For the record, I don't recommend this.
When Adweek reported yesterday that Taco Bell had rolled out a new dollar menu with nary a TV ad, I felt it was AdFreak's responsibility to bring you vital information about exactly what you can expect from this cornucopia of consumer value.
So I slipped away at lunch and ordered "one of everything on the Dollar Cravings menu." This seemed to cause confusion with the friendly voice taking my order, and a manager suddenly took the mic to ask: "You want one of everything? And this ain't a game?"
No, this was business. Serious business.
They rang me up for the 11 items. I handed over $12.99. And a short drive later, I arrived home with two satisfyingly hefty sacks of warm, damp, processed food. It was time to get started.
First, I decided to spread out and record this bountiful feast:
Perhaps it was my air of supreme confidence that led them to think, "This is a man who's only going to need two napkins. And, hell, three sporks." But god bless 'em, they didn't skimp on the Fire Sauce.
Since I was tackling the project at home, I settled onto the couch with the food arranged before me and fired up an episode of Cosmos featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson, my spirit animal on this fast-food vision quest.
Without further ado, here's my take on each of the items on the new dollar menu. (I've also spared you actual photos of what I ate and instead bring you these delightful promotional images from Taco Bell HQ.)
• Beefy Mini Quesadilla
It's more like a melted beef and cheese soft taco than a quesadilla, but it's actually pretty good. Surprisingly spicy thanks to its creamy chipotle sauce, it's one of the few Taco Bell items I can think of in recent memory that didn't require Fire Sauce.
Is it worth $1? Definitely, though without the spicy sauce it would be a 75-center at best.
• Beefy Fritos Burrito
I assume the goal of adding Fritos to any food is to make it crunchy, but after sitting in their balmy burrito enrobement for 15 minutes or so, these corn chips have begun to break down into a sort of not-altogether-pleasant tamale mush. I bust out the Fire Sauce and muscle through.
Is it worth $1? Well, it's one of the most filling options you'll find on the menu, so let's say yes. But try to eat it as soon after ordering as possible.
• Cheesy Bean and Rice Burrito
At this point, my fortitude is already starting to wane, and the last thing I need is a big roll of rice and tortilla. Unlike in the photo above, the beans in mine basically just hold it all together. After just one big bite, I set it aside, knowing it would only hold me back.
Is it worth $1? Not really, unless you're a vegetarian grabbing food in desperation.
• Spicy Potato Soft Taco
It tastes like breakfast, but with lettuce. Once again, I don't need to add sauce, and I knock the whole thing back in a few bites. But I can't say the chewy potato texture was a culinary delight.
Is it worth $1? Yes, if you're really into home fries and tacos. Otherwise, I'd say you have better options.
• Cheese Roll-Up
This is literally just half-melted cheese on a tortilla. It's the kind of thing my 2-year-old would order, unroll out of curiosity and then slowly push toward the center of the table.
Is it worth $1? No way. This is the toast sandwich of Taco Bell cuisine.
• Shredded Chicken Mini Quesadilla
This one looks promising. And feels promising. Girthy. Sure enough, it's a pretty satisfying selection, though way too salty. It gets about 20 times better when I add Fire Sauce, which admittedly doesn't help my sodium levels any.
Is it worth $1? Yeah, I'd say so, especially if you're not a beef person.
• Cinnamon Twists
I've always liked these more in theory than in practice, and sure enough, they're basically just packing peanuts dusted with sweetness. I nibbled on them throughout the meal but probably only ate half. Every time I had one, I'd hear Marge Simpson in the back of my mind yelling, "No, Homer! Don't fill up on bread!"
Is it worth $1? If you actually like them, it's probably a good deal. But I don't, so it's not.
• Spicy Tostada
I'm officially full, and at any other point in my life, this is where I would stop. But this is legitimate journalism here, so I soldier on to the one item I've been most looking forward to: the Spicy Tostada.
It's basically a one-layer Mexican Pizza, which I've been a fan of since forever. In true Taco Bell to-go style, the tostada and its toppings have been slammed into the corner of the box, making the whole sloppy mess impossible to pick up with your hands. But I've got two whole napkins at the ready, so I do it anway.
After getting through the gloppiest portion, I fold the rest into a sort of overstuffed hard taco, which really highlights how much more food you're getting than with the rest of the menu. It's earnestly good, but I'm officially in pain.
Is it worth $1? Oh, hell yeah. Maybe $2.
• Triple Layer Nachos
They're super soggy by this point, and I have no one but myself to blame. I try one. It's pretty tasty but could use some old-school Taco Bell jalapeños from the nachos of my childhood.
Is it worth $1? Yes, especially if you think about how much you'd spend for chips and cheese at a ballpark.
• Cinnabon Delights 2-Pack
Yessssssssss, I've been waiting for this, the best part of the mea … hey, wait a damn minute, Taco Bell! Where are the Cinnabon Delights? They're not in the damn bag. I just pulled it out of the trash and checked. Honestly, I'm not sure if this was an omission at the window or if my location just didn't carry them yet. Either way, it's a heartbreaker. I throw open the window and yell "NOOOOO," the sound echoing across the empty sidewalks as the camera pulls away into the sky.
Is it worth $1? Well, I guess I wouldn't know, WOULD I, TACO BELL?
• Caramel Apple Empanada
Sigh. With no Cinnabon Delights, I'm left with this flaky fallback plan for dessert. Usually the crust is the best part of a fruit pie, but this one's pretty bland and almost cracker-y. Still, I've got no real complaints, and it's not as grossly sweet as I expected.
Is it worth $1? Yes, though you'd get more for your money with a fruit pie from a nearby gas station. (That might be the saddest sentence I've ever written.)
With the last bite gone and a pile of carnage around me, I'm back on the couch and not fit for human interaction. I feel like John Hurt in Alien, but without the pleasant dinner conversation. I'm not proud of what I've done, but I hope the sacrifices I've made will help you live a more bountiful and frugal existence.
I hold my stomach and drift into a nap, imagining with my last waking thoughts that a medical examiner is standing over my akimbo corpse, shaking his head while my ghost silently screams: "No! This wasn't how I lived! I did yoga on Saturdays!"