It has been, you might say, a week. After lots of meetings and a constant swirl of anxiety only explicable by the current state of chaos in the world, I somehow ended up taking an hours-long stress nap yesterday afternoon that stretched much later into the evening than I expected. When I woke up at 11 p.m., ravenous and cranky, the only thing that could improve my miserable attitude was a trip through the Taco Bell drive-thru.
As I clambered into my fanciest sweatpants for the drive, I remembered that Taco Bell’s nacho fries are back, and my day instantly improved by an order of magnitude. Introduced in 2018, this combination of battered, seasoned fries and a tiny cup of melted nacho cheese has become an intermittent fixture on the menu, and a source of much polarization among Taco Bell fans. Some folks love them, some think they’re the worst fries in America. Personally, I think they’re both — Taco Bell’s nacho fries are objectively pretty disgusting, and I love them anyway.
On their face, these fries aren’t much different than other fries. They’re cut into plump batons, then tossed with some seasoning blend that is intended to vaguely evoke the flavors of Mexican cuisine. That’s all fine, but the problem lies in the execution. Relatively new to the concept of making french fries, Taco Bell is not especially great at it. Often, the fries are flabby and soggy, the result of being undercooked or left to linger under a heat lamp for just a little bit too long. Even on the rare occasions when my order has been deep-fried to perfection, Taco Bell’s nacho fries are still not that great. The interior is a touch mealy, and they’re a little too thick to really get crunchy enough.
All of these criticisms were of no import to me at 11 p.m., when I eagerly scarfed an entire order of nacho fries in the passenger seat of my car as my husband drove home. I thought only about how much they reminded me of the french fries served by my middle school cafeteria, which I also happily dunked into a pool of neon-orange nacho cheese on my lunch tray. Nacho fries may not be great at being french fries, but they are excellent at evoking nostalgia. My inner child is, apparently, still really into fake cheese and hyper-processed potatoes.
Like other people who are into food, I am also obsessed with finding the best tacos in my city, or the most perfect sandwich. I’m happy to spend hours making really tedious and complicated recipes at home in pursuit of the perfect homemade pasta sauce or whatever. But I think we often forget that there is also pleasure to be found in foods that are pretty terrible, especially in the midst of this constant pursuit of perfection. It’s weirdly freeing to realize that it is, in fact, okay to really enjoy something that is just mediocre, or even inarguably bad.
And of course, if you think that Taco Bell’s nacho fries are too gross to eat, that is also a perfectly valid opinion. Fortunately for those of you who are too good to eat junk food, folks who admittedly like “bad” or “unhealthy” things tend not to be as judgmental of differing opinions as those who insist that you must eat virtuously, or at least with an eye toward quality, at all times. Meanwhile, though, I’ll be stalking the Taco Bell drive-thru for as long as my beloved nacho fries are around.