Thursday, December 1, 2022

What It Is, Ain't What It Was

While my dad was in Vietnam, we lived near Ft. Ord, in the town of Seaside. Next door to another military family whose father was also deployed to Vietnam. Those kids were a little older than me, but we shared one very important aspect in life — we both went to the same orthodontist in Salinas. 

Because it was a long drive, the mothers took turns driving all of us for our appointments, which were coordinated to occur one right after the other. Because of the distance, after the last appointment, we would grab lunch before traveling back to Seaside. It was on one of these trips that I walked into my first Taco Bell.

Taco Bell had only been around for about five years when I was introduced to something beyond a hamburger––a taco. Before anybody else says it, I will: Yes, this was an Americanized version of a Mexican taco, but it made no difference to me. I liked it. I also like the little tubs of hot sauce that came with them. 

Over the course of the year, I remained a dedicated fan of tacos until the one time I tried something, at the suggestion of my fellow dental patients, called an Enchirito. If you’ve never had or seen one, it is basically a beef and bean burrito with onions served in a shallow oblong bowl covered with cheese and red sauce and then topped with three black olive slices. It was delicious, and I love the fact that everybody was bathed in that spicy red sauce.

As life went on, whenever I stopped into a Taco Bell, I would usually get one Enchirito and a taco or two, depending on how hungry I was. Over the years, the Enchirito got removed from the menu and I’d forgotten about them completely until I was in Germany. 

I was standing in line at the Taco Bell on Wiesbaden Airbase when the guy in front of me ordered one. I quickly scanned the menu to see if I had somehow missed the delicacy returning to the menu, but it was nowhere to be seen. Before I placed my order, they delivered his, and sure enough, it was that familiar bowl containing the burrito covered in sauce and cheese topped with three sliced black olives. Even though it was not on the menu, I ordered it, and the person behind the register took the order and moments later delivered one to me. 

For the next few years, I’d continue to order the Enchirito even though it wasn’t formally on the menu. It was always delivered, properly prepared, and as delicious as every Enchirito I’d eaten before. Then a couple of years ago, it became completely unavailable — along with a lot of other things that used to be on the menu, like Mexican pizza.

In the interim, I found the best taco in town, Torti Taco, and completely dropped going to Taco Bell. Then, a few weeks ago, Taco Bell announced the return of the Enchirito.

I heard the news much after they began serving it again, and only a few days before they were due to stop serving it. I’m not sure what their logic was, and I really didn’t care. It’d been years since I had one and I wanted one now. I pulled into the drive-thru and ordered a pair of them and rushed home to enjoy the resurrected delicacy. Then I found out the truth.

This was not the original Enchirito, this was the 2022 Enchirito. The part that was lacking might seem trivial, but to me, it was part of the original they should not have been overlooked. It had the beef, the beans, the soft tortilla shell, and the onions  — and even though the bowl was smaller than the original, it contained enough red sauce to satisfy. What it lacked were the three slices of black olive. How do you do that? Visibly missing from the moment the dish was served. It was that unique bite of flavor that added something to the entire dish and made it special.

So, my dear friends, if you’ve happened by a Taco Bell recently and you’ve never had one before in your life, what you are being served is some sort of cost-saving un-garnished 2022 Enchirito, not the original served as intended.

Taco Bell is not the first restaurant to bring back a classic dish as a promotion, but they have failed. Don’t even get me started on the cheese Danish that McDonald’s is trying to push as the same one they served decades ago. Not even close.


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