If the 20th century adage, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” is true, then the next best thing must be a cheap lunch. A recent fad in fast food marketing has several restaurants fighting over customers’ lunch money by trying to lure them in with a five dollar meal deal. A cousin to the dollar menu, these five dollar deals promise more for less; a hearty serving of tasty chow that leaves you with enough change to rent a Redbox, buy a lotto ticket, donate to charity, etc. MMDG brought this trend to my attention, and issued a challenge: to spend one work-week sampling the meal deals from the various institutions eager to win my wallet through my stomach. Normally, MMDG would handle this sort of business himself, but the idea of consistently eating fast food is something he can’t commit to in good conscience. “It’s a young man’s game,” he explained. Well, I’ll throw my hat into the ring on his behalf. I intend to eat one $5 lunch per day for one week in search of value, nourishment, and satisfaction. I’m skeptical as to whether I’ll find all three at one time, but I’ll take two out of three. I mean, technically whatever they serve me counts as nourishment, right?
My first stop: Taco Bell.
I’d like to note that I have the privilege of conducting this experiment in Ellensburg, Washington. Located in the dead center of the state, Ellensburg is known for its rodeo, Dachshund parade, and for being the home of Central Washington University. The idea of a cheap meal has to be important to the vast student population, which makes this city the perfect battle ground for fast food restaurants.
Though the line for the drive-thru stretches down the parking lot, I am the only customer inside the restaurant. The ancient woman who takes my order is impatient and brisk. This could be why no one goes inside. When I ask what exactly comes in the box, she just points at the pictures on the wall. I take a chance and order the Cheesy Gordita Crunch Box. I’ve never had a Gordita before, and this particular box includes a Doritos Locos taco shell. In fact, two out of three of the meal boxes somehow involve the Doritos Locos taco, and the third Quesarito option looks already digested. I have avoided eating one of these things before because, like the name implies, it seems fucking crazy.
I’m a little disappointed from the get-go because the meal technically costs $5.93. When I hear five dollar meal deal, I expect a flat five bucks, maybe a little more with tax. However, if you add up what comes in the box (1 Cheesy Gordita Crunch Locos-style = $2.69, 1 Burrito Supreme = $2.69, 1 Crunchy Taco = $1.19, and 1 medium drink = $1.69), it’s easy to see you are getting a value. When I get my meal, it does not come in a box like I’ve seen in the commercial. Either the old woman was intentionally thwarting my chances at winning a PS4, or perhaps the item is so popular here that they sold out.I start with the Gordita, which I learn must be Spanish for “double-decker taco”. It has a ranch flavor to it, which I can’t tell if it comes from actual ranch dressing, or the combination of Doritos, cheese, sour cream and tomato. Neither the nutritional facts nor the ingredients are displayed, probably for good reason. After popping my “Doriotos Locos” cherry, I scarf down the Burrito Supreme and the taco, with equal parts fire and hot sauce. I normally eat fast food when I’m under the influence of something, but today I relish each bite in the hopes that it will help me better assess its value. It is a lot of food. When I’m done, I have instant lethargy. Not even the medium Dr. Pepper has enough caffeine to keep me from wanting to nap. I am totally stuffed, but I don’t feel very good about myself.
Two hours later, I’m evacuating my bowels in my Mom’s guest bathroom. Three hours later, and everything is back to normal. And I’m even a little hungry.
Presentation: 0/3 – Where was my box?
Satisfaction: 2/3 – I love burritos and tacos, but I doubt I’ll ever order a Gordita again. The Dr. Pepper was satisfactory.
Value: 3/3 – More bang for your buck and you can prove it with math.
T + 3 hours: 1/3 – I have to acknowledge that it totally wrecked my insides, but I honestly knew what was coming as soon as I saw the Doritos Locos taco shell.
T-Bell’s Northern Border-Southern fried brother, KFC