Nacho Fries

Taco Bell added Nacho Fries to its Dollar Cravings menu for a limited time.

Nobody can stay in their lane anymore. It’s not enough that McDonald’s has cheeseburgers, is has to serve breakfast burritos. It’s not enough that Olive Garden has spaghetti, it has to offer “Italian nachos” with mozzarella cheese and red sauce.

It’s understandable that Taco Bell might get a little touchy about non-Mexican food chains intruding on its turf. What’s next, a Jimmy John’s chalupa? But Taco Bell strikes back in a big way with its new limited-edition Nacho Fries. Take that, Golden Arches.

As with the Naked Chicken Chips, the Quesalupa and other recent, limited-edition items on its menu, Taco Bell focuses its energy more in the idea phase and less on the execution phase. The company is constantly on the prowl for a game-changer (Chips! Made of fried chicken!) but once it hits on a genius idea, it doesn't seem concerned with making the dish taste very good.

Nacho Fries is an attempt to change the game. Just the idea of ordering fries with a taco feels transgressive, somehow, like you’re doing something you’re not supposed to. I even feel uncomfortable ordering fries with a sub sandwich at Cousin’s. There’s something about it that the appetite associates with a burger or a chicken sandwich.

But Taco Bell went there. The restaurant sells the fries for a dollar or as part of a $5 combo that includes a Doritos Locos taco and a Double Decker taco. They’ve tried to spice up the fries with a dusting of seasoning and a little tub of nacho cheese for dipping.

Let’s just say it. The fries are not good. They’re flaccid and dry, and the heat-free seasoning does little to cover that up. Dunking them in cheese is fun, but they’re so limp it’s hard to get a good dunk going without the fries crumbling in your hand. They don’t taste like they came from the deep fryer, but were baked in an oven like frozen supermarket fries that have been in the freezer too long.

Taco Bell also offers its fries in a bowl topped with ground beef, nacho cheese, sour cream and chopped tomatoes. I believe bars around the world have referred to this as “Irish nachos.”

Taco Bell gets a pass on Naked Chicken Chips because it invented them, for heaven’s sake, so nobody can compare whether they’re better or worse than somebody else’s Naked Chicken Chips. But french fries? Not only are they a staple of fast-food menus, but McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King have had an intense fry rivalry for years. Every time one of them changes their fry recipe, they make a big deal out of it.

So, with all due respect, Taco Bell can’t just sashay into the fray with a subpar french fry and expect to be taken seriously. If you’re going to merge into somebody else’s lane, you’d better be prepared to keep up.

Rob Thomas is the features editor and social media editor for the Capital Times, as well as its film critic. He joined the Cap Times in 1999 and has written about movies, music, food and books.