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LIVEBLOG#2: The Waffle Taco, or why I ate at Taco Bell for every meal

by sam. 27 march 2014

The easiest explanation for I'm about to do is "curiosity."

The second easiest explanation was summarized by Huffington Post columnist Candice Choi: "Although Taco Bell is looking to expand by offering higher-end options such as its new Cantina Bell menu, it's also finding success by appealing to younger men who crave junk food."

Probably somewhere around 17th easiest, right between "peer pressure" and "FOMO", was "commitment to journalistic excellence". Fortunately, as a goat cares not what the tin can he chews used to contain, the loyal tacosmog reader has no interest in my motivations, and only wants to know why I decided to eat Taco Bell for every meal. the timeline of events that led us to today:
-June 27, 1987: Tacosmog.com hivemind descends to earth from the passing Bradfield's Comet
-October 8, 1995: "The Double"
-July 2000: 'Yo Quiero Taco Bell' ad campaign ends
-February 27, 2014: E-mail received from West Coast business associate Lilly, linking this article informing me the Waffle Taco would be coming to Madison in 1 month.
-March 26, 2014: Today; I get stuck in a boring loop wherein I describe what I'm doing as I'm typing, forcing me to descibe the act of typing (ongoing). Also, the Waffle Taco is available in Madison starting tomorrow morning. I decide to photoliveblog the experience*.

*Due to the web 1.0 nature of tacosmog.com, by photoliveblog I mean take pictures and write things down when they happen and then post them to the internet later.

March 26 (the night before), 10:12 pm-
Taco Bell's new breakfast menu debuts tomorrow, and the Waffle Taco has been getting absurd amounts of hype. Business associate Caroline & I have decided to get to the Bell on E Wash early tomorrow to check out the debut- for the grand opening, I'm hoping for music, games, and piñatas. I've also just decided to go 'whole hog' - since this is the first day a human can eat all three meals at Taco Bell (cleverly named Firstmeal, Secondmeal, and Thirdmeal), I'm going to do it (and no, Fourthmeal doesn't actually exist). Currently I'm lying in bed, contemplating how life brought me to this moment*. Mental preparation is important for this sort of experience. I'm somewhat dreading how I'll feel 24 hours from now, but I know if I stick to my gameplan I'll be fine- moderation at every meal is the key to surviving this odyssey. 8 hours & 56 minutes to tacos.
*Note: followed the Ericsson deliberate practice method.

March 27 (the big day), 6:56 am-
Out of bed. Morning hunger hasn't kicked in yet, but it should soon. Dreams were logistical and disjointed (road trip, water skiing, untangling knotted fishing line) but taco-free. A light drizzle outside washes away so traces of the pre-waffle-taco (PWT) past - may it never be spoken of again.

A cold, drizzly morning at the Taco Bell (tacosmog.com)

7:14 am-
Here a minute early. Sign on the door says they don't open until 10- needs updating. I believe most (if not all?) Taco Bells now open at 7 am. Empty inside except for the staff of 5. One car in the drive thru. Upbeat inspirational music playing inside (Shazam says it's the Indigo Girls)- despite this, an overwhelming sense of loneliness threatens to overwhelm the establishment. I imagine this is what cowboys experienced on the high plains. "Got to bring these doggies home". Business associate Caroline arrives; unclear if cowboys were often joined for breakfast by friends who work at in the medical software industry.

7:40 am-
The moment of truth. Order placed- one Waffle Taco (sausage), one AM Grilled Taco (bacon). The guy that delivers quarters hadn't come yet, so I got my change in all dimes. Lightning fast service, with the food ready before I had time to finish this note. Initial impressions: meat flavor overwhelms every dish. Will ruminate on the bike ride to work before documenting my full experience. A steady stream of cars has been going through the drive thru since we arrived, and two other patrons were excited enough to come inside. Exit music: 'Rikki Don't Lose That Number' by Steely Dan.

8:23 am-
Flat tire en route to campus! Omen or just bad timing? No Taco Bells within walking distance, which jeopardizes lunch plans, but taking this as a sign from God would be looking for the easy way out. Business associate Erin has graciously agreed to drive to campus and give me a ride to the S Park St Taco Bell branch. "It takes a village..."

8:30 am-
Comfortably seated at my desk, thinking back over the previous hour. Here's the official breakfast summary:

Taco #1: Waffle Taco (Sausage): An interesting case. The flavor is overwhelmingly sausage-y, with just hints of egg & cheese. Once the side of syrup is drizzled on, the flavor changes completely, and the crunchy sweet waffle is drawn out of its shell. A major improvement. Still can't taste much of the egg and cheese. The proportions are also a bit different from what you'd expect based on the advertising materials - mostly, it's a bit smaller, and the waffle isn't fluffy. To maintain the taco shape, the Waffle Taco must be stored inside it's proprietary cardboard container at all times; when laid flat on a surface it will unfold into a waffle topped with sausage, eggs, and cheese. For the main event, the Waffle Taco underwhelms. The photo makes it look like there's a lot of cheese, doesn't it? I'm still not sure I ate any eggs or cheese.

The moment we've all been wating for: A waffle taco!

Taco #2: AM Grilled Taco (Bacon): When attempting to order this, the cashier had no idea what I was talking about, inspiring commentary from both of us about the mental seachange required by the breakfast menu. This item seems to be the best bargain on the breakfast menu - at only $1, it's 60% cheaper than the Waffle Taco, and probably only 20% less filling. The 'grilled taco' moniker is deceptive, because this is actually a quesadilla (see chart for technical details on this distinction). The bacon is finely chopped, plentiful, and overwhelmingly smoky - like the Waffle Taco, the eggs are cheese are not noticeable. Some may consider this a strong point; I call it a weakness. I think one of the best parts of a breakfast sandwich is the interplay between creamy eggs and tangy cheese, which is completely masked here. I topped it with a packet of fire sauce (slogan: "Things just got real". Absolutely!!) but it didn't change things much. Curious if the sausage version would have the same issue.

The AM Grill Taco - your morning breakfast bargain taco (tacosmog.com)

Non-Taco Item: AM Crunchwrap (Bacon): Ordered by business associate Caroline, but I traded a Waffle Taco bite for a Crunchwrap bite. The presentation, like that of all Crunchwraps, was excellent - hexagons are definitely an underutilized food shape, and I can very easily imagine one eating this with their left hand while they drive to work, while shaving and texting with their right hand - the perfect, self-contained, commuter's food. Like the AM Grilled Taco, the smoky bacon flavor dominated here. Caroline's impressions were that the hash brown was suitably crunchy and the bacon flavor strong. She was also adamant that the AM Crunchwrap is an entire breakfast in-and-of itself, which is a claim that cannot be made for either the Waffle Taco or the AM Grilled Taco. The general consensus among other internet people is that the AM Crunchwrap is the best breakfast offering.

AM Crunchwrap - probably the best breakfast item (tacosmog.com)

Non-Taco Item: Cinnabon Delights: Business associate Caroline's side dish. These are fried dough with a sugary filling, very reminiscent of the state fair. If you like fried sugary foods, it's impossible that you won't like these. I'm not a big fan of sweet breakfasts, but I was glad these Delights were here. I'm also glad I only had two of them; I can't imagine eating a whole 4-pack (or, god forbid, a 12-pack) by myself, and reminaing upright through the rest of the day.

Cinnabon Delights were actually pretty dang good (tacosmog.com)

Overall, a satisfactory breakfast, but you have to wonder why they made it so smoky and overwhelming. Is that what their focus groups enjoyed? Is tacosmog a failed venture due to my Romney-esque inability to connect with the American everyman's palate? Or is it simple first-day jitters and improper construction by the staff? 

9:03 am-
Initiating non-taco-related work. Interested to see how my taco diet impacts creativity and problem-solving skills throughout the day.

9:49 am-
Wishing I had brought a banana as a palate cleanser/metabolism booster. Strategy: stay hydrated. Hitting up the EZH2O like it's my job*.
*Note: Staying hydrated is my dream job.

10:21 am-
Current stomach status: Feels great. Has reached a satisfied equilibrium of less than full but not quite hungry. Mental focus wavering, but not in an unusual way; when confronted with a difficult problem at work and it's much easier to reminisce about tacos past than to summon the focus necessary to solve it. Though I cannot blame this on the Waffle Taco, I will refocus myself now and cease liveblogging operations.

11:15 am-
Outraced business associate & Taco Bell Day savior Erin to the tacomobile- once again, early for a Taco Bell appointment. Just goes to show you- whether hungry or not, you can't help but hurry to Taco Bell. This supports the "Candice Choi" hypothesis.

Lunchtime S Park taco bell party branch (tacosmog.com)

11:29 am-
One immediately notices that the S Park branch of Taco Bell is much funkier (musically) than the E Washington branch, albeit completely empty. The soundtrack upon entering is "Demons" by Imagine Dragons, and other Top 40 hits are cycled throughout our lunch. After some consideration, I decided to get the two Doritos Loco Tacos (DTLs) that I have not yet tried - Fiery (Taco #3) and Cool Ranch (Taco #4)*. My thoughts on the Nacho Cheese DTL are well known and favorable. I ordered, and received my food within 90 seconds. 
*Both DTLs were supreme version.

11:35 am-
6 minutes later, this place is packed to the gills with the lunch rush. Taco pro tip: begin your quest for tacos at :50 or :20 after the hour, to get the jump on your "average joe" who's leaving at :00 or :30. Nobody seemed too distraught (or aware) that breakfast was no longer being served. I attribute this to character flaws on their part.

11:50 am-
Meal complete. Both DTLs had the exact same filling, from bottom to top: ground beef, sour cream, lettuce, tomato, cheese shreds. The only thing we can really compare, then, is the shell, and how it interacted with the fillings. Cool Ranch is a better flavor of Dorito, and the Cool Ranch DTL is the superior taco. I thought the Fiery shell, which had a pretty poor flavor when tasted independently, distracted from the taco fillings; the Cool Ranch shell, on the other hand, added a salty crunch that complemented things nicely. Steer clear of the Fiery DTL; it's not worth your time.

Paired Doritos Locos Tacos (Fiery & Cool Ranch) (tacosmog.com)

A major flaw with both DTLs was hairline fractures throughout the shells. I'm not sure if it was the storage at this particular Taco Bell, or the previously noted weakness of the Doritos shells compared to a classic shell, but these were in rough shape. The first bite caused a propagation of fractures throughout the rest of the shell, and you ended up with a bunch of shell shards loosely sandwiched around some filling. Not well done. Business associate Erin steered clear of the tacos, instead getting a Chipotle Ranch Chicken Loaded Griller (report: excellent) and the Nachos Bell Grande (report: excellent). When sitting in a place like Taco Bell, you really notice how much soda people drink. More people got the big plastic cups of soda (I assume 30 or 40 oz?) than any other size.

12:06 pm-
Time to head back to work. The vibrant lunch scene which has developed inside this Taco Bell continues, as we are serenaded by Pitbull & Christina Aguilera on our way out. Overall, though, Secondmeal was a step down from Firstmeal.

12:36 pm-
Back on campus, composing my thoughts. I'm actually a little disappointed that I don't feel horrible yet; I think that's one of the things people grow to love about eating at Taco Bell. Clearly my 'moderation' strategy is paying off in that sense (and financially - so far, total taco expenditures for the day are ~$7).

I remind myself that following well-defined strategies has got me nowhere in life. At dinner, I will order every taco on the menu that I haven't yet tried.

3:01 pm-
Amazingly enough, haven't even thought about tacos for > 2 hours*. Stomach status is still very content. I can't say I've experienced any major improvements as far as work creativity and tenacity are concerned, but I also haven't noticed any reductions. Looking forward to my XXL Steak Crispy Taco in ~4 hrs. 
*Note: this is the first time this has ever happened in my entire life

A day at the office, with buckets (tacosmog.com)

4:12 pm-
Alvaro brought snacks to our weekly Water Resources Engineering seminar today - a homemade spanish omelette. Simple but delicious. Reminded me of how food can be much better than Taco Bell. I'm still looking forward to my mega-taco dinner, but not quite as much.

4:29 pm-
Took a gamble on got on a bus home that was improperly labeled with the westbound route information. Perhaps I have subconsciously absorbed some of the life lessons Doritos has been trying to instill about boldness and the like. I hope to have enough time to repair my bike before being beckoned off to my dinner tacos- summoning strength reserves from my Firstmeal I think I'll be able to pull it off.

4:38 pm-
Bus driver seems somewhat ornery- scolding people for not pulling the 'Stop Requested' cord early enough, etc. This attitude can be caused by either underconsuming or overconsuming Waffle Tacos.

6:57 pm-
After successfully enjoying a beer and buying a new bike tube, I'm ready to make my way over to the third Taco Bell of the day. Everything seems to be going my way- "Heart of Glass" on the radio, rain has stopped, tacos on the horizon. I've got my lucky Seahawks sweatshirt on, because this is my Super Bowl.

The day's final Taco Bell (tacosmog.com)

7:09 pm-
Digging in to a tray full of tacos. "Upside Down" by Jack Johnson on the speakers. I think the Alanis Morissette station would have been a better bookend to my day.

A healthy platter of tacos (tacosmog.com)

7:18 pm-
Full, but not to the point of gastrointestinal distress. Going back for 1 more.

A weak platter of tacos (tacosmog.com)

7:25 pm-
I think I'm there (nirvana, not distress). Time for an overall report. I would like to note that Hector, who provided me with 4 distinct tacos, was extremely friendly. And Thirdmeal was by far the best:

Thirdmeal Tacos- initial batch (tacosmog.com)

Taco #5: XXL Crispy Taco (Steak): The premiere taco of my meal, and the premier taco of the day. I've never tried Taco Bell's steak before (in fact, until Firstmeal, I don't think I had tried anything besides the ground beef) and it was surprinsgly not-too-bad. A bit chewy and a very salty marinade, but cut into nice strips and served in a reasonably-sized portion. Was it XXL? Not quite. One taco from Taqueria Sabor Queretano, just a few blocks away, could make 6 "XXL Crispy Tacos".

Taco #6: Double Decker Taco Supreme (Ground Beef): For those of you unfamiliar, the gimmick with the Double Decker Taco is to take a soft flour tortilla, slather a layer of beans on it, then use the beans to secure it to the outside of a crispy taco shell. I'm certain whoever thought of this is a millionaire and/or religious icon; it's a great idea. The flour-bean exterior is able to hold on to pieces of the crispy tortilla as they break, meaning you don't end up with a mess (like I did at Secondmeal). The fillings were exactly the same as the...

Double-decker! Note bean glue. (tacosmog.com)

Taco #7: Crunchy Taco Supreme (Ground Beef): Your classic Taco Bell taco (supremified). This is, I believe, exactly the same as any of the Doritos Locos Tacos, but in a non-seasoned shell. The consistency of the non-DLT shell is actually much stronger and crunchier, which is a plus; however, it's not dusted with Doritos powder, which is a minus. From my glimpses into the kitchen today, DLT are outselling basic crispy by at least 4:1. After eating this taco, I wasn't quite satisfied, so I went back up to the counter for a...

Taco #8: Soft Taco Supreme (Shredded Chicken): My first experience with Taco Bell chicken and, like steak, it was a step up from the ground beef. The chicken marinade is a bit sweet for my tastes - while savory is the dominant flavor, there are some sweet undertones that come through towards the end, somewhat like a BBQ sauce. This was definitely the juiciest of the tacos.

The final taco of the day. Always a sad thought. Shredded chicken soft taco supreme. (tacosmog.com)

Mic drop; I'm out. Exit music: Kelly Clarkson, "Catch My Breath"

8:01 pm-
Home, about to start a Google Hangout with some friends with whom I jointly devote myself to personal betterment. It is likely that eating every meal at Taco Bell is mutually exclusive to self betterment.

9:36 pm-
Relatively comfortable, all things considered. My stomach lining feels as intact as ever. Nonetheless, an overwhelming urge to shower.

10:12 pm-
Exactly 24 hours ago, I decided to begin my question, noting "I'm somewhat dreading how I'll feel 24 hours from now". Well, 24 hours later, I feel fine and am documenting concerning nutrition facts:

According to the Taco Bell nutrition info guide, I've consumed:
-Firstmeal: 760 calories, 46 g fat, 26 g protein, 1210 mg sodium
-Secondmeal: 400 calories, 24 g fat, 17 g protein (interestingly, the Fiery Taco Loco has 1 g more protein than the Cool Ranch Taco Loco - extra horse hooves mixed in with the MSG?), 790 mg sodium
-Thirdmeal: 1140 calories, 58 g fat, 58 g protein, 2230 mg sodium
-Total: 2300 calories, 128 g fat, 101 g protein, 4230 mg sodium
-Recommended adult male daily intake*: 2600 calories, 80 g fat, 56 g protein, 1500 mg sodium
-Average American adult male intake*: 2730 calories, 93 g fat, 100 g protein, 4700 mg sodium
*Please note that I forget what my sources are for these figures, so they could be wrong.

Interestingly, I consumed less than the "average" man (though still above the recommendation) for both calories and sodium, despite the fact that I ate 8 tacos (and a couple Cinnabon Delights). This means I have the leeway to eat approximately an additional Chalupa Supreme before catching up to my peers.

Having successfully left the door open for a sequel, I'm out.