Taco Bell is more like drugs than food. It beats you open from the inside with beef and cheese and bread, and in so doing makes things seem great for a while, until your body realizes what you've done to it. No matter how many times I’ve eaten at Taco Bell and then immediately regretted it—sometimes with the food still in my mouth—it always seems like a great idea when I’m caught up in the moment. It’s like it’s going to save my life, and then it’s like my life isn’t worth saving.
As a man who considers himself something of a novelty food connoisseur, as soon as I heard about the new Grilled Stuft Nacho I knew I would be filling myself with lard again. I’ve always thought nachos are the perfect food—they taste fucking amazing, each bite contains new and unexpected flavors, and they are nearly impossible to screw up. Nachos can be anything you want; they are your dreams.
It feels weird pulling up to the Bell at 11 AM, like a walk of shame in reverse. Even the building seems pornographic, maybe because the last time I came to this particular location I was served by the cousin of a kid I knew in second grade, a kid who was rumored to have had sex with a dog. That guy wasn’t there today, but the feeling still lingers, and probably always will. The gentleman who took my order this morning seemed surprised at my only asking for one item, repeating “Is that it?” two different times. To be fair, I don’t think I’ve ever left this place without a sack heavy as the head of an American toddler. I paid for my nacho with six quarters and drove away ready to feast, already kind of sweating.
Spoiler: The Grilled Stuft Nacho is not as big as it looks in the commercial, nor is it overfilled with little insectoid-shaped squiggles of neon tortilla shit. It looks pretty much exactly like any other Bell item—tan like the building and full of chunks, yet here reshaped into the form of a mini slice of pizza. The aroma fills my car; it shares the same smell of body odor and waxed paper. I can already feel it seeping through my bloodstream, coating my clothing. The face of the nacho itself is about ten inches along each side, like a triangle measured out in average porn star dicks.
My bite into the first corner is pretty much all sauce. It squirts out of the cruddy tortilla into my mouth all lukewarm and globular. I don’t know how Taco Bell is able to create such a plasticky tone to their sauces, but sometimes I get the sense that their flavor designer also works for NASA. I can’t help but think of all the chemicals that have come together to provide me with this experience, unattainable anywhere but from the Bell itself. It’s supposed to be spicy, but it’s not really spicy. It reeks of toys.
While letting the ooze seep into my taste buds I realize I’ve made a huge mistake in allowing the nacho to cool a little between buying and eating, a no-no of gargantuan implications in the realm of 99-cent (or $1.29, as the case may be) food. For every degree of heat you lose off of something whose proper name is intentionally misspelled, its possible reception as the fantastically nasty monolith your brain had led you to believe it could be falls a mile closer to the stinking, rotting face of reality.
For the second bite, I peer down into the crevice I’ve created and find mostly more sauce there lurking at the edges. By squeezing the triangle at the center I’m able to force more of the granular gray beef out of the darkness, along with a bit of reddish gunk that I imagine is supposed to be peppers or something. I make sure to get a bunch of these elements into my mouth along with the sauce, and am immediately overcome with regret. A full bite of the nacho doesn’t resemble anything close to an actual nacho, or even a burrito, it is really just a jackhammer-like barrage of highs and lows: the sharp chemical tang of what is supposed to be considered festive gives way to the more prevalent, flat pull of the mass of softness that has no particular definition in my mind beyond a thing inside my mouth.
My stomach has already begun the process of rejecting the Nacho, rumbling in not-so-peaceful protest at the horrible things I have done to it in the past, am doing to it now, and am sure to do again in the future.
I get a sniff of the third bite before I take it. The scent of B.O. is so strong now it somehow makes me want to take an even bigger bite—almost like the adrenalin rush that kicks in when a wounded animal is cornered by its attacker, allowing it to lash out with a strength and fury it has never known before. The full mouthful brings a bunch of sauce again, this time cooled down enough that I am able to really taste its nuances, leading me to believe it is mostly mayonnaise dyed nacho orange. It’s really creamy, not in a good way, and the beef that floats around in the sauce makes me think of actually biting into a cartoon cow filled with milk—puffy and loose with the liquid and the beef all massed together in dark silence, no more wanting to be eaten than to have to exist outside the idea of itself. The edges of the “nacho” are almost cold now too, faster than I’d expect food to cool, as if even the heat doesn’t want to hang out here longer than it has to.
The fourth bite is where the real damage happens. I go in deeper, wanting to take down as much of the item as I can in one move, getting it inside me without prolonging the torture by taking my time. Here, I find a mass of the little red sticks that were so prevalent in the commercial, buried deep down like an infestation waiting to spread into my face. The sticks actually make a crunching sound, which coming this late in the process, and at the center of so much softness, is more terrifying than anything else. It feels like kicking a corpse you thought had completely putrefied and then discovering its brittle bones will still crumple into dust. There is nothing left about the flavor now that can be compared to anything anyone has eaten before.
While staring at the center of the red chunks I spot a dark black hair floating there, which is even more disconcerting than it would usually be because I don’t know how a hair could have wormed its way into the center of this thing. It’s almost like the hair has grown out from the nacho itself. Part of eating at places like Taco Bell is that if you think too long about the future, you remember that a lot of the things you’re putting in your body have possible connotations and complications that won’t be discovered until decades down the line, a whole series of mutations and deformities and general chemical effects waiting to take deeper hold in the continuum of humans. If this thing isn’t growing its own hair, it’s at the very least not promising anything about mutation, retching, chaos.
With the nacho now splayed open wholly on my desk, I realize it looks more like a McDonald’s Omelet Wrap or a Wendy’s Fiesta Tarp than fake Mexican food. At some point, at a certain level of lukewarm remove, even the staples of the different fast food chains start to bleed together. I could be eating anything from any drive-thru window and still have the same resultant feeling of: I wish I’d been drunk when I ate that, and now I wish I were asleep. But for the sake of science I bend my face down near the nacho and take one more bite. This time I come up with a warmer chunk that actually tastes like what I’d expected this whole time¾one big nasty nacho. The smell fills my nostrils and seems to somehow have wrapped itself around my entire face. It compliments the shitty-techno pulse of my stomach, which is doing everything it can to process what it’s been given as this day’s breakfast. The memory of the first taste is already pukey but my body knows it must go on, because it has no other choice. It also knows that in a month, maybe two, we’ll be doing this whole thing all over again.
Correction: An earlier version of this article implied that the Grilled Stuft Nacho is not actually grilled. It has been brought to our attention that the Nacho is in fact grilled, and we have edited the article accordingly. We regret the error.