Friday, October 23, 2009

Del Taco

My parents claim that they were hippies. The only real evidence I have ever seen to support this claim is a couple of old photographs, my mom's singular devotion to breast feeding and the fact that they made my brother, my sister and I eat really healthy when we were kids.


When you are a kid and your parents are constantly feeding you delicious, healthful, scratch made meals, it makes you want to eat junk food more than anything in the world. So when you finally get the chance to eat some shitty food, you eat it like you're trying to win a fraternity weight displacement challenge.* I remember spending the night at a friend's house on a Friday night and his parents ordering us Dominos pizza to eat while we watched TGIF. I ate myself retarded on pepperoni pizza and washed it down with 7 or 8 cokes. It was a formative moment.

Then I got my drivers license and fell in love. My first love cost 79 cents. She was an 8 inch tortilla filled with thin bean-less chili and shredded cheese, then steamed for 10 seconds to melt the cheese. Simple and delicious. From the Chilito* I ventured out finding new loves. The Mexi-Melt, the Double Decker Taco, The Grilled Stuffed Burrito. For a time in my life I counted money in increments of Taco Bell meals.

In high school, my friend Karl rolled up the car window on my fishing rod and broke the tip off, I made him pay me back in lunches at Taco Bell. For a couple of weeks during the summer of 1997 I could literally walk into the Taco Bell on Skinker north of Delmar and order the usual.

It was heaven while it lasted. Then some time in the late 90's Taco Bell did a complete overhaul of their ingredients. The new recipes claimed to feature, heartier beans, spicier beef and something else. For me what the actually featured was less goodness. And just like that my first love had faded. I still came back for the occasional familiar tryst but I always ended up leaving full of regret, guilt, and shitty fast food Mexican.

I knew that St. Louis supported another fast food Mexican joint. My first experience with Naugles was going through the drive-thru in a friend's Mom's car after she picked us up from seeing Wayne's World at The Esquire. We were high on laughter and needed sustenance to carry on. I told the speaker I would like one bean burrito and it barked back "Red or Green?" I found myself wishing we were at taco bell.

Then one day Naugles was gone and in its place was Del Taco. For a long time my policy on Del Taco was basically isolationist, I let Del Taco do its thing, and it let me do mine. Live and let live you know.

Then my friends started drinking. And getting hungry at 2:00am. And just like that Del Taco forced itself into my world in the form of 25 cent tacos.

The taco at Del Taco is a marvel of minimalist fast food. A regular sized hard taco shell half filled with dryish crumbly ground beef, a few shreds of bagged iceberg lettuce and some very finely shredded yellow cheese. It is nothing to look at, in fact the taco shell is almost universally broken by the time you unwrap it. But do not be deterred by its modest appearance, and for Christ's sake do not attempt to eat it dry. The real magic at Del Taco, the heart of the operation, is Del Scorcho sauce. For my money it is the best sauce packet in the world, and it don't cost nuthin. Squeeze two or three, or 8, onto whatever you order and wait for you taste buds to thank you for your excellent judgement.

The Best Sauce Packet in The World

Taco with Del Scorcho

From that first lowly taco, it was just a hop skip and a jump to the cheddar quesadilla, macho taco, and crispy fish taco. I'm hooked. If you need to find me on Sunday around noon, I suggest you check the front booth at the Del Taco on McCausland, I'll be the one with the neck-high pile of empty Del Scorcho packets.

My Local Del Taco

Cheddar Quesadilla with Del Scorcho

Even if I don't happen to be there when you go, there is always something interesting going on at Del Taco. There is a good chance that the person taking your order will be singing instead of talking. The dining room will most likely smell a little farty, but try and embrace the stinkiness and it will only enhance your experience. Imagine you are eating in a little roadside taqueria in Mexico, except the roadside taqueria is shaped like a fucking space ship! (Grand location only). And the chair backs are in the shape of cacti.

The Mother Ship

Cactus Chair

I'll conclude with a true story. A friend of mine was drunk in the drive-thru line of the McCausland location late one weekend night. In a moderately surprising turn of events he ended up getting in a fist fight with a drunk guy in the car in front of him in line. My buddy and this other guy pounded on each other for a minute or so in full view of the staff, then the drive-thru line moved forward and they got back in their cars and picked up their orders. Just another night in the Del Taco drive-thru.

*My Uncle Mike once competed in a fraternity weight displacement challenge and gained 11 pounds in one day. It was good enough for 2nd place.

*The Chilito is now called the Chili Cheese Burrito, and is only available at Taco Bells in some regions. Good luck ordering one outside the Midwest. Yet another reason that people who move away from St. Louis are saps.