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Which Fast Food Taco Boasts The Best Beef? Find Out In This Blind Test

I don’t love fast food tacos. I was born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles, so I’ve always been a stone’s throw away from great tacos. Even at home, I was raised on a steady diet of carne asada and ground beef. By comparison, fast food tacos have always tasted like pale imitations of the genuine article to me.

Having said that, I’ve since come to appreciate fast food tacos not for what they purport to be, but for what they actually are — late-night indulgences that hit the spot while you’re under the influence. They’re the sort of cheap food you grab when you need to sober up after hitting the bars or maybe took too many hits during that late-night smoke session.

Most of the fast food tacos I’ve eaten were in an altered state. They were all better for it.

Utility and relative quality aside, when it comes to fast food tacos, we do have options. Having already tested and ranked what’s out there, I wondered if we could get even more granular. We’ve applied the Naked Taste Test to burger patties and chicken fillets, why not taco meat? To that end, today I’m sampling seven fast food beef tacos, from Chipotle, Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, and Del Taco, in an attempt to see who is doing beef best.

For an extra bit of fun, I tasted the meat from each of these tacos blind, to see if I could identify which meat was from which spot and to shed my biases (which, when it comes to tacos, loom large). It was a good thing we did it that way because some of this “meat” had me convinced my girlfriend was pulling a prank and was actually feeding me wet dog food. I’m still not 100% sure some of these are real.

Sound appetizing? Let’s get to the meat!

7. Jack in the Box — Crispy Taco

Original Notes (tasted second):

Blind Taco Ranking
Dane Rivera

I didn’t think it could get worse than the first meat but I’m not sure you can even classify this as food. Is this what rabbits eat? It almost looks like some sort of meat paste. The mouthfeel is just as bad as it looks. The “meat” separates into tiny granules in your mouth that don’t seem to break down easily. It has a flavor that I can only describe as “meat.” Not any specific meat, just meat. Truly awful stuff.

Jack in the Bo
Jack in the Box

General Thoughts:

I know, I too have fallen in love with the flavors of a Jack in the Box taco in the middle of the night while under the influence. We all have. But Jack in the Box’s Crispy Tacos come in sets of two and cost less than $2. That should tell you everything you need to know about them. In fact, it might not even belong on this list, because Jack in the Box doesn’t explicitly call it a “beef taco,” which is kind of disturbing.

During the blind taste test I guessed that this was Taco Bell. I was wrong, but I’m not entirely convinced this is Jack in the Box either. I’m not even sure it’s food.

The Bottom Line:

Don’t eat these. Even if you’re drunk, reach for an order of curly fries or something. This isn’t fit for human consumption, and they put a slice of American cheese in the taco which should be a f*cking crime.

Find your nearest Jack in the Box here.

6. Taco Bell — Steak Taco

Original Notes (tasted first):

Blind Taco Ranking
Dane Rivera

Absolutely disgusting. This meat is incredibly chewy as if it wasn’t trimmed of fat, and yet there is no visible fat on it. It also has this unappetizing ghostly color to it. The mouthfeel is rubbery with a soft spongey chew, it almost tastes steamed. My guess is Del Taco.

Taco Bell
Taco Bell

General Thoughts:

My hunch told me that Taste 1 was Del Taco’s carne asada, turns out it was Taco Bell’s steak taco. I’d like to formally apologize to Del Taco, which is a chain I actually like. This is only ranked higher than Jack in the Box because I can actually tell that this is meat, and I take some comfort in that. I didn’t like the steamed quality of this meat and if I can go my entire life without ever eating it again, I’ll have lived a good life.

The Bottom Line:

Taco Bell’s worst protein option and I’m saying that despite them having ground beef on the menu.

Find your nearest Taco Bell here.

5. Taco Bell — Ground Beef Taco

Original Notes (tasted fourth):

Blind Taco Ranking
Dane Rivera

What is this weird orange congealed film over the meat? Is it grease? Before I even eat this I’m going to guess this is Jack in the Box, because those tacos are always dripping with orange grease. The flavor is as frighteningly bad as it looks. It’s salty and over-spiced, and there’s a lot going on here: onion, some sort of barf-esque white pepper, garlic powder, and a texture that is somehow wet and dry at the same time. Eating this meat is like throwing up in reverse.

Tacos
Taco Bell

General Thoughts:

I’m shocked that meat this foul is technically part of a top five. Taco Bell can point to this and say “Our Ground Beef Tacos Landed In The Top Five Fast Food Tacos At Uproxx!” and make an Instagram post about it, and they wouldn’t be wrong. But this taco might as well be garbage. Seriously, if you’re eating these tacos sober I have to ask why. Is it nostalgia? Are you being held hostage? Did you lose a bet?

I’ll give you this, the salty greasy flavor is addicting, and with a bunch of hot sauce or a Doritos shell, maybe it’s more palatable. On its own it’s inedible. After my forkful of this meat, I instantly burped and had to taste it all over again. Even as I write this, I’m still burping this flavor, and I ate six other tacos. My body does not want whatever this is.

The Bottom Line:

If you’ve ever felt like shit after eating Taco Bell, it was most definitely the taco filling.

Find your nearest Taco Bell here.

4. Del Taco — Steak Taco Al Carbon

Original Notes (tasted third):

Blind Taco Ranking
Dane Rivera

Just when I was about to pretend I had food poisoning so I could back out of this experiment, I got to this meat, which was at least edible. It’s overcooked with a really dry chew despite the wet-and-juicy appearance. The overall flavor isn’t bad; it’s a bit sweet and herby, but as carne asada goes this tastes like the sort of meat you pick up on red tag sale from the butcher.

I’m going to guess that this meat belongs to Chipotle because they tend to overcook the meat.

Tacos
Del Taco

General Thoughts:

I like Del Taco. I think when it comes to Mexican-inspired fast food, they do a pretty good job at most things they make. And they slow cook their beans, which is novel because slow cooking anything seems antithetical to ‘fast’ food. But this blind taste test has revealed to me that I’ve been giving them a pass on their stunningly mediocre carne asada.

As I mentioned in the tasting notes, it doesn’t taste bad, it’s a bit earthy and herbal but it’s overcooked, dry, and chewy. That isn’t a problem with cilantro, onion, and salsa, but Del Taco could have a better taco if they took this protein back to the lab or figured out a more effective way to marinate it to keep it from drying out.

The Bottom Line:

Del Taco’s grilled chicken taco is the move, skip the carne asada.

Find your nearest Del Taco here.

3. Chipotle — Steak (Taste 7)

Original Notes (tasted seventh):

Blind Taco Ranking
Dane Rivera

This one was a bit of a surprise. It looks and smells delicious, but it’s incredibly tough. It’s very dry in the mouth and the flavor is sweeter than almost all of the other meat in this test, barbacoa included. But it doesn’t seem like it’s sweet from a marinade, just because of how dry it is. It actually tastes like someone sprinkled sugar over it. Other tasting notes include a bit of cumin and some black pepper. This meat is well seasoned, but the sweet aftertaste masks some of its more interesting flavors.

Dane Rivera

General Thoughts:

I’m surprised at how sweet and dry this meat was. Chipotle’s steak isn’t the best, it’s mid-tier for sure, but this was the driest steak I’ve ever had from Chipotle. I certainly didn’t think a ground beef taco would rank above actual carne asada, but here we are. Chipotle’s steak is marinated before being cooked, but there is way too much sugar mixed in there and it muddles the flavor.

The Bottom Line:

Chipotle has a better beef option. Order that instead, unless you like dry, overly-sweetened meat.

Find your nearest Chipotle here.

2. Del Taco — Ground Beef Taco (Taste 6)

Original Notes (tasted sixth):

Blind Taco Ranking
Dane Rivera

So far the ground beef tacos have been awful, but this is a considerable step up. It’s not weird and wet like that orange congealed monster that was taste #4, and unlike taste #2, I think this can be fairly classified as meat. It tastes like it was made with 90/10 ground beef — dry and crumbly, but not to the point of flavorlessness, and it doesn’t suffer from a sandy texture like overcooked ground beef sometimes can.

Taco
Del Taco

General Thoughts:

A ground beef taco ranking in second place in a tasting that included actual whole meats? Yup, Del Taco’s ground beef taco isn’t the highest quality beef you’ll find, but the flavor is decent enough for us to feel comfortable suggesting that you eat it. I think the use of lean beef here works to this taco’s advantage. A fattier cut might have produced more grease and a wet consistency, like Taco Bell’s tacos.

This meat is mostly texture, but in a soft taco with cheese, lettuce, Del Inferno sauce, and a few crinkle-cut fries? Perfection.

The Bottom Line:

This is the only ground beef taco in the fast food landscape that won’t make you sick and is actually worth your money.

Find your nearest Del Taco here.

1. Chipotle — Barbacoa

Original Notes (tasted fifth):

Blind Taco Ranking
Dane Rivera

I already know what meat this is just by looking at it, so the very inclusion of this option makes this a completely unfair ranking. But hey it is fast food beef, so we had to include it. This is clearly Chipotle Barbacoa, which I gave the top spot in my ranking of Chipotle proteins. It’s great, the flavor cumin and oregano forward, two seasonings I highly doubt are used at Del Taco, Taco Bell, and Jack in the Box. It has a slightly sweet flavor, and a surprisingly tender texture. I’m by no means a Chipotle fan, but it shocks me just how good this meat is.

Dane Rivera

General Thoughts:

As I said in the tasting, this protein’s inclusion is almost unfair. Not only is it easily recognizable, but it’s in another class entirely. It’s the only meat in this lineup that can be described as “tender.” And unlike all the others, it’s not so much filler as it is real food that someone put together with the intention of another person eating it and enjoying. That’s a low bar, and yet given the other fast food options out there, it’s still in a class all its own.

A lot of places aren’t putting any effort into their tacos, but Chipotle, I’m surprised to say, is different.

The Bottom Line:

It hurts my soul to give Chipotle the number one spot on any ranking, but credit where credit is due, this meat packs flavor, is tender, and won’t make your stomach turn, which can’t be said about most of the other beef options out there.

Find your nearest Chipotle here.

The Big Takeaway

Fast food tacos are, for the most part, bad. We need a brand to step up, the way that Popeyes did in 2019 when they dropped their super-hyped chicken sandwich. That single sandwich release forced the entire fast food industry to take notice. They responded by improving their chicken sandwiches in order to compete.

Fast food tacos need that same energy now. Desperately.

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