1. Taco Bell
Taco Bell, which has been serving Mexican-inspired cuisine since 1962, is unquestionably the preeminent fast food taco chain. The brand’s popularity has fluctuated due to issues such as E.coli outbreaks, but Taco Bell’s devoted following has experienced a significant resurgence in recent decades, especially among Millennial and Gen Z consumers.
Crunchwraps, Chalupas, and Gorditas are innovative twists on tacos that even professional chefs enjoy. While Nacho Fries are the most popular item in the restaurant’s history, they are solely a side dish that complements the many taco and taco-like items sold by the chain. The chain even has its own innovation center where it tests new products prior to their release to the general public.
2. Jack in the Box
Despite the prominence of burgers on this fast-food restaurant’s menu, the Two Tacos for 99 Cents promotion is what keeps many customers returning back for more. Tacos have been on the menu since the 1950s, and the Wall Street Journal once reported that the fast-food chain sold over 554 million tacos annually, so tacos play a significant role in the success of the chain.
The straightforward construction and ingredients of Jack in the Box’s tacos make them a surprisingly healthier alternative to burgers. Two tacos made with yellow maize shells, American cheese, lettuce shreds, and taco sauce contain only 340 calories.
3. Torchy’s Tacos
If you’re fortunate enough to live in a state with a Torchy’s Tacos location, you’ll understand why this 2006 Austin-based food trailer-turned-fast-food chain has become a taco fan favorite.
Diners adore the fact that this brand uses only the freshest, locally-sourced ingredients to create some of the most inventive taco options. For example, the well-known Trailer Park consists of fried chicken, green chilies, lettuce, pico de gallo, cheese, and poblano sauce. The Green Chile Pork Taco consists of soft and crisp taco shells, pork carnitas, green chiles, cotija cheese, and additional fresh garnishes.
Chipotle Mexican Grill is renowned for its stuffed burritos, but insiders know that their taco menu is also excellent. For a more portable option, diners can order tacos with the same delicious, high-quality ingredients found in burritos, but wrapped in soft flour or crispy corn tortillas. And because you can construct the taco of your dreams with the ingredients of your choice, dieticians deem it a healthy option, sharing tips on how to make the most of the sustainably sourced ingredients available. K.C. Gulbro, chef and proprietor of FoxFire and Copper Fox in Geneva, Illinois, also lauds the company’s taco salads, which feature barbacoa as the preferred protein.
According to Restaurant Business Online, there are currently 739 QDOBA restaurants, which have grossed over $878 million since 2021. Tacos from QDOBA make mealtime simple, with fresh vegetables and salsas for vegetarians and vegans, and slow-cooked fillings such as brisket, pork, and sirloin for meat eaters.
Customers appreciate the restaurant’s highly customizable menu, which avoids artificial colors, MSG, and additives, all of which are crucial as the chain continues to prioritize developing a completely clean menu through 2023. Chef Katy, QDOBA’s executive chef, told Eat This, Not That! in an exclusive interview, “We want to feed our guests the way we feed our families.” With high-quality ingredients, we have a positive attitude.
Qdoba has become a popular destination for high-quality fast-food tacos, particularly among health-conscious customers who can maximize their meals with corn tortillas and taco bowls.
6. Moe’s Southwest Grill
Moe’s is well-known for elevating Tex-Mex cuisine to an entirely new level, with menu items named after pop culture references and a quirky ambiance. Since the first location opened in 2000, the company’s history is nearly as fresh as its ingredients. Since then, their taco-based Stacks, a relatively healthy option consisting of two crispy corn tortillas stuffed with cheese and toppings and enveloped in a soft flour tortilla, have become immensely popular.
Customers can construct their own traditional tacos with any of Moe’s famous ingredients, such as seasoned grilled chicken, spicy tofu, succulent shredded pork, and more. Additionally, the company makes an effort to get to know its customers and tailors its menu and culinary experiences to their preferences.
7. Chronic Tacos
In the past two decades, Chronic Tacos has expanded rapidly from its original Newport Beach, California location to over 60 locations worldwide (in the United States, Canada, and Japan). Carne asada, pollo asada, carnitas, and al pastor are the traditional meat options, while mahi mahi and shrimp enable diners to indulge in surf-and-turf if they so choose.
Although the West Coast-inspired menu is highly customizable, the chain provides suggestions on how to combine its ultra-fresh ingredients, such as Street Style (lime, scallions, cilantro, and salsa) and Baja-Lime (cabbage, cheese, pico de gallo, and Baja sauce). Vegetarians can enjoy grilled vegetables, crispy tofu, or a taco made with mashed potatoes that is both simple and delectable.
Chef Tucker, a Sweet Earth culinary innovation and development chef, told Eat This, Not That! that his favorite restaurant is Eat This, Not That! because “their menu includes several plant-based options, making it a convenient go-to no matter who I’m dining with.”
8. Del Taco
Del Taco is Taco Bell’s greatest competitor, with menu items, ingredients, and promotions that are remarkably similar. Although it is expanding eastward, the chain is well-known on the West Coast. Despite the distance, this establishment keeps fans coming back for more.
As a marketing tool, the brand isn’t afraid to poke fun at its value menu when using contemporary culture in its promotions. It’s obviously good enough for executive chefs like Barleymash’s Kevin Templeton, whose favorite dish is “the Del Taco—an OG on the menu,” which consists of seasoned beef, grated cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce, and diced tomatoes, and is served in a crispy or soft taco shell. It will also be fascinating to observe how the brand evolves under its new owner, Jack in the Box, which acquired it in March 2022 (perhaps the parent company’s tacos will improve?)
9. Taco John’s
Taco John’s has expanded its fast-food empire to over 400 restaurants in 23 states from a single taco stand in Wyoming. Fried Chicken Tacos with crispy, all-white meat chicken tenders topped with either their zesty chipotle lime or fiery jalapeo ranch sauces, along with shredded lettuce, and cheddar cheese, served in a soft flour tortilla, are the restaurant’s signature dish. Their Street Tacos elevate the menu with sirloin steak and grilled poultry, garlic lime sauce, and Mexican cheese crumbles. The Valuest Menu includes micro tacos for those on a budget.
Taco John’s fans are devoted to their beloved fast-food taco chain, as evidenced by Reddit posts such as “Taco John’s has always been a regional staple in Montana, where I grew up. It reminds me of home and is a comfort meal for me” and “When I was younger, my family would go to taco johns, and I would always order a soft shell chicken taco. I appreciate other menu items these days, but the soft shell chicken taco is my comfort food.”