I Liked Taco Bell's U.S. Taco Co. ... Until I Went There

Categories: Chain Reactions

eat_tacos.jpg
Photo by Ryan Cady
If they're good

So, when I found out that U.S. Taco Co. -- Taco Bell's attempt at cornering the more well-to-do market -- opened in downtown Huntington Beach this week, I messaged my editor, and asked if I could review it, and then I got ready.

I got ready to head down to Huntington Beach and enjoy myself. Sure, the clientele were going to be douchey. I would probably have to pay for parking. The food would be overpriced, the employees judgmental, and the décor would undoubtedly scream "2 hip 4 u" harder than a Bushwick DJ loft. But in spite of all that, I was ready to defend the place because I firmly believe that what matters is that food tastes good -- food isn't sacred, it doesn't have to be healthy, and it doesn't owe you anything except its flavor, and I already had a whole bunch of diatribes ready about who cares that tacos don't traditionally include gravy or fried chicken. I was ready to defend U.S. Taco Co.

But then I went to U.S. Taco Co.

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Photo by Ryan Cady
The tacos in question

The thing is, and I need to say this right off the bat, U.S. Taco isn't bad. They've got some genuinely cool concepts floating around, and the idea of taking what Chipotle is doing (going vaguely Latino in theme, emphasizing the freshness and customization of their options) but flipping it, and channeling country-music-style-bro-Americana, genuinely interesting fusion combinations, and tacos that are basically sandwiches, is really, really cool.

Of course, all of those cool ideas are implemented so poorly that it's hard to remember what I liked about them in the first place.

Let's start with the obvious - the décor. It's a bunch of stupid pastels, unnecessary stainless steel, and all of these pointless candy skulls. U.S. Taco, okay, cool - that explains why you get state license plates instead of number placards to identify your order, and that's why "EAT TACOS" is displayed in a silly lightbulb type treatment above the counter. But then why bother with the Dia de los Muertos imagery at all? Are you acknowledging the influence of Latin American culture on your cuisine, or are you just stuffing rad shit into a tortilla? Pick a theme and go with it.

Also, just a forewarning - 90 percent of the customers? Total tools. I mean, they might be perfectly kind people, but I've never seen so many tight-striped tank tops and sunglasses worn indoors in my entire life.

But onto the actual foodstuffs, and here's where I was actually disappointed. The menu seems really cool; I mean, yeah, the kitschy names for the tacos (and don't even get me fucking started on how asinine "Leche Shakes" and "Papa's Fritas" sound when spoken aloud) are kinda silly, but they're fun, and they sort of fit the place. Unfortunately, most of the actual dishes fall short.

With the help of my buddy Jordan, I tried 5 tacos, with a side of fries. (I refuse to write "Papa's Fritas" anymore in this article.) The "Winner-Winner" - one of their flagship tacos - was first: fried chicken, jalapeno gravy, corn slaw on top of a flour tortilla. This thing really set the disappointing tone for the night, with its bland, almost-soggy chicken and utterly spiceless gravy. Seriously, I was promised jalapeno.

The "Hot Chick" - cousin to the "Winner-Winner", just minus the gravy and add buffalo sauce and bleu cheese slaw - was even worse. I worked at Season Ticket Family Pizza for 5 years, okay? I know good wing sauce when I taste it, and this stuff had way too much vinegar and nowhere near enough butter.

Next up was the Southern Squealer, a pretty decent pulled pork number on a bed of corn mash with a pretty flavorful BBQ sauce. The best of the night was our next treat - the Surf City, a fairly simple carne asada deal with some wonderful poblano crema over slaw. Ironically enough, U.S. Taco's least innovative entrée is by far their best.

Perhaps the biggest upset of the night was our last taco - the infamous "1%er," a $9 joke stuffed with lobster and garlic butter slaw. I'm not big into seafood, but it's usually hard to mess with fresh lobster; unfortunately, this is one of those cases. The slaw had no real buttery flavor, and only served to distract from genuinely bland and unseasoned lobster meat that had to have been baked or boiled.

Overall, the tacos themselves need some serious tinkering. On the plus side, there's some genuine freshness happening here - the ingredients taste real, flavorful, and clean. Unfortunately, those ingredients are poorly assembled. There's always too much slaw or garnish, and the flavors are often too sharp or herby and serve to distract from the meat instead of complimenting it.


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44 comments
Russ Mehan
Russ Mehan

Anything related to taco bell cannot be good. Just knowing they are the same company will keep me away.

Exador
Exador

" and tacos that are basically sandwiches"  What a dumb-fuck thing to say.

David Carbajal
David Carbajal

There's nothing like going to the lonchera around the corner and getting four tacos de birria enchilados with a lot of radishes and the salsa de aceite and of course a Jarritos de tamarindo. I personally would never eat at an establishment like this. Mexican food taste better when it's made by people that know what they're doing. Not a bunch of hipsters that think they're innovating Mexican food.

mhschepers
mhschepers

Wonderful, if they need someone to assume their lease I will volunteer, that's my specialty was even before I came to this country, look at the good point, I come with a bucket of paint assume the liablity, and get improvements at 10% of value, the people much rather like this.. I have no idea what the people of Huntington beach may like that is different, I'll figure it out when I get there...

Vanessa Barnes
Vanessa Barnes

Is it better than Taco Bell. That's the question.

Mark Antonio
Mark Antonio

I ate taco bell and got the buble guts toda \U0001f612

Chris Castillo
Chris Castillo

Thanks Susan enjoy Peoria Arizona. You cross eyed bitch

Susan Garcia
Susan Garcia

Only the white people will think this is good mexican food..thanks for trying it before i did..

mhip
mhip

I know Main St....I lived on Main St, (well Lake St, but give me a break).....it's douchey. No one can defend Main St.

Art Vasquez
Art Vasquez

Chris Castillo I couldn't have said it any better lmao! It's hard to even go Dt And see any locals. They are all just tourists. Was that about US Tacos or about bashing H.B.? Did you get a bashing of your own here? Bet ya don't talk as loud as you write in the weekly.

Avery Huxley
Avery Huxley

The OC Weekly will take any chance it can get to bash HB

Joel White
Joel White

I think it's funny when people call someone an "idiot" but can not use "you're" correctly. Irony.

Joel White
Joel White

Sounds kind of like Rubios in a way. We'll give it a try this week.

Art Pedroza
Art Pedroza

That food isn't remotely Mexican. Pass.

Chris Castillo
Chris Castillo

How about you don't talk shit on Huntington; Ryan Cady. Just stay out in cypress or buena park. It's way more fun out there. Don't base this town on a group of kids with no fashion sense eating at a Taco Bell. Your an idiot!!

Chantal Magnone
Chantal Magnone

Read this Charlie Wolff .... Our sodas are the best !!!

Raul Juarez
Raul Juarez

What did you expect? Thanks anyway for saving me a trip.

Marko Ocampo
Marko Ocampo

Kudos to Ryan Cady, comical and analytic, hahaha XD

Matt Bechtol
Matt Bechtol

Uh-oh! Myra De La Garza and Shelby Schumacher.

Barbara G. Binsol
Barbara G. Binsol

I'm sorry but if you have to pay more than $2 a taco anywhere...you're getting screwed. The best tacos are always in Santa Ana!

Claire Morgan
Claire Morgan

Hard to see how this place will compete with sanchos

Jesse OC
Jesse OC

Brian Simrak let's try this place out

Scott Fisher
Scott Fisher

No surprise there. It will choke. Thanks for checking it and saving the rest of us the time.

Ken Graham
Ken Graham

You seem unhappy "bro", hate much?

Kurt Slanaker
Kurt Slanaker

That's two (2) disappointing places that have recently opened in DTHB, there isn't much to boast about Ritter's Steam Kettle either.

mister_ecks
mister_ecks

If I didn't know this was owned by Taco Bell, I would be all over it. Since I do know, i wouldn't piss on the place if it was on fire. Does that make me an asshole? I don't care.

MeToo
MeToo

@Exador Struck a nerve? The truth must hurt. The real truth is that like Chipotle (read McDonald's) it out and out SUCKS!

reviews2
reviews2

They don't really even bill themselves as a Mexican restaurant.

ysoserious
ysoserious

@mister_ecks How dare you speak ill of Taco Bell. It's not meant for nutrition it's meant to feed the mass of stoners and drunks. You've obviously never had Taco Bell while under the influence. I'm pretty sure God personally blesses the food to make it extra delicious. 

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