the Doritos Locos Taco. Sensational. Every now and then, Taco Bell releases limited-time items, which almost always feature the same ingredients except for maybe things like Flamin’ Hot Fritos in the case of the Beefy Crunch Burrito, which is a next-level finishing move.
Not only do I write about food, I also work in the restaurant industry as a pizza cook. I sling pies at Paulie Gee’s Logan Square, a Chicago outlet of the popular pizza joint in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. We specialize in wood-fired pizza, all of which I have a hand in making during my shift. My regular station is topping, which requires knowing what ingredients belong on each creation, rapid-fire, from memory.
Before we open for the day, sometimes we fool around and make our own pies from the stable of regular toppings we carry. One day, I made a busy creation of gouda and mozzarella, along with dried cherries and pistachios (I brought the nuts in, just for fun). Post-oven, I drizzled the pie with honey and added strips of prosciutto. It was devoured by the rest of the staff within five minutes.
This Frankenpizza is like the Crunchwrap Supreme, in a way. Its parents are the Cherry Jones (which contains mozzarella, gorgonzola, cherries, honey, and prosciutto), while the gouda comes from the Monte Cristo (gouda, Canadian bacon, maple syrup). I just happened to add the pistachios I’d bought as a snack. I’m a culinary magician.
The rest of our menu involves combinations of every topping ingredient we have, so there’s a natural overlap in everything we create, just like Taco Bell. I’m not sure our owner would be terribly happy with me comparing our fine imported Neapolitan wood-fired oven cuisine to fast food, but like I said, I’m in love with Taco Bell and will staunchly take all the shrapnel that comes from my opinion.
And as far as utility goes, both Taco Bell and pizza are the perfect foil for an alcohol-fueled night of mayhem. One time my friend Ricky (his nickname in high school was Pork Chop), in a belligerent drunken rage, threw an opened soft shell taco from the backseat onto my dashboard. Shredded cheese exploded in an annatto-tinted spray of fireworks, mostly ending up in the vents. After a few tacos, Ricky eventually calmed down and passed out on my couch. I was never able to extract the cheese, so every time I turned on the air conditioning or heat, I knew I was being caressed by the vestiges of my fast food love.
Of course, we all know that pizza is the best food to order right before you accidentally drunkenly fall asleep on the couch, and when the delivery driver rings your doorbell angrily for the tenth time in a row at 2 AM, you open that door, knowing that this magical circle of nourishment will soothe the beast of a hangover you might have the next day. That, or you get a second wind and start drinking again until the sun comes up, in which case you’re a true champion.
During my tenure as a food writer, I’ve eaten at Michelin-starred restaurants. I’ve had caviar, foie gras, and torrential downpours of freshly-shaved black truffles over pasta. I will be forever grateful for that fact. But frankly, some of what I’ve eaten on a $200 tasting menu has also tasted like ass. (No offense to ass.) Economically, there is a supreme glory to Taco Bell, and $10 can easily buy you enough for two delicious meals. The money you would normally spend on a tasting menu can feed you at the Bell until your first cardiac infarction. And a large pizza can easily feed you for a good long time too, unless you’re me, in which case just one meal.
I’m headed towards an inevitable culinary event horizon someday. Using my skills as a pizza cook, and my love for Taco Bell, I’m planning on buying a shitload of Taco Bell, bringing it into Paulie Gee’s Logan Square, and I will finally make the most important dish in all of history: a wood-fired Taco Bell pizza.
Unless my boss reads this first. I better hurry.