Apr 15, 2015

Taco Bells of Portland: #2 (NW 21st & Burnside)

Guess what time it is?? TACO BELL TIME! You could probably tell from the title of this blog post, but just in case you read the title and thought to yourself "It can't possibly be Taco Bell time, can it?" -- it can, and it is.

I know you have been waiting for over a week for this, so without giving too much away up-front, let me just say this trip was a real surprise. Let's get started.

Today's Taco Bell: NW 21st & Burnside

I used to go to this Taco Bell when I briefly lived in the Pearl, and I have to say, this is my least favorite location. It's a small building right off Burnside and the sign is obstructed by trees and it's really easy to miss. You might think you're headed to Taco Bell only to realize blocks later you're headed away from Taco Bell. I'm not sure there's anything sadder than an unvisited Taco Bell in your rearview mirror. You really gotta be on your game with this one. 

Secondly, the drive-thru pushes you right back out onto Burnside, so there's no option to eat in the parking lot like a lady. A Taco Bell lady. The Lady of the Bell, if you will.

Service-wise, the woman on the other end of the intercom didn't hear me when I said "Grilled Stuft Burrito" and asked, "What?" 

Not "Pardon me?" or "I didn't quite catch that -- could you kindly repeat your order?" Just "What?" So I repeated my order: Grilled Stuft Burrito with beef (NO guacamole or avocado ranch), side of chips & cheese, and a small Pepsi.

"That'll be $7.37 at the window please."

I'm sorry... what? (See what I did there? She said "what" then I said "what" -- that's what we in the business call a plot twist.)

Seriously though. I have never in my life paid $7.37 for this meal. In fact just last week at the Taco Bell across town, I paid $6.77 for this exact same meal. I'll be darned. 

Did I ask about the price? No, I didn't want to interfere with the study. But you bet your sweet ass I'll be filling out the survey using the 16-digit survey code provided on my receipt as soon as I'm done typing up this blog post! 

$7.37. Outrageous.

Location: Strike one. Price: Strike two. Only one strike left -- let's see about the food, shall we?

You remember how last time I said a bit of ingredient disparity is to be expected? Well even *I* have standards when it comes to burrito fillings, and this burrito did not meet those standards.

Look at this:

That is 95% beef. Where's my beans? My rice? My sour cream mixed with onion and tomato cubes? Hm? I was only three bites in before I had to turn this sucker over and look what I found on the other end:

That's right, 95% rice. Tortilla and rice does not a burrito make, my friends! So then I end up with this unmanageable pile. It was like trying to eat yogurt out of a toilet paper roll.

I threw that thing back in the bag and snacked on a few chips w/cheese as I drove home.

Bad move. A few minutes later I look down and notice burrito grease has seeped through the foil wrapper, past a napkin, through the protective paper bag and onto my dress. 

That really chaps my hide! If that stain doesn't come out, I don't know what I'll do. I wear this dress on average once a week because it feels like pajamas but looks like a work outfit. How often does one come across such a precious item of clothing? Oh you know, just every ONCE IN A LIFETIME.

I bet you think this review can't get any worse. Well what I tell you next will make you flip a lid (foreshadowing):

I think they gave me a Diet Pepsi.

Now, I can't prove it. (There should be a thing where you can prove it!! A little dipstick or something. Science?) But you know how that very last second of a swig of diet soda tastes like weird chemicals, canceling out any sense of refreshment and basically ruining the soda experience entirely? Well that's what it tasted like. Strike three! Or four depending on if you counted the grease stain as a strike. I'm on the fence as to whether that's my fault or Taco Bell's fault.

Anyway, I ate about half my burrito pile, finished off the chips & cheese (no complaints), and this "Pepsi" is going down the sink.


Portland's rating: 3.0 ("Great place to go when your in a taco mood" and "tacos")

ambericaonline rating: 2 stars. Honestly, when I started this series, I thought I was going to give every Taco Bell 5 stars. I love Taco Bell! But this Taco Bell really let me down, and now that I've proven that I am not affected by research bias, this project has taken on a whole new level of seriousness and I just hope you all appreciate the gravity of what I'm doing here. This isn't just about burritos. It's about burritos with a side of chips & cheese. It's about integrity. 

It's about burritos.

Well, see you in another week or so!

Your blogger,

Apr 6, 2015

Taco Bells of Portland: #1 (SE 50th & Powell)

Yesterday while google mapping the drive time between my apartment and my local Taco Bell, I noticed something strange: Some Taco Bells had 3-star ratings while others had only 2.5. Curious as to what might account for such a discrepancy, I decided to investigate.

This post marks the first in a new series on ambericaonline: Taco Bells of Portland, in which I work my way through all the Taco Bells in the city of Portland in a quest to determine the warm, beany truth: Are some Taco Bells better than others?

Tune in for reviews of my Taco Bell experiences every... week? No that's gross. Just every time I feel like eating Taco Bell. It's more often than you think.

First, the rules

I will order the same meal* at each Taco Bell and comment on the following:
  • Service - How friendly, accurate, and prompt are the servers. Note that I will only be commenting on drive-thru service as there's no way I'm getting out of my car to order Taco Bell. Drive-thru line length will not be taken into consideration as that's not a controllable variable.
  • Taste - The primary test point here is "Does it taste as expected?" I'm not looking to be blown away -- I know what I'm eating. But does it contain the expected ingredients heated to the desired temperature? If so, we have a successful meal!
*This part will be easy as I've been eating the same meal at Taco Bell for over a decade now. It used to be combo #2** -- Grilled Stuft Burrito with beef, side of chips & cheese, and a medium soda -- but in 2012 they revamped their menu and turned the GSB into a GSB XXL (now featuring guacamole and "avocado ranch"?? no.) and replacing the chips & cheese with a taco. Big mistake as far as I'm concerned, but I don't make the decisions at Taco Bell, unfortunately. So now I have to order the Grilled Stuft Burrito with beef, NO guacamole or avocado ranch, with a side of chips & cheese and a small soda because medium is just excessive. Normally I'll get a Pepsi but sometimes I might be feeling a little frisky and order a Dr. Pepper. The soda will not be factored into my review.

**heh heh


Today's Taco Bell: SE 50th & Powell

This is my "home" Taco Bell. It's technically not the closest one, but it's the most convenient and holds a special place in my heart as the first Taco Bell I ever visited in Portland. I've probably been to this one the most times out of all the PTBs (Portland Taco Bells).

I meant to take a photo of myself in the drive-thru, but there was no one else in line (6pm on a Monday), and I'm not exaggerating when I say I was in and out of there in less than a minute. HOW DO THEY MAKE IT SO FAST?! I'll tell you how: All their ingredients are in caulk guns. They literally shoot the contents of your burrito into a tortilla, fold it up, and throw it in a bag that someone else has already added the chips & cheese to and voila: dinner.

Anyway I'll get a photo at the next one.

Service-wise, this Taco Bell can't be beat. They ask how you're doing, and if you respond "Good, thanks! How are you?" they always thank you for asking. Of course I asked! Just because you're the server and I the servee doesn't mean your well-being doesn't matter to me. It does. I care. And I'll have the Grilled Stuft Burrito with NO avocado ranch.

Driving home with a bag full of Taco Bell is always a fun experience for me. I WANT to wait til I get home to eat it, but I just don't think it's possible. As soon as I hit a red light that cheese cup's open. This trip was particularly exciting as I got stuck behind a train! I was able to unwrap my burrito and take those first few ultra-salty bites in total peace in the car (where I believe Taco Bell tastes best).

I have to admit I didn't take completely thorough mental notes of those first few bites because there was a very drunk man who, once he saw the train coming, RAN to the edge of the tracks and I think we all worried for a minute there that he was going to do something dramatic and final, but instead he just swayed back and forth looking at all the train cars. I did get a picture of him:

Anyway, by the time I got home I was about 1/4 of the way done and so far so good. One of the challenges with burritos -- and this is anywhere, not just Taco Bell -- is ingredient uniformity. I understand it, I experience it myself making tortilla-wrapped items! So I don't judge too harshly. With Taco Bell, it's kind of expected that I'll have to turn my burrito upside-down about halfway through and start eating from the other end in order to get the beans/rice/meat/whatever's missing from the first half. No points off for that.

This burrito: alright! There was one cilantro twig in there that was a bit of a shock, but I'll always welcome more greens in my Taco Bell. Gotta eat healthy, right? I finished most of my burrito.

The chips were fresh and plentiful, and the cheese warm and thick. One time (not in Portland) I got served a half-cup of watered-down nacho cheese and that was not acceptable. 1 star for that Taco Bell. I don't care where you have to cut costs, it better not be in my cheese. Like I wouldn't notice!

A few swigs of some ice-cold Dr. Pepper (feelin' frisky!) and I'd finished my meal.


Portland's rating: 2.3 stars (I'll always link to the reviews here so you can read them yourself -- scroll down to view them all. They're a hoot.)

ambericaonline rating: 5 stars. Will definitely go again.

Correction: This post originally incorrectly identified the location of this Taco Bell at SE 52nd & Powell. Listen, I'm a burrito person, not a maps person alright?