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Whippy Dip

Decorah IA

130 college dr, decorah IA 52101
daily 10am-10pm

Agua Verde

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Rating: 90
Price: $$$

Recently, long-time business associate Erin and I went on a Lewis-and-Clarkian quest to acquire what's been billed as 'the dish that best personifies the Mexican-American experience' (source: Gustavo Arrellano, via NYT). One does not jump into such an experience ear-over-eyeball; ever the planners, we made a preliminary taco consumption stop in a mere 876 miles away in Decorah IA. While tacos are not even mentioned on the Driftless Area's Wikipedia page, the locals' proclivity towards tacos-in-a-bag is the stuff of legends. The concept is appealing, and may have served as inspiration for Glen Bell's Doritos Taco Loco: cut open a bag of Doritos, place standard taco fillings within, eat with a fork. What could be better?

(Note here that business associate Kate [to be introduced below], as well as a substantial portion of the internet, believes this dish is known as 'Walking Tacos' and the chip brand of choice is Fritos [perhaps not coincidentally, the owner of Doritos]).

Following a large dinner of delicious pork, a solid night's sleep, and a light breakfast, business associates and town icons Jeff and Kate joined Erin and I at the local Whippy Dip, a (the?) vendor of tacos-in-a-bag. To avoid disappointment, we scouted out the location both the night before and earlier that morning; at night we observed a long line of people who looked like they had just finished playing small-town sporting events, which was infinitely appealing, and in the morning we saw people pressure washing down the place to prepare for our arrival.

Whippy Dip, it must be said, is not a taqueria. They present themselves more as a hybrid between Dairy Queen and a high school concession stand, right down to the gaggle of high school boys flirting with the requisite cute high school girl employees. The 'summer dessert' half of the menu is based around softserve. A litany of mix-ins can be added in tornados or on top of sundaes. The lunch menu focuses on self-contained meat/bread combinations including (but not limited to) hot dogs, chicken salad sandwich, BBQ sandwich, and tacos. Inexplicably, hamburgers are not on the menu. The menu is brilliantly planned out around the Iowan tax rate so as to limit the number of pennies exchanged for any given meal.

Fortunately for us, hamburgers were never an option. Tacos-in-a-bag were the goal of this mission. To ensure a comprehensive review, I ordered a complementary soft-shell taco, fully expecting it to be everything the taco-in-a-bag was, just slightly worse due to the lack of Doritos. Our cute high school employee disappeared into the nether regions of the Whippy Dip for a surprisingly long time, then returned bearing many full bags of tacos and tubes of sour cream, which were distributed amongst our party. We claimed a seat on a raised planter box (contents: coniferous shrub) and commenced eating.

Overcome with excitement, I violated my tried-and-true 'save the best for last' strategy and started with the taco-in-a-bag. The bags were cut open along the vertical edge and flipped sideways for a wider fork hole and more evenly distributed topping stratigraphy. The layering was, sequentially from bottom to top: Doritos, seasoned beef, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, jalapenos. Sour cream was applied as a crowning layer, then everything was thoroughly agitated to provide a fairly homogeneous mixture. As expected, it was awesome. The Doritos were slightly crumbled but not overly so, giving the innards a nice crunchy texture without any pieces large enough to slice up my gums or gullet. The meat was fairly classic, comparable to any fast-food taco place, but I love taco seasoning flavor and this had it in spades. It seemed a bit less liquid than the standard Taco Bell beef, and possibly slightly higher quality, though that may just be my memory playing tricks on me. There were a few cheese bits sprinkled in (what seemed to be a mild cheddar) but not enough to really be noticeable over the overwhelmingly Doritos-cheesed taste, so they didn't add much to the experience. The lettuce provided what I'd call an unnecessary textural boost, as the taco-in-a-bag was already sufficiently crunchy from the Doritos, and served mostly as a space filler. The tomatoes and onions also seemed fine, but weren't very noticeable beneath the dominant Doritos/taco beef flavors. After writing out that paragraph, I realize that most of the filling for the taco-in-a-bag could have been eliminated with little change in quality. However, the sour cream both turned the fully mixed bag into a cohesive goopy texture, and also provided a nice creamy base layer to the taco as a whole, making differentiation between differnt parts of the taco-in-a-bag mostly indistinguishable. The experience was highly positive, and only partially due to the novelty of it all; the taco-in-a-bag was sufficiently filling that I could have ended the meal there.

However, I had to move on to the basic soft-shell taco. It had all the same ingredients apart from the Doritos, and was made with a standard cheap white-flour tortilla. The taste was standard; had I eaten it before the taco-in-a-bag, I may have enjoyed it more. The tortilla was the sort of tortilla that sticks to the back of your teeth, which was mildly annoying. Overall, I don't have strong opinions about the soft-shell taco. For the same price as the taco-in-a-bag, there's no reason for anyone to ever order a standard taco at Whippy Dip, and I may have been the first.

The meal culminated with a vanilla cone dipped in Krunch Kote, a proprietary blend of (I think) nuts and and sprinkles and chocolate bits. Highly satisfied, we walked back to our transcontinental traveling machine, and continued the quest towards the Mexican hamburger burrito (our dinner stop was burritos in Columbia MO). En route we stopped by a newish Meixcan restaurant in Decorah, the name of which has been lost to the ages, to purchase a load of tamales for the road. These were heated over a campfire in Colorado several days later and tasted superb - the next official business trip to Decorah will definitely include both tacos-in-a-bag and a trip to this unnamed restaurant.

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