REVIEW: Taco Bell Double Stacked Tacos

Taco Bell Double Stacked Tacos

For being their titular item, I rarely find myself craving Taco Bell’s tacos. While I’m a lover of their items, the standard crunchy taco has always felt skimpy. A paltry line of beef, a cascade of limp lettuce, and a sprinkling of unmelted cheese – it’s forgettable.

So thankfully, the Bell has pumped them up for their latest iteration. Taco Bell’s Double Stack Tacos bulk up their classic standard tacos by wrapping the corn exterior with a flour tortilla, slathered in sauce and cheese. With an extra layer, each one is hefty – especially for a $1 item. Two of these could make a comfortable meal, something that can’t be said for the Bell’s un-enhanced tacos.

Taco Bell Cool Habanero Double Stacked Taco

First up is Cool Habanero. The taco is the same as you’d expect, but with a generous hit of sour cream. Around it is wrapped a flour tortilla with a spray of habanero sauce, alongside melted cheese. The intention is for the sour cream to counteract the spice, though the balance isn’t quite there. There’s more sour cream than habanero by a healthy margin, and the sauce isn’t all that potent. As a full bite, it came off blander than most Taco Bell items.

Taco Bell Nacho Crunch Double Stacked Taco

The Nacho Crunch Double Stack adds a layer of red tortilla strips to the basic taco, then surrounds it with a duet of nacho and shredded cheese. If you’ve lost count, that gives this one item three different forms of tortilla – and three total servings of cheese. Predictably, it tastes like tortilla and cheese.

The meat and lettuce are lost in this fatty carb bomb, smothered in gooey yellow. It’s puzzling why this option dodges the habanero sauce of the other two tacos, which would’ve given this a needed a kick of flavor.

Taco Bell Spicy Sweet Double Stacked Tacos

Most interesting of the trio is Spicy Sweet, featuring a sweet chili sauce unique to the item. The red sauce has a loose texture, saturated with chili flakes. It’s very sweet, but was applied conservatively across the meat. While the first bite was initially heavy on sugar, it was countered by the savory beef.

Once the habanero sauce broke through, all three flavors really clicked. The sweet chili sauce has a light heat of its own, and a bit of a fruit jam flavor. This tasty blend is spread a bit thin, though. Between the lettuce, corn tortilla, flour tortilla, and double helping of cheese – the serving of meat and sauces feels underwhelming.

Taco Bell Double Stacked Tacos

Overall, the Double Stacked Tacos are mostly notable for their price. The Nacho Crunch and Cool Habanero tacos are cheaper and bulkier than their counterparts – making them a solid pickup. Spicy Sweet is the real highlight though, and is definitely worth a try.

(Nutrition Facts – Cool Habanero – 350 calories, 180 calories from fat, 20 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 630 milligrams of sodium, 30 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 3 grams of sugar, and 13 grams of protein. Nacho Crunch – 380 calories, 170 calories from fat, 19 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 650 milligrams of sodium, 39 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of dietary fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 13 grams of protein. Spicy Sweet – 340 calories, 160 calories from fat, 18 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 640 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 6 grams of sugar, and 12 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.00 each
Size: N/A
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Cool Habanero)
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Nacho Crunch)
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Spicy Sweet)
Pros: Very hearty for the price, while delivering classic Taco Bell flavor. Spicy Sweet variety is unique, and nails the sweet/savory/hot mix. Spices up otherwise boring tacos.
Cons: Cool Habanero needs more heat. Nacho Crunch should be Haberno Crunch. All three could use more meat.

REVIEW: Krispy Kreme Nutty Cocoa Ring

Krispy Kreme Nutty Cocoa Ring

As a kid, whenever Krispy Kreme doughnuts were around, my mom would make up some probable lie about how a single doughnut had the fat content of seven strips of bacon, so I wouldn’t go too ham on the doughnuts. In practice I usually just used this piece of wisdom to justify eating way too much bacon. (Ten strips? That’s less than two doughnuts worth!)

While I’m sure the seven strip to one doughnut formula isn’t accurate, one things is for sure: Krispy Kreme doughnuts are always bombs of oil and sugar. Even someone like me, who may or may not have eaten two full Symphony bars the day I got them in my Christmas stocking, can only handle one or two of the plain glazed doughnuts before my stomach taps out.

Of course if you’ve ever had Krispy Kreme before, you know that essentially all of their doughnuts are glazed. The Nutty Cocoa Ring doughnut, Krispy Kreme’s latest offering, is no different. It features one of their classic glazed doughnuts as a base, topped with a generous helping of Nutella chocolate-hazelnut spread. Half of the doughnut is covered in chopped hazelnuts. I’m definitely a Nutella fan, and I think chocolate-hazelnut is S-tier as far as chocolate nut combinations go, so I didn’t think this item could possibly be a miss for me.

Krispy Kreme thought otherwise.

Before taking a bite into the doughnut, I sampled some of the Nutella spread with my finger and it is indeed delicious, standard Nutella. However the problem comes when combining the topping with its glazed doughnut base. Upon taking a bite, the Nutella was almost indistinguishable from the standard Krispy Kreme.

The taste of the Krispy Kreme itself was just far too strong to be a base for the more subtly flavored Nutella. I had to eat the doughnut upside-down, mashing the Nutella to my tongue to get even a whisper of its flavor.

Krispy Kreme Nutty Cocoa Ring 2

The half of the doughnut covered in chopped hazelnuts was slightly better just because the chopped nuts created an interesting texture variety that you don’t normally get in a doughnut. The hazelnuts were even densely packed enough that I could almost taste them if I closed my eyes and wished for it. The problem is that only half the doughnut has hazelnuts, and the other half is essentially a regular glazed doughnut with extra calories from the Nutella.

(Nutrition Facts – 270 calories, 150 calories from fat, 17 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 90 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 14 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.29
Size: N/A
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: The bacon/doughnut guilt formula. Crunchy hazelnuts. I got to taste some Nutella with my fingertip.
Cons: The bacon/doughnut guilt formula. Half of a good doughnut. I would have given this a 7 if the whole thing was covered in the chopped hazelnuts.?

REVIEW: McDonald’s Chicken McGriddle

McDonald's Chicken McGriddle

McDonald’s has been stuck in a rut. The clown king of fast food may still push billions of burgers a year, but a dipping sales trend and changing cultural attitudes have investors shaken. Attempts to produce higher-end burgers have flopped, leaving the Golden Arches with few options.

But in a sea of dry mozzarella sticks and sexy Hamburglars, one promotion was an undeniable hit. All-Day Breakfast broke the morning menu free from a 10:30 a.m. cutoff, and brought the Golden Arches a much-needed PR win.

So it wasn’t long before cross pollination of the breakfast and dinner menus began, and bore fruit.

McDonald's Chicken McGriddle 2

Currently available in select markets as part of a 2 for $3 promotion, the Chicken McGriddle is hilariously basic. It’s a standard McChicken patty, slapped between the syrup-infused McGriddle buns. No condiments, no cheese, nothing but what the name promises. A sweet and savory hybrid, echoing the ‘Chicken and Waffles’ pairing that headlines so many late-night food porn binge sessions on the Food Network. But in practice this sandwich is too simple to offer anything but novelty.

The issue is that McGriddle buns aren’t quite sweet enough to harmonize with the chicken. When getting a plate of fried chicken and waffles, it’s common to see fried breasts smothered in sweet maple syrup. The Chicken McGriddle has only a few artificial pockets of maple brown sugar to offset a peppery chicken patty.

You’ll get a nice sweet hit at first, and cinnamon taste that lingers on the tongue – but the meat of the bite is all about the chicken. I found myself longing for some sort of maple spread, or even a slice of cheese. Anything to give the sweet side more of a leg to stand on.

McDonald's Chicken McGriddle 3

It’s hard to understand where the Chicken McGriddle fits into the average McDonald’s order. The taste it leaves behind is too sweet for a large soda, but far too heavily seasoned for coffee. It’s not going to fit in at breakfast, but seems too simplistic for lunch. As such, it makes sense for this to be part of a combo promotion. Paired with a Double Cheeseburger or Spicy McChicken, it works as an interesting novelty. Failed experiment or not, it’s worth it to see McDonalds trying something undeniably odd.

(Nutrition Facts – 390 calories, 130 calories from fat, 15 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 1000 milligrams of sodium, 51 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 14 grams of sugar, and 14 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: 2 for $3
Size: N/A
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Unique offering by McDonald’s standards. Cheap enough to try on a whim. Watching Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives at 4 a.m. while not wearing pants.
Cons: Not sweet enough to offset the savory. Hard to pair with a beverage. Very bland.

REVIEW: Papa John’s Pan Pizza

Papa John's Pan Pizza 2

Let’s have some real talk about my relationship with Papa John’s.

I’ve been walking the Papa John’s beat for TIB for some years now. New menu item, new toppings – if it’s got that new car, er, pizza smell, I’m on it.

But this doesn’t mean I have some sort of love affair with Papa John’s. You know what I do have a love affair with? Laziness. If every item I wanted to review could be delivered to my door in 40 minutes, I would be very rich in Oreos and very, very poor in dollars.

But there’s no “weird Oreo flavor of the month” delivery service (yet), so instead I find myself reviewing a lot of weird pizza. And that seems to mean reviewing a lot of Papa John’s.

This time around, Papa John’s isn’t doing anything weird. In fact, they’re coming out with something that’s a bit of a classic: the pan pizza.

Papa John's Pan Pizza

Look at that fancy pants box. Or should I say, fancy PANS box. Anyways, Papa John stands smugly in the upper-right corner of the box, compelling you to marvel at his black-and-gold special pizza box that tries to look for all the world like a package of Magnum Ice Cream Bars. Seducing. Beckoning. Pizza.

I always thought that pan pizza was the same thing as deep dish pizza, because I had no culture. I’ve since learned myself, but I actually had to look up what pan pizza really is. What it boils down to is that, instead of being hand-tossed, the pizza is baked in an oiled pan with the dough just sort of shoved up against the edges, resulting in a thicker crust with crispy edges.

Or, as Papa John puts it, “Why do we bake it in a pan? Because it bakes our fresh dough into a thick, hearty crust that’s light and fluffy with crispy edges and cheesy caramelized goodness.”

Since it’s all about the crust here, I’m going to ignore the toppings. (For the record, I chose the Pan John’s Favorite.)

I’mma be real with you – Papa John’s hand-tossed crust is not my favorite. It always seems a little undercooked to me. That said, their pan crust is a study in contradictions.

Papa John's Pan Pizza 4

On the one hand, the outer crust was definitely crispy and somewhat buttery – I enjoyed those aspects of it much more than a regular Papa John’s crust. Also, the cheese goes all the way to the edge, so I didn’t feel like I was left with a half-cooked breadstick at the end of my slice of pizza. The crust under the toppings was chewy without being soggy – also good.

But then there was the flavor. Papa John’s says that the dough is made fresh and with only seven ingredients: flour, extra virgin olive oil, cold-filtered water, sugar, salt, yeast, and oil. Yet, there was an odd, artificial flavor that I couldn’t quite pin down. Given that none of the ingredients are actually artificial, the best I could come up with was the flavor of spoiled oil. If this was the case, then maybe I just got a bad pie?

Papa John's Pan Pizza 3

Papa John’s came so close to giving me a crust I really enjoyed with their Pan Pizza – crispy, crunchy, buttery edges that didn’t even need the included dipping sauce that I usually require in order to ingest the crust of their pizza. But then they went and gave it some weird undertone of flavor that made me feel like I was eating something that wasn’t quite right. So close, Papa, so close.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 slice – 290 calories, 160 calories from fat, 18 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 870 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 3 grams of sugar, 12 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $12.00
Size: 12” pizza
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Not left with a doughy breadstick crust. Fancy, seductive box. Crispy edges. Toppings to all the way to the edge.
Cons: All food should be available for delivery at all times. The artificial/spoiled flavor taints the whole pizza. Only available in one (pretty small) size.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Bacon Sriracha Fries

Wendy’s Bacon Sriracha Fries

By now, we all know Wendy’s can do bacon right. But how well can they implement sriracha sauce in their tried-and-true menu favorites?

Unfortunately, Wendy’s latest special edition side dish kinda’ falls in that unhappy middle ground between slightly above average and good-but-not-really-remarkable. And in today’s hyper-competitive fast food French fry variation wars, the only thing worse than being bad is being just sorta’ OK.

The fries come doused in a thick goulash of melted cheddar cheese sauce, shredded cheddar, chopped up Applewood-smoked bacon, and a sprinkling of sweet chili sauce-imbued aioli. From the get-go, the biggest problem is that the dish just doesn’t taste sriracha-y enough. The flavor is there, but it’s way too muted. In fact, it’s so faint that at first, you don’t even realize sriracha sauce is in the mix. It just tastes like some random (and fairly generic) hot sauce.

Problem two are the fries themselves. They’re just too thin and way too salty, and strangely, they don’t do a very good job of absorbing the sriracha cheese and bacon juice flavors, either.

Wendy’s Bacon Sriracha Fries 2

But there are some positives. The cheddar cheese sauce is very thick and flavorful, and if you stir the mixture around enough you do start to pick up a more noticeable sriracha taste. The absolute best aspect of the dish, however, is the bacon. Wendy’s is rightly considered the go-to fast food place for bacon junkies, and the pieces in this new L-T-O offering are huge, plump, juicy, and super-duper crispy.

Essentially, what you are getting is the chain’s standard Baconator Fries with a meager, almost unnoticeable splash of sriracha. It’s all quite flavorful and fairly filling, but the aioli is just too weak to go out of your way to experience.

And one final word of warning: this stuff is so greasy you’re probably going to need twice as many napkins as your local Wendy’s has in stock. Take heed, potential consumers: Wet-Naps are strongly encouraged for this one.

(Nutrition Facts – 600 calories, 350 calories from fat, 39 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 1110 milligrams of sodium, 47 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 3 grams of sugar, and 14 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: N/A
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: An absolute ton of bacon. A very savory cheddar cheese sauce. Eating fries out of plasticware that looks like something out of a 1970s sci-fi movie.
Cons: The sriracha flavor is almost undetectable. A bit too much salt on the fries. Getting half a pound of grease on your palms just opening the container.