Taco John's Is Seriously Challenging My Loyalty To Taco Bell

True confession time: Although I live on Milwaukee's South Side, which is ground zero for the city's authentic taquerias, I still love me some fast food tacos. In fact, I consider the two types of tacos to be entirely different types of cuisine, so I'm not doing an apples-to-oranges comparison here. Fast food is fast food, and of all fast food restaurants, my long-time favorite is Taco Bell. That being said, I haven't had much to compare it to, since in most of the places I've lived (and I've lived in all four time zones), Taco Bell's been the only fast-food taco game in town.

I was pretty psyched, then, to see that a Taco John's was opening up right across the street from my go-to hardware store (my house is 130+ years old, so yes, I have a go-to hardware store) and in close proximity to the two grocery stores where I do most of my shopping. I'd never had Taco John's before, so I couldn't wait to check it out. As this was my first visit — to this, or any Taco John's –I didn't really know what to try, so I went with a little bit of everything: a churro, some refried beans, a kid's Crispy Taco combo meal complete with Potato Olés and a drink, and three a la carte entrees: a Four Cheese Chicken Quesadilla, a Nacho Crunch Chicken Burrito, and a Queso Fried Chicken Taco.

Fried things first

As anyone who's ever had past-their-prime McDonald's fries knows, some things are not worth waiting for. I figured it would be the same with the two fried items I ordered from Taco John's menu, so I ate them while sitting in my truck. (The parking lot was nearly deserted at the time, so I didn't feel too self-conscious.) First I tore into the churro and it tasted fantastic. To be sure, "hunger is the best sauce," as my mom used to say, and I hadn't eaten all day, but it was still pretty darn good. Not too big, no unnecessary glaze, just a nice-sized stick of crispy, cinnamony goodness.

After scarfing it down, I turned to the Potato Olés and found them to be just as delicious as advertised. They taste almost exactly like the first bite of McDonald's hash browns — if you were taking a tiny nibble from a crunchy corner. But, unlike Micky D's hash browns — where you get stuck with that soggy, greasy middle part — all you taste with Taco John's Olés is the crunch plus a little hint of whatever's in their special seasoning. I get why they're a fan favorite and I'm now a fan, myself.

I did save a few Potato Olés and an inch or so of churro for when I got home, just to see how they'd last. As predicted, the potatoes had lost much of their charm, although the churro had only depreciated a moderate amount.

Next on deck: taco and beans

Street tacos made with soft corn tortillas are all the rage these days, but I have a confession to make: I grew up eating tacos made with Old El Paso shells, and even today I prefer my corn tortillas to be crunchy. Taco John's does have street tacos on the menu and I'd have been willing to try them if the pork carnitas ones were available, but my location doesn't have this option. I took this as a sign that I was meant to order a single Crispy Taco instead, but unfortunately, the "crispy" taco was a bit of a disappointment. By the time I got around to eating it — maybe half an hour after purchasing it — the taco had lost every bit of its crunch. I've had Taco Bell crispy tacos that were still somewhat crunchy after a day in the fridge, so they get the edge here, plus the ones with Doritos Locos shells set the gold standard for gringo tacos.

I followed the taco with refried beans, which I'll definitely be ordering on future Taco John visits. They're really, really good! Nice and chunky, not pureed into mush, and with just enough salt to be flavorful. (I hate it when restaurants opt for low-sodium beans.) They also had sufficient cheese and onions on top to last until the bottom of the cup.

Winner, winner, chicken taco dinner

By the time I got to my main courses, all three of them, I was already starting to feel kind of full, but I channeled my inner Adam Richman and pushed on through. Can't provide an informed opinion on the subject of Taco John's menu without trying a little bit of everything, can I? (Disclaimer: I did have some help from my dog squad.)

The Four Cheese Chicken Quesadilla kicked things off — it had a decent amount of chicken and a nice hint of chipotle lime sauce, but I only tasted one cheese, that same generic mild cheddar that every taco chain seems to use. The Nacho Crunch Chicken Burrito was even better, and the combination of chipotle/lime and cheese sauces worked quite well here. The one thing it was noticeably lacking, however, was the crunch. Maybe this is another item that needs to be eaten within the first few minutes? Oops. Still, I have no regrets that I saved the top spot for the Potato Olés and churro.

The best entrée I tried was the Queso Fried Chicken Taco. The smoky green chile queso sauce really made this dish a standout, and I have no complaints about any part of the taco since I'm fine with floppy flour tortillas. I do, however, have a suggestion: Taco John's, if it's not too much to ask, would you consider introducing a grilled chicken version?

I now have a new favorite taco chain

Yes, I will definitely be back to Taco John's, especially as the location is so convenient — adjacent to not one, but two, of my regular grocery shopping stops. Will it displace Taco Bell as my all-time fast food favorite, though? I'll say at this point, it's pretty much a draw, and one slightly complicated by the fact that my local Taco John's is right across the street from its rival chain. On the one hand, Taco Bell has Doritos Locos tacos, and cinnamon twists. On the other, Taco John's has Potato Olés and churros. Who could possibly choose between the two?

The good thing is, there's no need to choose: Who said you can't have two favorite taco chains? As to how I'll decide which one to patronize on any given day ... well, having too many taco options is definitely what you'd call a good problem. I'm thinking I may just base my choice on what side of the street I'm doing my grocery shopping. Pick'N'Save side, it's Taco Bell; Aldi side, Taco John's. Unless I'm in a breakfast mood, of course, then I'm definitely going to Taco John's for more of those mini hash browns, er, Potato Olés, plus a delicious churro for breakfast dessert (which should totally be a thing).