Jewel-studded stiletto heels, rainbow-fringed leg warmers and sultry sequined gowns vie for my attention as I head to my local Taco Bell near Santee Alley in downtown L.A.’s fashion district. But I’m on a mission: to try the new Cool Ranch Doritos Locos taco supreme. Is that an unwieldy name or what?
Making a Doritos taco shell could actually be genius, I think, as I step up to the counter at the fast food joint (which shares space with a Pizza Hut Express). It’s a first for me.
OK, I’ll go with the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos taco supreme ($1.79), and I’ll add another new item, the steak Cantina burrito ($4.99), just in case. Retreating to a table near the door, I inspect the goods. The taco shell is rigid geometry, a perfect circle folded over to leave a two-inch slot for the filling. I break off a piece of the shell. It doesn’t taste much like a Doritos chip. It’s thinner, doesn’t have the same emphatic corn flavor -- or the salt.
Then I wonder: How do they make the shells? With a spray gun? (I’ll see if Google has the answer. Bingo! I find the story describing just that.)
Inside our taco shell is a gruel of crumbled indecipherable meat and gravy faintly scented with chile, wan diced tomatoes, fat yellow strands of marigold-colored cheese-like substance -- and plenty of shredded lettuce or, as we say in the fine food biz, “julienned.” And a drizzle of cool reduced fat sour cream. (Reduced fat?)
I wish this taco thing tasted like something. A few bites and it crumbles to bits. And I’m pretty sure you’d need at least three of them to mute all but the smallest hunger pang.
I’ve dined on some great tacos in Mexico, at taco trucks here and at Guisados Tacos in Boyle Heights. The Cool Ranch Doritos Locos taco is like a sixth cousin twice removed.
As for the steak Cantina burrito, designed by Venezuelan-born Miami chef Lorena Garcia, it’s black beans, al dente rice, guacamole, a corn and roasted pepper salsa and bits of charred, marinated steak all rolled up in a flour tortilla. If Garcia had stopped there, her steak burrito would be a definite upgrade. But then she flooded it with creamy cilantro dressing. Save that for a salad. Please.
On the other hand, the whole thing has an impressive density. Order two and you can use them to exercise your biceps as you walk back to work.
S. Irene Virbila has been a restaurant critic at the L.A. Times for almost 20 years; she’s been writing about food for even longer. Her reviews have won awards from the James Beard Foundation and the American Food Journalists, and she’s known, of course, for her excellent taste. But just for grins, we’ve asked her to expand her horizons and sample fast food on a regular basis.