Since October 2016, I've been subjecting my innards to the gastrointestinal equivalent of an American Ninja Warrior obstacle course. The challenge: to order and eat at least three bites of every food item available on Taco Bell's huge -- but recently scaled back -- main menu.
I'm doing this for you, dear readers. And also, in remembrance of that Taco Bell Chihuahua, which, along with the cast of canines featured in Homeward Bound, Wishbone, and Beethoven, has almost certainly passed away by now. Yes, life is sad. At least we have Taco Bell.
This Restaurant Gives Brunch a Punjabi Twist
I'll be updating this ranking whenever Taco Bell adds or subtracts from its official menu, which is surprisingly often. Usually, T-Bell adds more meat-cheese-topping-shell configurations to its menu than it subtracts, but in September of 2019, the chain killed off at least nine menu items, including the Cool Ranch and Fiery Doritos Locos tacos. On the bight side, vegetarian options are now a highlight on its menu boards across the country. Will the new Black Bean Crunchwrap Supreme fill the Doritos Locos-shaped hole in our hearts? Hell no. But it'll come close.
So how did I track down every Taco Bell menu item? Well, it wasn't that hard. A spokesperson for the company sent over a photo of the latest menu (shown above), which served as my guide. Just note that this ranking does not include Taco Bell's breakfast menu options (at least, not yet).
As you're about to see, eating my way through the main menu was... a journey. Grab a fistfull of Fire Sauce packets and come along with me.
39. Black Bean Burrito
It's just OK enough to be forgettable. It's like the Mexican fast-food equivalent of How I Met Your Mother. I can't imagine the kind of person who goes to a Taco Bell and orders a plain black bean-filled burrito. But also, How I Met Your Mother ran for nine seasons. So... you know.
38. Chips and Nacho Cheese Sauce
Alright, look: You might think -- being this low -- that I'm saying these aren't good. That's not true. It's just… well I mean… this is literally just some super crunchy chips and a little bIt of orange cheese. IT'S FINE.
37. Chips and Pico de Gallo
Pretty much what I said above, but instead of orange cheese you got kind of a nice little cup of surprisingly fresh pico.
36. Chips and Guacamole
This ranks highest of all the chip pairings, because unlike other fast-ish Mexican food joints, TB does not charge extra for gauc. Well, at least in this case.
35. Cinnabon Delights
There are malls/airports for these. You don't need them at Taco Bell.
34. Black Bean Quesarito
As you'll see, I'm pro Quesarito. This is far from the best one. This is the Stephen Baldwin of Quesarito. This is not the Quesarito you want to spend time with.
33. Bean Burrito
This is just a burrito filled with beans. It's like the "slappers only mode" (GoldenEye reference!) of the Taco Bell menu.
32. Shredded Chicken Burrito
A stab at the upscale. But... it almost seems like it's stabbing too hard, trying too desperately to be "authentic," and missing what makes Taco Bell great in the first place: loading variations of Mexican food with literally anything that would make it taste better, and openly admitting we all good with knowing this is fast food. When The Bell purposefully shows restraint, or tries to get fancy, it loses that magic.
31. Shredded Chicken Soft Taco
See above, add taco.
30. Grilled Steak Soft Taco
See above, add steak.
29. Toasted Cheddar Chalupa
For a more robust take on one of Taco Bell’s new menu items, I’d suggest this review by my uber-talented (and decidedly less cheesy) colleague, Kat Thompson. But simply put: I agree with her resounding “meh.” The shell tastes like a giant soggy Cheez-It -- but hey, maybe you’re into that?
28. Cheesy Bean & Rice Burrito
Scanning through this list, you'll notice these "basic" options are really hit or miss. This is one that -- for whatever reason -- just doesn't inspire the same type of adoration as other bare-bones entries on TB's menu. It can get a little... soggy. You don't want that.
27. Black Bean Crunchwrap Supreme
I really wish I could have ranked this higher, because it almost definitely has the best name out of any Taco Bell Menu item. It just rolls off the tongue. It sounds like a ‘70s funk band. But, this veggie option simply middles and leaves me missing the meat. To be fair, I'm usually missing the meat.
26. Chicken Quesadilla
If you are at a restaurant, and you're unsure about what to get, the rule of thumb is snagging a chicken quesadilla. Incredibly hard to mess up. Reliable. Consistently good across the board. Kind of blends into the background. That's what we got going on here: a solid, if not forgettable, Taco Bell treat.
25. Steak Quesarito
Remember what I said above about the grilled steak taco? Well, I'm going to be a little hypocritical here (look, it's my list, and I've eaten ~400,000 calories of Taco Bell to get here, so cut me some slack). Usually when Taco Bell tries to make something fancy it doesn't work quite as well. This quesadilla/burrito hybrid gives us just enough cheesy, fast food-y coverage to make the steak seem like... well, actual steak. That's a good thing.
24. Beefy Fritos Burrito
After a solid-gold partnership with Doritos, Taco Bell is taking its snack food/fast food alchemy to Fritos -- the corn-based chip-thing that you may recognize from the floor of your mom's minivan -- with this burrito loaded with (you guessed it!) Fritos. Obviously, this isn't bad. But it's certainly not a game-changer like the Doritos Locos Taco. And it seems like, overall, the Dorito's flavor just works better with what Taco Bell is putting out there. The Fritos make the burrito extremely salty, almost unpleasantly so. In fact, I need a tall glass of Baha Blast just thinking about it...
23. Beefy 5-Layer Burrito
It's like the Taco Bell lab made this specifically to cater to people who swore off vegetables because they lost a bet in middle school. It's so dense, you can hammer a nail with it.
Still, it's worth at least one order. Just don't make plans for the upcoming week.
22. Power Menu Bowl
I'll say this a few times over the course of this ranking, but Taco Bell is (bewilderingly) great at healthy-ish fast food items. The PMB isn't exactly what Tom Brady is crushing before he goes out there and cheats and also plays football at peak performance, but it will make you feel a little less bad about hitting the drive-thru on a Wednesday, if you care about that kind of stuff.
21. Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes
Ah, cheesy party potatoes. There's a version of this, wrapped in a tortilla, a little further down. This is like opting to get your ice cream in a bowl, instead of a cone. Why would you want to do that?
20. Spicy Tostada
The Spicy Tostada is kind of like a mini Mexican Pizza, sans meat. But good news! You can add as much meat as you like (for a small fee -- again, Taco Bell's menu is infinitely customizable). It totally nails the basic-but-great overall charm of the budget menu. If you want something with a Mexican Pizza vibe, but don't want that much food, Taco Bell has answered your fast-food prayers. At least someone is listening.
In case you don't get it: The Quesarito is half quesadilla, half burrito, and I tell you what, it's not half-bad! Actually it's not close to half-bad. It's almost full good. Half-bad is kind of high bar for crappiness, isn't it?
18. Burrito Supreme
Look, there's a seven-layer option available here.
17. 7-Layer Burrito
The 7-Layer Burrito is a hedonistic fast-food classic. Taco Bell describes it "... like that 7th-floor city apartment you lived in right after college."
And it's true. It's small. Comes wrapped in paper. Filled with beans and cheese. It's the second best-selling item on the Taco Bell menu. Actually... it's not like my post-college apartment at all. Except for the bean and cheese part.
16. Beefy Nacho Griller
Beef is the better Griller, but still not the bestest.
15. Cheesy Roll-Up
This really reminded me of when I used to put a bunch of cheese in a tortilla and microwave it for three minutes when I was home alone as a kid. Kevin McCallister probably made these when he finished that lovely cheese pizza, just for him.
In Spanish, the word "gordita" translates directly to "chubby girl." I respect that decision. The only problem here is that this Gordita is remarkably similar -- but inferior -- to our next entry.
The Gordita is like a taco, except with a big, fluffy outer shell.
The Chalupa is exactly the same, except the shell is fried. Obviously, you can see why I opted for the Chalupa here.
12. Cheesy Potato Griller
I'm going to blow the surprise, but a simpler, non-cheesy potato dish ranks slightly higher. Sometimes -- maybe especially in fast food? -- simpler is better. (For the record, this is still pretty simple and very good.)
11. Spicy Potato Soft Taco
Aside from a certain crunchy dessert (ranked higher), the spicy soft taco is the best vegetarian thing on the menu. There are no fries at Taco Bell (anymore, at least) but the humble potato still finds a way to soar. Soar, humble potato.
The Crunchwrap has quickly risen up the Taco Bell totem pole to become a modern day fast-Mexican classic. It's like a burrito, in Frisbee form. It's sauce-tight construction makes it the perfect Taco Bell meal on the go. It's a portable burrito. Well, I guess a more portable burrito.
9. Hard Tacos
Generally, I believe the hard taco (in general) to be severely underrated in almost all regards.
However. The Taco Bell hard taco has a propensity to get soggy super fast (if you are getting these to-go, you should eat them in your car). And, when they are not soggy they are super sharp. Like, carve-out-the-roof-of-your-mouth sharp. Like thumbtacks spiked with Captain Crunch. And no one expects pain with their Taco Bell. Well, at least not at first. Bottom line: if you want a hard taco, opt for the Doritos shell. It's more worthy of your mouth pain.
8. Fiesta Taco Salad
Scoff, if you must, but Taco Bell sneakily has some of the best, "healthier" fast food dishes in America. No, that's not an oxymoron. Yes this is like a party in my salad, and everyone's invited. No, I'm not kidding: the Fiesta Taco salad -- exactly what it sounds like -- is truly a good thing to order at Taco Bell.
7. Nachos Supreme/BellGrande/Grande Nachos Box
The Nachos Supreme and Nachos BellGrande (basically, the Supreme soaked in melted cheese) are two of Taco Bell's big hitters.
Is there really any more Taco Bell-ish dish than the nachos? It's just a big old pile of everything you want to sloppily fill your face with. A fast food burrito, de-constructed.
The Grande Nachos Box is just about the same thing, but with twice the meat -- seasoned beef or shredded chicken -- than Nachos BellGrande, plus a dollop of guac. That's the only difference. For that reason, and the fact that they're only a limited-time menu item, we decided not to rank them separately. Make no mistake, though. They're good. And filling.
6. Cheesy Gordita Crunch
The Cheesy Gordita Crunch is the ideal amount of culinary ridiculousness -- the kind of sideshow hodgepodge that made Taco Bell the rare fast-food chain that is still doing experiments that people care about for more than a news cycle.
When I was 6 years-old, I did not like Taco Bell... for some reason. Who knows? I guess I didn't like a lot of things back then. The basement. Clowns. Wearing underwear.
But what I did like were these Cinnamon Twists, which have been around basically as long as The Bell has. I love a light dessert. And these are like ping pong balls filled with helium. They're stale little churros. And I mean that as a massive compliment.
4. Shredded Chicken Mini Quesadilla
I know this looks bad, but it's actually disturbingly good. I could have said that about most things on this list. I saved it for a reason.
3. Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Taco Supreme
Witness: the taco that launched at least 1,000 stony bologna trips to the Taco Bell drive-thru. This is fast-food experimentation at its absolute peak -- a stunt food that paved the way for every "look-this-bun-is-made-of-Cronuts-and-it's-also-stuffed-with-hot-dogs" feat of food food alchemy.
After the gimmick wore off, the truth shone through; Doritos and Taco Bell are just made for each other.
2. Mexican Pizza
This is the goddamn wildcard. A dark horse soaked in fuego sauce. It's not very pizza-like, to be honest. It is round, sure. That's about it.
But it's a direct display of Taco Bell's strengths. It's serving up a massive plate of cheese, meat, crunchy stuff (?), and liberally drizzled sauces in such a convincing fashion, you don't even bother to question what it is, or why you are eating it. The Mexican Pizza is Taco Bell, encapsulated in one little disc of pure fast-food bliss. And only one item could possibly top it.
It's not Gordita Bell. Or Burrito Bell. And it's definitely not Mexican Pizza Bell (wouldn't totally hate that, though).
It's Taco Bell. And anything else in the No. 1 slot would be a disservice to legacy. This is simple. It's uncomplicated. The soft taco will be devoured by the time you leave the drive-thru. It's not even an order, it's an unspoken certainty. Small enough to snack on, but when multiplied three-fold, worthy of an entire meal. It's like the girl next door of the Taco Bell menu -- like, everything you've ever wanted in fast-food Mexican, and it's been sitting right in front of your eyes this whole time. It's the Topanga of tacos. And the Topanga of anything deserves respect. Especially Topanga, herself. I wonder what she's up to now? Anyway, the soft taco is still the best thing on the Taco Bell menu.
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Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. He actually blames Gwyneth Paltrow for most of the world's problems. Follow him @wilfulton.