Life, being pain, will sometimes trap even the most careful fast-foodie in the burgerless hellscape of a bullshit “real” restaurant that offers six total options: beef, chicken, this kind of fish, that kind of fish, some mushroom-pasta thing, and a wild card that is probably duck or beans. The meat-hunk choices seem promising for a second, but then you realize they a) cost, like, $23, and b) come festooned with all manner of weird pickled and poached accessories explicitly designed to prey on your various complexes and anxieties. There’s usually cauliflower involved.
You can limit your exposure to such situations by culling your fussier friends and minimizing your presentability, but it’s hard to avoid these scenes altogether. Therefore I recommend that devotees of the condiment-packet lifestyle get strange at the drive-thru every now and then, so as to prepare for occasional battle with the knife-and-fork crowd. And there’s no time like the present, so aren’t we all lucky that Burger King and Taco Bell have decided to get kinky with their new Jalapeño Chicken Fries and Quesalupa, respectively? Let’s fight it on out and see which of these exotic delicacies deserves to be your next guide to the funky side.
I believe I’ve previously disclosed that I rarely eat at Taco Bell, because the only one near me is at the mall, and I almost never go to the mall drunk. Plus, I’m a burger boy. But I still have a lot of respect for Taco Bell’s style, for they alone among the largest fast-food chains rarely condescend to us by pretending to be anything other than a place to stuff your sweaty face. Sure, they’ll sell you something called a Cantina Power Bowl, complete with Premium Latin Rice, but even when they put on such airs, they can’t resist squirting Avocado Ranch Sauce all over the damn place. Taco Bell has the rare ability to constantly innovate while always staying true to the game. Their wildly successful line of Doritos Loco Tacos is a perfect representation of their research-and-development ethos: When in doubt, find a new way to get some more fuckin’ cheese up in there!
Enter the Quesalupa, the new deluxe Chalupa model that starred in the grossest Super Bowl ad not featuring the guy with the broken butt. (The ad wasn’t distasteful due to the food, of course: I just don’t want to think about James Harden’s nasty-ass beard while I’m eating.) Here’s the Quesalupa conceit: Take a Chalupa and stuff pepper jack cheese into the shell. Now, you may be wondering what a Chalupa is. Ah, just some Taco Bell thing, you know? It’s a taco with an extra-thick shell. Like a big flavorless arepa folded in half and filled with meat and lettuce and shredded cheese and whatnot. You know the deal.
So imagine all that grandeur, plus spicy melted cheese right there in the middle of the damn shell itself! The folk in the ads stretch their Qeusalupas out to impractical but impressive dimensions without the cheese breaking apart, which is a strong testament to the generosity and skill of the cheese-infuser, if a dumb way to eat an almost-sandwich. This, however, was not my experience. My shell was room temperature, rendering the cheese neither melty nor stretchy. The whole operation differed from a standard Chalupa, but barely: The shell tasted like there had been some dairy dust sprinkled about, but otherwise it was just a gummy flatbread that was disproportionately large given the paucity of grilled chicken, diced tomato, sour cream, shredded cheese, and contemptible lettuce within. The base model comes with Seasoned Beef for $2.99; I went with the Chicken for $3.49. Bad move, but at least I didn’t pony up $3.69 for the Shredded Chicken. Here we could speculate as to why it costs an extra 20 cents to have your chicken cubes torn to shreds, or we could move on.
All right, let’s establish up front that, if you’re the sort of spoilsport who sees discrimination everywhere (and I am!), you might find the packaging here a tiny bit suboptimal.
Why does the chicken have to have a sombrero and a big mustache? And why does it look … lazy? Wait. Shit. Is that on me? Is it just a chicken with a hat and a mustache, which are not inherently racist symbols, and I’ve somehow thrown my own bias into the mix?
Anyhow, $2.99 gets you nine golf-pencil-sized sticks of pulverized chicken breast encased in crunchy, legitimately spicy breading. The chicken was moist, but not suspiciously so, and it filled the fries nicely—none of the air pockets that sometimes lurk within breaded and fried foods in this price range. Better yet, this is the rare fast-food item that is spicier than advertised, with some authentic-ish jalapeño flavor along with the typical cayenne dust. Deep in the bowels of the BK website, I found reference to “jalapeño flavored bits” made with corn syrup, flour, food dye, and jalapeño powder (among several other things), which sounds the way it sounds, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t tricked into thinking there were little chunks of real pepper in the batter.
This makes me a sucker, of course, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that Burger King Jalapeño Chicken Fries are early frontrunners for 2016 Fast Food Chickenovation of the Year.
This was one of the most lopsided Fast-Food Smackdowns we’ve staged. Burger King Jalapeño Chicken Fries in a landslide.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.
Art by Sam Woolley.