How to Keep the Choco Taco Spirit Alive

After Klondike’s news of its discontinuation shook us to our core, these pastry chefs are innovating the nostalgic dessert.

Campfire Taco Choco
S’mores taco choco | Photo courtesy of Camp Modern American Eatery
S’mores taco choco | Photo courtesy of Camp Modern American Eatery

There is something visceral about the twangy harmony of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” echoing through a neighborhood. Like Peter Piper’s rats we scurry, dollar bills and loose change in hand, to the ice cream truck bearing creamsicles and Rocket Pops and bubble gum–eyed Super Marios.

So, the world seemed suspended for at least a week after a food writer for The Takeout—Twitter handle @FartSandwich, if you must know—confirmed that Unilever, Klondike’s parent company, had sounded the death knell for the Choco Taco. Folks were upset. Hey, nostalgia is a helluva drug. And for many, the Choco Taco is the stuff of summertime sweet tooth obsession.

But the Klondike version of childhood memories isn’t the only taco to ever choco. Restaurants, especially those with pastry whizzes playing with childlike imaginations and professional technique alike, have fanciful iterations of the frozen dessert.

Portland, Oregon ice cream lab Salt & Straw will launch a limited-edition Chocolate Tacolate in October on National Taco Day. Meanwhile, in Seattle, chef-owner Mitch Mayers opened Sawyer, where his edible flower-topped choco taco has graced the menu since 2018.

More than three years before the Great Taco Choco Uproar of 2022, pastry chef Derrick Flynn had been ruminating on his version for Suerte in Austin, Texas. Suerte is lauded for executive chef Fermín Núñez’s heirloom masa program. So when Flynn brought his idea—crafting the waffle shell out of chocolate-flavored masa for his choco taco—to Núñez, recalls Flynn, “He looked at me and he said, ‘Prove it, chef.’”

Suerte choco taco
Suerte choco taco | Photo by Andrew Reiner

Flynn proved himself a sweet taco genius. “I was really chasing a very specific texture for the cinnamon semifreddo. I wanted it to eat like a pint of like Blue Bell ice cream—extra airiness, full fat, full flavor,” he says. “There’s a fun combination of textures, too, because you get the crunch from the hard-roasted peanuts, you get that shatter-y texture from the magic chocolate shell, but then you also get this crispy, almost wafer-y texture, from the chocolate-masa tortilla itself.”

Suerte’s version is more akin to and in the spirit of the savory taco by which it's inspired. Begging the question: is the choco taco a taco taco? Indeed, it is, and one made with white corn masa.

Meanwhile in Greenville, South Carolina, Lindsay Beck isn’t afraid of relinquishing her creative whims on the taco dessert. At Camp Modern American Eatery, the pastry chef makes a s’mores taco choco for a double-punch of nostalgia that evokes campfire smoke and memories chasing ice cream trucks down her grandmother’s suburban Illinois street.

Beck keeps her waffle exterior entirely traditional—even employing a simple home waffle cone maker. ​​“Still to this day, we’re like using this one little machine to make one at a time,” she laughs. “I don't think it’s made to be on for 10 hours a day, but here we are.” Everything else that’s inside, on top of, and nestled underneath is much more over-the-top.

To achieve an intense roasted marshmallow flavor for her Campfire Choco Taco, Beck makes marshmallow from scratch by the sheet pan and torches the top layer, scraps off of all that charred Maillard reaction, and repeats with the next layer until barely any fluff remains. The caramelized gold becomes the toasted marshmallow ice cream. “You can’t have a s’mores without some element of smoke,” Beck reasons.

The waffle shell gets a dip into rich chocolate with salted hazelnuts, which also make an appearance in a graham cracker crumble upon which the choco taco rests. “You still get a bit of nuttiness—it’s just not like your basic peanut nuttiness,” she says. Then, on top, even more brûléed fluff.

Beck put her taco on the Camp menu about seven months, and could have never anticipated the comeback it would make. Considering the news and hubbub, says Beck, “maybe this one becomes a staple for a little bit.” That is, if and until, Camp pulls a Klondike.

How to Make Choco Tacos at Home

Waffle cone maker
• Taco holder (optional)
• Ice cream (not optional)
• Waffle batter
• Chocolate magic shell (store-bought or home-made)
• Chopped nuts (your call!)

For those who might still be outside of taco choco range, restaurant-made or otherwise, can attempt the treat at home. You can choose your own ambition level: Make some or all the components from scratch or simply assemble everything—Ina Garten assures us that store-bought is fine.

1. Gather up your dessert-making fortitude, equipment, and components. Make your waffle cone batter (there are plenty of Google-able recipes online) and cook your cone with your machine. Lindsay Beck and her Camp pastry team Macgyvered a taco shell mold of blue tape and foil for theirs. You can likewise be very DIY with it, or get a taco shell holder (steel or ceramic both work) and use it as a mold while the waffle is still warm and pliable. The taco holders also help with assembly.
2. Apply chocolate magic shell to your waffle taco—on the rounded edges, on the bottom, really anywhere you want. Add chopped nuts here if you’d like.
3. For the go-getters, grab the ice cream you churned yourself at least a day ahead. The rest of you, scoop out the store-bought stuff. Let it melt for 5 to 10 minutes so the ice cream is workable. Smooth it into your waffle. Then dress it up as you’d like—with more magic shell or nuts or whipped cream. Go wild!

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Rosin Saez is the senior editor of Food & Drink at Thrillist.