6 Fast Food Tacos, Ranked From Soggy to Crunchy Excellence

Ah, the simple fast food crunch taco. They're all good in their own ways. But which chain makes the best?

best tacos
Image by Maitane Romagosa and Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist
Welcome to The Fasties, Thrillist’s third-annual fast food awards! The awards feature more than a dozen categories celebrating all the best foods that came out of drive-thru windows over the past year—from the Best Coffee Nuggets to the Best Spicy Chicken Sandwich, and many more. Check out the full list of categories and winners.

It’s hard to define what constitutes a basic fast food taco. Does it have to be hard-shelled or steamy soft? Made with a flour tortilla or corn tortilla? Beef or chicken, salsa verde or pico de gallo? Some tacos have cubes of fire-grilled steak and many sport streaks of yellow cheddar. Across the fast food board, tacos have a lot of range—making it difficult to rank every single taco out there. But this is the type of challenge we were born to face. So we did it. By stuffing our faces, no less.

While recognizing the challenges of ranking markedly different tacos, we decided to set out on a taco quest to discover who makes the best fast food taco. Based on the variety of tacos out there, we had to narrow our candidates. We relied on the simplest tacos that we think embody each popular chain. And if the restaurant had only one type of taco on the menu, that’s the one we went with. The ranking itself considers several factors: Does it have varying textural components? Are the fillings compatible? Is this a taco I would definitely consider eating again? Are these tacos actually the value they appear to be? 

Of course, the original Del Taco taco makes an appearance, as does Jack in the Box’s defining two-for-a-dollar tacos. And yes, we have Taco Bell’s Crunchy Taco in the mix as well. Every fast food chain and its respective taco offering is welcome here, but only one can be the best. After eating through every fast food taco we could get our hands on for this story, here are our extremely scientific conclusions...

6. Carl’s Jr./Green Burrito: Crunchy Beef Taco

The Build: Ground beef in a crispy corn tortilla with shredded lettuce, four-cheese blend, and much-needed hot sauce

If you want to find a Green Burrito, you’re first going to have to find a Carl’s Jr. That’s because it’s a concept owned by the same folks behind Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s, and it’s only available inside select Carl’s Jr. locations. What, you thought the company behind two extremely similar fast food restaurants with entirely different names would make finding it easy on you? Sadly, it's not worth seeking out. But first, some good news! The hot sauce's necessary punch of flavor and the solid four-cheese blend valiantly attempt to cover up for the shortcomings of the beef, which is an oily mess that soaked through our to-go bag. The beef is the weak link in this taco—and considering how stellar Carl's Jr.'s Beyond Meat burger is—it's likely only a matter of time before you can upgrade this with some plant-based “meat” crumbles.

jack in the box value tacos taco deal
Edited - Courtesy of Jack In The Box

5. Jack in the Box: Taco

The Build: Seasoned beef, lettuce, a surprising slice of American cheese, shredded lettuce, and taco sauce in a deep fried tortilla shell

The meat within the tacos is a tad mushy, though salty and seasoned. The texture is almost like the meat has been ground too fine and rendered into a form not unlike refried beans—soft, slippery, buttery. But taco meat shouldn’t be buttery, dare we say spreadable. We appreciate the inclusion of a slice of American cheese, which ends up melting and blending in with the seasoned beef. Jack in the Box’s hot sauce enhances the experience as well, and the shredded lettuce is entirely fine. What sets Jack’s taco apart from the rest is the fact that the whole thing is deep fried. This sounds delicious in theory, but makes for a shell that shatters easily. But, at $1.29 for two tacos, we wouldn’t complain too much.

Facebook/Taco John's

4. Taco John’s: Crispy Taco

The Build: Crispy shell made in-house, ground beef, lettuce, cheese, mild sauce

It’s crazy that a taco served from a chain that began in the late ‘60s in Cheyenne, Wyoming is this good, but here we are. For around $2, a corn tortilla filled with ground beef, mild sauce, cheese, and lettuce could be all yours. The corn tortilla doesn’t completely disintegrate with every single bite, the ground beef is well seasoned and plentiful, and the mild sauce adds just enough heat to keep things interesting. The lettuce is the typical dried-out fast food nonsense—there’s also way too much of it—and it could use a thicker layer of cheese, but overall this is a fresh, solid fast food taco.

3. El Pollo Loco: Chicken Taco Al Carbon

The Build: Corn tortilla, cubed chicken, onions, cilantro, bland pico de gallo

El Pollo Loco’s version of tacos reminds us of the street tacos we can get in Los Angeles, just more expensive and less flavorful. That means corn tortilla, fire-grilled chicken, diced onions, and cilantro. That’s it. When it comes to street tacos, that’s all you really need if your meat is well-seasoned, your onions and cilantro are fresh, and you’ve got a kickass salsa to pour over the goods.

Unfortunately for El Pollo Loco, the chicken is a bit bland and the salsa it comes with—pico de gallo—isn’t as bright and acidic as we would have hoped. That being said, for a fast food taco, we commend it for tasting fresh and wholesome. A bit more salt and a squeeze of lime would definitely improve this taco tenfold.

taco bell crunchy value tacos cheese beef tortilla
Courtesy of Taco Bell

2. Taco Bell: Crunchy Taco

The Build: Hard shell, shredded lettuce, long strands of cheese, seasoned meat

We have always loved Taco Bell’s tacos. Like most things on T-Bell's menu, the Crunchy Taco is cheap and reliable and exactly what you’d expect: a very American “taco night” taco. We particularly enjoy the ample seasoned meat, the excessive amount of cheese, and the perfect crunch of the shell. The lettuce in our taco was cut into giant chunks and felt kind of like biting into crunchy water, but that's nothing a little Fire Sauce can't fix. Taco Bell’s most basic taco is certainly great, but it falls just short of reigning supreme.

del taco
Image by Maitane Romagosa and Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist

1. Del Taco: The Del Taco

The Build: Hard shell, shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, diced tomatoes, seasoned beef

Del Taco’s Del Taco is like Taco Bell’s Crunchy Taco, but upgraded. It’s well-rounded, with its nicely seasoned beef, refreshing lettuce and tomatoes, and tangled strands of salty, bright yellow cheese. It’s a revelation for what it is: a simple and earnest crunchy hard taco at an affordable price. Pair it with Del Taco’s Inferno hot sauce, which has a genuine kick and zippy flavor, and you’ll wonder why there’s not a Del Taco location on every corner yet. Look out, Taco Bell. This taco deserves to be everywhere.

Fast Food Taco FAQ

Does Taco Bell offer a subscription?
Yes! Taco Bell does offer a subscription service. For $10 a month, subscribers can access 30 tacos for 30 days. There are some terms and conditions, of course. You only get one taco each day, so you can’t pick one day of the month to score 15 tacos, unfortunately. The 30 for $30 subscription includes the Crunchy Taco, Crunchy Taco Supreme, Soft Taco, Soft Taco Supreme, Spicy Potato Soft Taco, Doritos Locos Tacos, or the Doritos Locos Tacos Supreme.

Does Burger King still sell tacos?
Burger King does not offer tacos on its menu right now. The Burger King Crispy Taco has appeared on and off the menu throughout the past few years for a limited time, but right now it’s not available.

What’s on Del Taco’s value menu?
The Del Taco value menu, quite famously, has 20 menu items for $2. Thrillist has the full list of items here. To give you an idea though, you can get a ​​CrunchTada Tostada for $1, Donut Bites for $1.29, Chicken Rollers for $1.29, and Crispy Chicken Tacos for $1.39. There are 16 more enticing options to also choose from, and between all 20, you’ll definitely find something.

When is National Taco Day in 2022?
National Taco Day is on October 4, 2022.

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