REVIEW: Taco Bell Loaded Taco Burrito

Taco Bell Loaded Taco Burrito

Remember that old horror movie The Fly? You know, the one where Vincent Price steps inside a teleportation machine but he doesn’t know there’s a fly in there with him so when he comes out of the machine, he turns into a horrible human-fly monster? Well, basically, that’s what Taco Bell’s latest limited time only offering is – except with way more avocado ranch sauce.

I keep trying to think of a more dignified way to describe the Loaded Taco Burrito, but the same sentence keeps popping up in my mind: “uh, guys, this is just a pureed taco wrapped up in a tortilla.” This may very well be the least inspired Taco Bell L-T-O of all time, but does the actual taste of the product offset its astonishing uncreativity?

Taco Bell Loaded Taco Burrito 2

First things first, the burrito is BIG. It’s easily twice the girth of the chain’s cheesy bean and rice burrito and it is absolutely stuffed with seasoned beef (really, enough to qualify for a double portion, maybe even a triple load.) The flour tortilla itself also seems larger and more flavorful than the ones the restaurant uses for its rank and file burritos, so that’s a nice touch, too.

As far as the other contents of the Loaded Taco Burrito, we’re primarily working with the all the usual supreme fixins: you’ve got some crispy lettuce in there, some diced tomatoes, some shredded semi-spicy cheese, a hearty dollop of sour cream and a big old squirtin’ of the Bell’s proprietary avocado ranch dressing (although you can always sub that out for one of the chain’s other dressings.) However, I want you to take a real close look at the interior contents of the LTB – notice anything peculiar?

Taco Bell Loaded Taco Burrito 3

No, your eyes aren’t fooling you. My local Bell decided to go rogue and replace the advertised crispy red tortilla strips with what is unmistakably – both visually and gustatorily – a regular old crunched up taco shell.

Normally, I would raise a great big stink about such brazen displays of franchisee rebelliousness, but I actually think it works better – conceptually and taste-wise – than it does with the tortilla strips included. And to think, some people say there’s no more ingenuity in the American workplace!

Taco Bell Loaded Taco Burrito 4

I hate to close a review by saying something as mundane and nondescriptive as “well, basically, you’re getting what it looks like,” but in the case of the LTB, it really does sorta’ review itself. The taco shell chunks/tortilla strips may be a bit superfluous for some consumers, but you really can’t complain about getting a double – leaning closer to triple – beef burrito.

And you certainly can’t argue about the price point, either – for just $1.50, you’re definitely getting a lot of bang for your buck (and a half, plus applicable state and local taxes.)

(Nutrition Facts – 550 calories, 260 from fat, 29 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, 1130 milligrams of sodium, 52 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of dietary fiber, 4 grams of sugar and 20 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.50
Size: N/A
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: It’s basically a double beef burrito at a discounted price. You can have a lot of fun mixing and matching house dressings. It’s definitely a filling little product.
Cons: All in all, it really doesn’t taste that much different from the chain’s other burritos. It’s impossible to eat it without getting seasoned beef juice all over everything. All those nights laying wide awake, wondering how in the hell they’re going to make a Loaded Burrito Taco work.

REVIEW: Arby’s Meat Mountain

Arby's Meat Mountain

Not since the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s Most American Thickburger – or maybe that one Pizza Hut variation that had pigs-in-a-blanket as the crust – has there been a fast food offering as audacious as Arby’s Meat Mountain.

So monstrous this tribute to American ingenuity/gluttony that the cashier actually ASKED me if I was serious when I ordered it. In fact, I had to tell her “yes” no less than three times before she rang up the purchase.

You remember those old episodes of Scooby Doo when Shaggy would get the munchies and come marching out of the kitchen with a towering sandwich filled with who-knows-what all the way to the ceiling? Well, that’s pretty much what Meat Mountain is. Underneath one greasy star-cut bun, you get all of the following ingredients: angus beef, cheddar cheese, chicken tenders, corned beef, pepper bacon, pit-smoked ham, roast beef, roast turkey, smoked brisket, and Swiss cheese.

So basically, it’s like eating Noah’s Ark in sandwich form. It’s a 1,000-calories plus behemoth that doesn’t even fit in the company’s stock wrappers – my order came in a wadded up ball of wax paper that, folded out on the table, came out to nearly two feet in length.

In that, I suppose Meat Mountain is more of a limited-time-challenge than a limited-time-offering. You don’t eat it for the pleasurable gustatory sensation, you eat it because it’s a direct threat to your manhood (or womanhood.) One does not simply review Meat Mountain; rather, one seeks to survive it.

Not that it’s a surprise to anybody, but the sandwich is definitely a hassle to eat. It’s so big you really can’t fit your mouth around it without taking out a layer or two of meat first, so you may find yourself tearing chunks of Meat Mountain apart instead of shoveling it down your throat (let’s call that one the velociraptor technique.)

Does the medley of meats come together harmoniously? Not really, but it’s still pretty awesome. It’s not so much the divergent tastes of the product that’s weird as it is the alternating textures. One bite it’s crunchy and a little spicy, the next it’s sinewy and chewy and just a wee bit soggy. That said, getting a mouthful of cow, chicken, pig and turkey all at once does make you feel like a khakis-clad T-Rex, and ultimately, that’s the feeling you’re paying $10 for.

One look at this thing and you’ll know right away whether or not you can handle it. Just one word of caution for all you iron-stomached adventurers out there, who think you’re ready to go napkin to napkin with this mammoth burger: while the sandwich isn’t as oily as you’d expect, it is unbelievably salty, packing a whopping 3,000-plus milligrams of sodium. So be sure you have a cola nearby before tackling this beastly creation – or at the very least, a sizable armada of Arby’s sauces.

(Nutrition Facts – 1,030 calories, 460 calories from fat, 51 grams of total fat, 20 grams of saturated fat, 1.5 grams of trans fat, 225 milligrams of cholesterol, 3,640 milligrams of sodium, 58 grams of total carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 8 grams of sugars, 87 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $10
Size: N/A
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Being able to eat an entire barnyard in one sitting. The feeling of savory, crispy bacon dancing next to corned beef on your tongue. Dipping your turkey-chicken-beef-ham-bacon sammich into a pool of horseradish-pepper-ketchup-and-honey-mustard sauce and realizing what it’s like to be the king of all existence for a few fleeting seconds.
Cons: EVERYTHING is super-duper-extra-salty. Some of the meats don’t gel together well at all. The look on the cashier’s face when you ask if it comes in a vegan-friendly version.

REVIEW: Little Caesars Smokehouse Pizza

Little Caesars Smokehouse Pizza

It’s surprisingly easy comparing the big four of American pizza chains to the big four of 1980s thrash metal bands. Pizza Hut is Metallica, so that makes Domino’s Megadeth by default. And since Papa John’s is Anthrax (because when both go wrong, they go horribly wrong), that must make Little Caesars the fast food equivalent of Slayer.

And much the same way Slayer has consistently been the heaviest and fastest of those bands, so has Little Caesars been the heaviest and fastest of the pizza pie big four. Seriously, what’s heavier and faster than a HOT-N-READY bacon-wrapped DEEP! DEEP! Dish pizza, anyway?

Well, the newfangled Smokehouse Pizza is pretty much the musical equivalent of Slayer releasing a bluegrass album. On the surface, it doesn’t sound even remotely feasible, but then you realize, “Hey, the instruments may be different, but this stuff is STILL really heavy and fast. Just the way I like it.”

Little Caesars Smokehouse Pizza 2

And yes, this super savory meat-a-palooza pie is pretty spectacular. Little Caesars did not skimp out on the fix-ins, as the cacophony of brisket, bacon, and pulled pork gels incredibly well. The high-quality meat is certainly smoky and savory, and you get an absolute ton of it piled atop your pizza.

While each variety of meat maintains a distinct taste and texture, the medley of flavors blends together nicely. No one meat becomes too dominant on your tastebuds – thanks in no small part to the delicious barbecue sauce base, which does a bang-up job tying everything together.

The mozzarella and Muenster mix, however, was a bit underwhelming. With so much meat on the pie, there really needs to be an extra handful of cheese on this thing, lest the dairy flavorings literally be buried.

Little Caesars Smokehouse Pizza 4

The biggest problem with the pizza, however, has to be the superfluous mesquite seasonings on the crust. Basically, it tastes like BBQ potato chip dust, and moving from a very authentic barbecue flavor to a very synthetic tasting one definitely lessens the experience. It’s also an extremely messy pizza, so be mindful if you decide to tackle this bad boy while wearing your Sunday best.

Still, the Smokehouse Pizza is unique and flavorful enough to warrant at least one taste test. For just $9 you are getting a colossal amount of food, and the overall quality of the meat is likely to surprise you.

Little Caesars Smokehouse Pizza 3

Be forewarned, though: as any veteran BBQ enthusiast will tell you, ingesting enough BBQ sauce-slathered pork and beef in quick intervals CAN put you in nap-mode out of the blue. So just to be on the safe side of things? If you order this pizza, make sure to have a pillow or two handy.

(Nutrition Facts – Not listed on website.)

Purchased Price: $9
Size: Large pizza (8 slices)
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: A very rich and robust smoked barbecue taste. A nice and savory BBQ sauce base. Being so full of brisket you come *this close* to reaching beef enlightenment.
Cons: Nowhere near enough cheese. The artificial BBQ seasonings on the crust are a little off-putting. Trying to ward off the food coma effects about a half hour after eating your last slice.

REVIEW: Taco Bell Naked Chicken Chalupa

Taco Bell Naked Chicken Chalupa

Well, it was only a matter of time, I suppose: Taco Bell has finally taken it’s Naked Chicken Chalupa national.

For those of you not in the know, the product’s first trial run was in Bakersfield, California, in 2015, with a second go-at-it in Kansas City, Missouri, last year. And while Taco Bell has hit us with a LOT of unusual menu offerings over the years (three words, folks: Cap’n Crunch Delights) a lot of people on social media thought T.B. was hoaxing ‘em this time around – I mean, really, a chicken chalupa?

No, it’s not a chalupa with chicken in it. The chicken itself is the chalupa. And if the same mad geniuses who brought us the Beefy Fritos Crunch Burritos and Waffle Tacos decided it was nigh time for Americans to eat a giant rolled up chicken patty with lettuce and avocado ranch dressing inside it, then by golly, it’s probably time to for us to eat some giant rolled up chicken patties with lettuce and avocado ranch dressing inside it.

Taco Bell Naked Chicken Chalupa 2

Like the Doritos Locos Tacos, each Naked Chicken Chalupa comes with its own snazzy (and sturdy) paper holder. The chicken shell/patty itself is pretty darn big – about four ounces of rolled up breaded white meat, speckled with some traditional Mexican herbs and spices. There’s definitely some heat to it, but for those of you with tamer tastebuds, it probably won’t torch your tongue that much.

Taco Bell Naked Chicken Chalupa 3

On the inside, we’ve got your usual Taco Bell stuffings – chopped lettuce, some diced tomatoes, a sprinkling of shredded cheddar cheese, and a hearty dollop of avocado ranch dressing holding everything together (sorry, those of you who expected a scoop of seasoned ground beef to be in there, too.)

All in all, it’s a pretty satisfying product that doesn’t taste anywhere near as weird as you’d imagine. In fact, you really don’t even feel the missing tortilla or hard shell after a couple of bites, and thankfully, the chicken patty isn’t oily or greasy so you don’t have to worry about poultry juice staining your khakis.

While Taco Bell’s breaded chicken can’t compete with the grand lions of fast food chicken sandwiches (Chick-fil-A, you have nothing to worry about here), the shell does have a very robust flavor and is surprisingly juicy. Nor does it taste terribly salty, which has always been my biggest complaint with the lower-tier fast food chicken patties out there.

Your mileage may vary on the avocado ranch dressing – I would’ve preferred a spicier chipotle sauce – but believe it or not, this thing doesn’t taste all that much different from your standard chicken taco.

Huh. Who would’ve thought the absolute strangest thing about quite possibly the strangest Taco Bell L-T-O offering ever would be just how peculiarly normal it actually is?

(Nutrition Facts – 440 calories, 270 calories from fat, 30 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 70 milligrams of cholesterol, 1,090 milligrams of sodium, 22 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of dietary fiber, less than 1 gram of sugar and 20 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: N/A
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: The chicken shell is big, juicy and flavorful. You can eat it without getting grease on everything within a one-mile radius. The avocado ranch dressing adds a nice little zing.
Cons: It really doesn’t taste that much different from a regular chicken taco. A couple of other in-house dressings probably would’ve been better choices. Staying up all night wondering what would’ve happened if I had asked the manager to put grilled chicken inside my chicken chalupa.

REVIEW: Exclusive Villains Edition Frosted Chocolate Sugar Cookie Printed Fun Pop-Tarts

Exclusive Villains Edition Frosted Chocolate Sugar Cookie Printed Fun Pop-Tarts

If you ever wondered whether or not this is the greatest time to be alive in human history, chew on this: each and every one of us can now waltz on into the local Walmart and buy The Joker, Lex Luthor and a whole host of other fictitious mass murderers and megalomaniacs in breakfast pastry form.

Capitalizing on the success of last year’s D.C. Superhero Printed Fun Pop-Tarts, these Wally World exclusives give us the downright surreal pleasure – no, the absolute privilege – of being able to eat such obscure comic book bad guys as Cheetah and Captain Cold for breakfast. And when I mean “obscure,” I’m talking super-duper-mega-hyper-obscure: if you would’ve told me this time last year Kellogg’s would be putting Atrocitus on its flagship toaster pastries, I probably would’ve tried to get you committed.

Exclusive Villains Edition Frosted Chocolate Sugar Cookie Printed Fun Pop-Tarts 2

Serving as the breakfast equivalent of trading cards, each of the 16-pack boxes (there are two in each metallic sleeve, as always) contain a random grab-bag of iconic and not so iconic rogues, including but not limited to Sinestro, Two-Face, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy and Catwoman.

Exclusive Villains Edition Frosted Chocolate Sugar Cookie Printed Fun Pop-Tarts 4

Exclusive Villains Edition Frosted Chocolate Sugar Cookie Printed Fun Pop-Tarts 5

By and large, the “Tartwork” varies in quality – some Tarts look pretty smooth and colorful while others look blurred to the point of being Rorschach tests. I’m not sure how many different characters got the Pop-Tart treatment, but if anybody out there finds a Gorilla Grod, please email me ASAP.

Exclusive Villains Edition Frosted Chocolate Sugar Cookie Printed Fun Pop-Tarts 6

As for the flavor, we’re working with something Kellogg’s calls “frosted chocolate sugar cookie.” That may sound a little vanilla, but as soon as these things touch your taste buds, you’ll probably start doing backflips. Folks, these are basically OREOS-flavored Pop-Tarts, right down to the taste, texture, aroma and even mouthfeel of the interior creme. Really, it does a better job of aping Nabisco’s beloved twist-top sandwiches than even the Cookies & Creme Pop-Tarts, and those things were still pretty spot-on.

Exclusive Villains Edition Frosted Chocolate Sugar Cookie Printed Fun Pop-Tarts 7

These Tarts are good fresh out of the box, but if you really want to get your $4 worth, you have to eat them heated. The interior creme practically liquefies in the shell, and this is without question one of the best tasting fillings Pop-Tarts has ever trotted out.

I’ve got to give Kellogg’s major props here. With the D.C. character angle, it would’ve been so easy to just churn out a bland product, but they actually went the extra mile and made sure the food itself was grade A stuff.

Fast food/junk food marketers, take note: THIS is how you do a “tie-in” gimmick right.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 pastry – 190 calories, 40 grams from fat, 4.5 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 1.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 1 gram of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 190 milligrams of sodium, 36 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 14 grams of sugar and 2 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $3.68
Size: 28.2 oz. box/16 pastries
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: The Oreos-esque flavor remains excellent, cold or heated. the interior creme is absolutely delicious. The sheer awesomeness of being able to snap Bane in half and eat him for breakfast.
Cons: Having to buy five or six boxes until you find a mint condition Solomon Grundy. Getting two Harley Quinns when you’d settle for just one Killer Croc. The way your girlfriend looks at you when you tell your toaster to “kneel before Zod.”

REVIEW: Hershey’s Cookie Layer Crunch Bars (Vanilla Crème and Mint)

Hershey’s Cookie Layer Crunch Bars (Vanilla Cre?me and Mint)

Hershey’s is pretty much synonymous with chocolate bars, but outside of their fan favorite Cookies ‘n’ Crème variation, they really haven’t fiddled around in the cookie game that much.

With their new Cookie Layer Crunch bars, the candy bar juggernaut looks to break some fertile ground with not just one, but THREE special-edition cookie/chocolate bar hybrids. While we’ve already covered the caramel version, today, we’ll be taking a nice, long look at the other two Cookie Layer Crunch products – the vanilla crème and mint variations.

Hershey’s Cookie Layer Crunch Bars (Vanilla Cre?me and Mint) 2

The hook here is very straightforward. The miniature candies are about twice as thick of your normal Hershey’s bar, with each version containing a chunky cookie crust and a hearty helping of crème inside the mantle. While both products contain chocolate chunks, the exterior chocolate shell differs – the vanilla crème iteration is milk chocolate while the mint version is dark chocolate.

Hershey’s Cookie Layer Crunch Bars (Vanilla Cre?me and Mint) 4

The chocolate taste is very strong in both variations, with even the vanilla crème one tasting slightly more robust than your standard Hershey’s bar. And for those of you fearing wafer-thin contents, the cookie layer is actually quite thick and crunchy, with a surprising (albeit subtle and pleasant) salty aftertaste.

Hershey’s Cookie Layer Crunch Bars (Vanilla Cre?me and Mint) 3

Both varieties are good, but I’d give my nod to the mint version, which has a far more potent crème flavor than the vanilla offering, which – while tasty – doesn’t have quite the kick of its shelfmate.

The products are clearly designed as stuffing stocking material. At $4 a bag, they’re a bit pricier than your average grab bag of fun-size candy bars, and weirdly enough, you only get nine pieces per unit. However, there are 3.5-ounce XL Bars of all three flavors with five pieces, so don’t say you don’t have a wide array of consumer options on the table.

The Cookie Layer Crunch bars do very much feel like “event candies,” so to speak – they’re definitely rich, flavorful and filling, plus they are rather versatile snacks. These things go with a late night cup of cranberry cola just as well as they do your morning espresso, and talk about excellent adornments for your homemade cookies and brownies!

Which sort of begs the question: how come Hershey’s isn’t selling these things in a mix-and-match format? Eh, maybe that’s something to look forward to come Christmas 2017, I suppose.

(Nutrition Facts – Vanilla Crème – 2 pieces – 210 calories, 13 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 90 milligrams of sodium, 23 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 19 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein. Mint – 2 pieces – 200 calories, 14 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 65 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 19 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.99 each
Size: 6.3 oz. box/9 pieces
Purchased at: Ingles Markets
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Vanilla Crème)
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Mint)
Pros: Very rich chocolaty flavors. Non-mushy interior cookie goodness. For the mint iteration, a very nice aftertaste.
Cons: The overall vanilla crème flavor is a bit underwhelming. No variety pack option. Anticipating a tenth candy bar in the bag and walking away with nothing but odd-numbered disappointment.