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America's Favorite Mexican Fast Food Chain Isn't One You've Heard of

Unless you've grown out of boozy 2am Crunchwrap runs (hopefully, you have), the words "Taco Bell" are all but synonymous with Mexican fast food. Meanwhile, Chipotle -- even after recent food safety troubles -- remains as the ubiquitous, go-to quick burrito place. However, despite their size and popularity, both tortilla titans and other establishment taco purveyors fell behind a much smaller rival in recent survey of America's favorite fast-food Mexican chains. And you've probably never heard of it.

In its annual consumer survey of quick service restaurants, industry research firm Market Force Information named Taco Bueno as the nation's favorite in its Mexican fast food brand category. The chain, which opened its first restaurant in Abilene, Texas back in 1967, currently runs fewer than 200 restaurants in seven states, including Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, according to a report by Munchies. The study, based on results from 10,000 people across the country, puts Taco Bueno well above burrito heavyweights like Chipotle and Qdoba, both of which tied for first place in MFI's ranking last year.

Taking the top spot is sure to be a boon for Taco Bueno, but does that mean it has the potential to grow into the next Chipotle or Taco Bell? Well, the answer might be hidden in additional details from the survey, which measured chains by seven "attributes," such as food quality, healthy food, fast service, and value, among others. Taco Bueno might be America's "favorite" quick Mexican food, but it likely has more work to do, considering other chains scored higher in almost every measurement besides value. Here's how the research group explained it in a press release:

"Although Taco Bueno was the favorite in the Mexican food category, it only ranked first in one area – value for the money, a category in which Del Taco was a close second and Qdoba was last out of the brands studied. Chipotle and Rubio’s outperformed others in food quality, and Rubio’s also excelled in atmosphere, cleanliness and friendliness. Diners think Chipotle, by far, offers the healthiest options, followed by El Pollo Loco. Taco Cabana ranked lowest of the chains studied in friendliness, speed and cleanliness."

And here's the overall ranking:

The new survey ranks America's favorite quick service pizza, chicken, and sandwich brands. And just like the Mexican food category, relatively smaller chains dominated in the pizza and sandwich categories with Papa Murphy's and McAlister’s Deli placing first, respectively. 

As for chicken, Chick-fil-A is unsurprisingly American's favorite -- nearly sweeping all seven of the measurements, per the survey announcement, which you can check out in full right here. As for the apparent rise of Taco Bueno, we checked out its extensive and awesome-looking menu, and certainly wouldn't mind having an outpost open nearby someday.

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Tony Merevick is Cities News Editor at Thrillist and vastly prefers small, authentic Mexican food spots. Send news tips to news@thrillist.com and follow him on Twitter @tonymerevick.