Mexican or Mexican’t? The Search for Enchilada Enlightenment

A constant in our consumer-driven, American landscape, American teens often place the Taco Bell chain on a pedestal in the hierarchy of Mexican eateries. For whatever reason, no town, whether rural or metropolitan, is complete without at least one of these staple franchises. From the matte pastel interior of orange and yellow to its urban, clean exterior, something about “The Bell”, as it is commonly titled, has become a cult classic in the last few decades. But does it deserve it's spot of top dawg in the hispanic food industry?

Top contenders in this heavyweight fight range anywhere from the less common fast food chain Del Taco, to the local and more family oriented full service, Grand Azteca. On our quest to uncover the highest quality hispanic food chain, we traveled to four restaurants in the area: Taco Bell, Del Taco, Grand Azteca, and Las Cazuelas. Extensive research was done in each eatery and our findings vastly altered our prior knowledge about Mexican restaurants.

Restaurants put their own twist on common foods to stay on top of the competition. In our ventures, we discovered the virtue of authenticity, found heightened skills of taste differentiation within ourselves, and determined a penultimate champion of the Mexican quick service eateries. We had some preconceived notions about each eatery, so, before we began our eating expeditions, we set standard parameters for our judgement. The parameters chosen were service, speed, taste, and overall presentation, which included the cleanliness of the building and the way in which our food was served. Our adventures were rewarding and resulted in our own personal delight - sometimes gold comes wrapped in a fried tortilla.

Taco bell, perhaps one of the finest American achievements in the last few decades, is arguably the highest esteemed fast food location among high schoolers. In both abundance and options, Taco Bell ranks high among teens in the US, but, is this ranking justified? “The Bell”, as monikered by the fast food faithful, is more than just the average high schooler’s lunch location, but also a stoners paradise. Fewer fast food chains are more associated with those who smoke the devil’s lettuce, and, as Trevor and I pulled into the Taco Bell parking lot along Southfield road, the smell of skunk rushed to greet us. An employee - hopefully on break, eyed us watchfully, while waving a toasty object around the air. We scurried inside, to be greeted by the vibrant and modern shapes and colors of the staple franchise. All about the walls and hanging from the ceiling were abstract shapes, modern art, and posters representing sales on hot items, each element drawing our wandering eyes like a dart and making our mouths water.We opted to order from a digital kiosk, where the machine offered us numerous tabs from combos to specialties and “hot” new products to choose from. We indulged. The complete blast on the senses left us ordering taco after taco, as we sampled the rolled chicken tacos, double stacked tacos, cheesy gordita, nachos, and the delectable cinnabon delights.

Each entree offered its own twist on Mexican quick service, but we found a quick favorite in the warm, toasty, cylindrical rolled chicken tacos.They were a beautiful mix of deeply seasoned shredded chicken with queso and spices enshrouded in a crispy-yet-soft deep fried tortilla taquito. The rolled chicken tacos came in a pack of two and were offered alongside spicy ranch and cheese dips. These were the highlight of our trip to The Bell by a longshot. Despite the obvious highs of the rolled chicken tacos, Taco

Bell also had its shortcomings. The Nachos lacked all sorts of Taco Bell’s signature black tray engulfed with an flavor and were doused in beans, which souped up every assortment of tacos, burritos, chicken rolls, and a

ounce of flavor and were extremely dry, adding a damper on delightful sweet, the cinnabon.

our day. All of this came after waiting over fifteen minutes for our food to arrive, a truly disappointing stat for “fast food.”

While Taco Bell had arguably the best tasting meal, we couldn't shake the let down of how long it took for our food to arrive and the very poor service.

Our visit to the lesser known Del Taco started out feeling rather eerie compared to the bustling Taco Bell. Del Taco was a large and open location with tons of natural lighting yet it felt as if it lacked something. The empty atmosphere reminded us of desolation, and the two servers up front stared at us as if we were foreigners, eyeing us as we took in the restaurant for the first time. The establishment at least doubled the size of Taco Bell, yet had none of the character. Everything about Del Taco was bland - right down to the food. We ordered a grilled chicken taco, a fish taco, and a Cali burrito. The food arrived in four minutes, a very welcome difference from Taco Bell, considering we ordered around the same amount of food. The cost at Del Taco was considerably more than our Taco Bell price. While at the Bell, we spent just under ten dollars, at Del Taco we spent 19 dollars. While you would assume the price difference would equate to an increase in quantity and quality, you would be wrong. The food was disappointing at best, and the best item on the menu, the chicken taco, was just a copy of the Taco Bell tacos but a little less filling. The Cali burrito, which we assumed would be unique and flavorful, was anything but, and was dry to the bone, lacking any seasoning or flavor. The staff was welcoming but curt after we asked a few questions about the variations of

The interior of Del Taco was misleading to say the different burritos and tacos we could create. Overall, Del

least, with a large spacious, clean interior, yet only Taco was a new experience, albeit a bland and

yielded subpar food. disappointing one. Overall, the food failed to live up to the high expectations we had set after our visit to Taco Bell.

Taking a step away from the fast food industry for our next restaurant, we visited Grand Azteca in Troy. Grand Azteca is a more family oriented restaurant and focuses on hospitality and friendliness. Right when we entered we were abruptly met with a burst of color. Different shades of neon on every wall, pink and green filled the columns of booths lining the entire restaurant. There were posters and pictures of indian and Aztec art everywhere, accompanied by birds hanging from the ceiling and Spanish artifacts such as the St. Anthony of Padua and the Mexican Santo strewn throughout the building. The place immediately gave out authentic Hispanic vibes. We only waited a second before our waiter kindly greeted us at the entrance and took us to an ornately decorated booth, cream colored with various Aztec depictions like the Aztec calendar stone and Moctezuma’s Throne. After we ordered, we saw our waitress deliver the order to the open kitchen, where we could watch them prepare most of our food. The waitress presented us with Grand Azteca’s signature chips, queso, and their own ranch based dip before we received our food. Both dips were amazing, running rich with flavor especially their ranch dip. We had to contain ourselves from eating anymore of it or we wouldn't have had any room for the actual food. Our meal arrived promptly, after only five minutes and thirty seconds on the clock, which was pretty fast for our hefty order of Mexican delights. Our order consisted of a chicken taco, beef taco, chicken burrito, and a beef enchilada. We dug into the tacos first. Both the chicken and beef tacos were cooked perfectly. You could easily pull the chicken apart, and the beef would melt in your The interior of Grand Azteca stood out with its slick

mouth. The tacos were seasoned very well, the ingredients neon physique, authentic spanish table art, and

were evenly distributed, and they were dripping with flavor neat antiques.

and juice. This made for some messy eating but that's what makes a great taco. We dove into the beef enchilada, but this was a little underwhelming after the mouth watering tacos. It was covered in red sauce and cheese, but that was all. No stand out flavors, and the texture was a little gooey and congealed; not much going on. The chicken burrito was almost exactly the same. The only difference was, well, chicken. The only upside to the Azteca meals was the bang for your buck. This restaurant serves high quantities for very reasonable prices. Overall a decent experience at Grand Azteca.

Diving into our last restaurant on this Mexican journey, Laz Cazuelas, a quick service sit-down restaurant that specializes in fried Mexican goodness. We found ourselves pulling into the Cazuelas parking lot around 1:30 p.m., narrowly avoiding the lunch rush. We pleasantly surprised to find an almost vacant restaurant, allowing us to fully take in the environment. From paper flowers hanging from the ceilings and walls to classic mariachi music playing in the background, the sights and sounds of Las Cazuelas treated us to a south of the border delight. To maintain a level of similarity, we ordered the chicken Las Cazuelas Tacos, a beef and cheese quesadilla, and two churros. Consuming the Las Cazuelas tacos was mind blowing. The fried rolled chicken tacos were a package sent from heaven, right down to the free guacamole, Pico de Gallo, shredded cheese, well seasoned shredded chicken, and sour cream. All the juicy ingredients in the taco came together pairing for the complete schmorgesborg of fried mexican goodness. The sights and smells of Cazuelas were unbeatable, and with

All of the delicious food at Las Casuelas is inexpensive pricing, a comfortable environment, and constructed right in front of you, so there's nothing great tasting food, the restaurant easily topped our charts in left to the mind as to what is really going into your this Mexican competition.

food.

In our ventures, we learned the virtues of the mexican food industry, and how one can truly be immersed by more than just the presentation and flavors of food, but the quality of the venu, and the treatment of the customer. Las Cazuelas truly relished in this truth, and brought together everything desired, from the multicolored vibrant birds hanging from the ceiling to the bright and bubbling staff waiting to greet us. Mexican food, while varying, is something we found to have constants in what makes it up, yet when places like Cazuelas can take common ingredients and make them taste like something so much greater, you know you have discovered something worthwhile.

In journey to find the best Mexican food north on Woodward, we transported our taste buds south of the border, and, more importantly found that Las Cazuelas, the fast, hearty and homey restaurant, tops all competitors, ringing the “bell” on what peak mexican food can be.

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