A Passionate Defense of Taco Bell

Coming to America This essay from Eater’s “Life in Chains” series has everything: pathos, humor, and the most stirring defense of Taco Bell you’ve ever read, especially from someone who’s half-Mexican himself.

SROs are inexpensive places to die slowly, but moving to Queens is still cheaper. Queens is where America walks the talk. In school, we were taught that America is a country of immigrants. It’s a nice idea, especially in comfortable suburbs where the lawns are mowed by workers who immigrate into the neighborhood at the crack of dawn and immigrate somewhere else by the time you get back from work.

Queens is an entire country of immigrants in 178 square miles. Hello, you’re from Greece? Morocco? Bangladesh? Croatia? Senegal? I grew up in Virginia, but my family lives in Texas now. I guess I just emigrated from Texas to Queens! … One weekend, instead of playing the game “Sleep All Day Because Sleeping Is Free,” I went walking through the streets looking for somewhere to spend three dollars. I was hoping to find a street-meat cart that served something more than charred gristle on a stick.

And that’s when I saw the most marvelous sight. Glowing! In the distance! Right there on Steinway Avenue! It was something I had never seen before. A fast food restaurant that combined two famous brands into one mighty, delicious Frankenstein’s monster of empty calories. I beheld a restaurant that was, simultaneously, a Taco Bell and a Kentucky Fried Chicken. This didn’t exist in Texas. But here, in New York City, these two franchises were turned into a two-headed snack shack. Suddenly, I knew that everything was going to work out. I was home.

Fast food is cheap because it’s only made of 3/4 food; the other 1/4 is our childhood memory of how the food should taste. Once, starving on a long car trip, my family stopped at a Popeyes — only, in deference to Passover, we wordlessly peeled the skin off before eating the chicken. The skin! The best part!

I remember going to Roy Rogers on the way home from the pool, so the biscuits tasted vaguely of chlorine. Playing early Atari video games at Pizza Hut, the lukewarm pies forgotten across the restaurant. My dad taking me to Burger King and outfitting me with one of those bronze-colored paper crowns. My mom never approved of fast food, but I think even she would smile at the memories.

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