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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

State of the Union: Taco John's

(Author's Note: This is Part 1 in a yet-to-be-determined number of articles where I select something, someone, or somewhere and talk about whether it's still up to snuff. Today: Taco John's)

I say without a doubt that I have been one of Taco John's biggest supporters since approximately 1985. This is when i first remember eating one of their delicious tacos, in Holdrege, NE. In 1995, when both skipping lunch for Taco Tuesday and drinking entered my life, my love for Taco John's increased precipitously. This led to a glorious run in the early 21st century that culminated with myself and other members of both Exit177 and Heavy Soul creating Tshirts celebrating "A Whole Lot of Mexican". It was the combination of delicious food, awesome specials, ridiculous menu items, and colorful personalities of the employees, combined with a gimmicky ad campaign featuring Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey from PRCA rodeo fame that really made me and others a fan for life.

About 5 minutes ago, I had Taco Tuesday in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale, IA, and it dawned on me how much Taco Johns had changed over the years, but how the core principles remained intact. How they have become much more corporate and business savvy but still cling to the outlaw tradition of their Cheyenne, Wyo. roots. Here are a few examples:

1. Placards all over today were visible for "Nachos Navidad", which, if you are unfamiliar, are nachos with Christmas red-and-green chips and an abundance of seasoned beef and all kinds of other goodies. This is a concept so ludicrous I am not properly describing it. I'm sorry. It's like you are eating a big Mexican flavored wreath.

2. The corporatization of Taco Johns concerned me about three years ago, which led to me frequenting the restaurant at a low level not seen since before I had a driver's license, but I realized that now, every time I go to a Taco John's, the food tastes the same no matter the location. And the food is still good. How can this be a bad thing? It isn't.In the past, Taco John's locations were very dicey and to go to one in a foreign town was simply playing Russian (or Mexican?) Roulette. Sterling, Colo. and Kearney, NE (with the Spaghetti Shop) come to mind as examples of hideous Taco John's locations.

3. Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey is still figured prominently in the ad campaign, as is their use of the song "Feliz Navidad" only with lyrics relating to Taco John's. It sounds like what I do to bad songs when I'm drunk: change the lyrics to things that relate to me. For Taco John's, that would be Nachos Navidad.

4. I've been to Taco Tuesday before, and their is seemingly a renewed enthusiasm in Taco John's. The stores are legitimately busy. In Iowa, I bet there are 3 Taco John's to every 1 Taco Bell. Awesome. People throw out terms such as "Six Pack and a Pound" and "Meat and Potato Burrito" with ease. I credit this to the corporate influence.

5. The menu is at an all time high. Ole's are being seasoned properly, and clearly rank as the best side at any fast food restaurant, ever. The Meat and Potato Burrito kills it, as does the Taco Bravo. The ridiculous dessert Apple Grande is back from the dead. For those who don't know, it's a deep fried, hard tortilla with apple cinnamon and cheese on it. It sounds gross, it kicks ass. They've added trendy items like the cilantro-lime steak taco and the grilled chicken burrito, and they are both good and suburbanite-approved.

Overall, Taco John's is on the upswing and has seen a renewed sense of purpose in this author's eyes. By cleaning up a little but sticking to the things that made it good in the first place, (this sounds like the Nebraska football program) Taco John's is clearly the pinnacle of Mexican fast food.

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You just talked me into eating some TJ's for lunch. Which I'm sure I will regret. Thanks.
I utilized Taco uesday for lunch today and it was everythign that I thought it could be. ahhhhhhh the artist.

-Tha Brotha
I prefer Amigo's all around menu much better. Their breakfast is, hands down, the best fast food option available.
Amigo's breakfast is absolutely kick ass, as is their food on your way home from the bar.

But I do absolutely have to give the nod to Taco John's for lunch/dinner. It's the balls.
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