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Published: Thursday, 7/31/2008

Restaurant review: Del Taco **

Most Toledoans likely remember Krispy Kreme, the national chain that served delectable glazed doughnuts on Secor Road in the Westgate area from 2003 until financial problems forced its closing in 2006.

But does anyone recall G.D. Ritzy s Restaurant, which flourished for a short time in the mid-1980s? How about Top Hat burgers in the late 80s? T. J. Cinnamon s Bakery & Yogurt in the early 90s? Or Frisco s Delicatessen in the mid- 90s?

These were chains that set up shop in the same Secor Road building that Krispy Kreme occupied. They, too, hoped to settle in for the long run, only to fold amid the thriving shopping area that surrounded them.

Now comes Del Taco, a national Tex-Mex chain that seeks to break the spell.

A fast-food operation that opened last March on the same Secor Road plot, the taco-burrito-burger eatery certainly has its work cut out. Not only is metro Toledo teeming with popular local Mexican cantinas, but Del Taco is bumping up against Taco Bell, which easily withstood previous challenges from the likes of Kokopelli and Sol Caliente, two fast-food Tex-Mex chains that seemed to close in less time than it takes to say Vamos!

With 500 U.S. outlets, the 44-year-old Del Taco calls itself the country s second largest Mexican restaurant chain, the first obviously being Taco Bell, which claims more than 5,800 restaurants and franchises.

The food at both places is similar fair to middling, inexpensive, and quickly prepared. The menu differences at Del Taco include several breakfast dishes such as egg and cheese burritos and bacon and egg quesadillas, along with a choice of three cheeseburgers and crinkle-cut fries.

As with so many fast-food restaurants, orders at Del Taco are placed and paid for at the counter where, more likely than not, the order-taker will ask, What meal would you like to try today? in hopes of getting you to spring for one of a dozen somewhat more expensive combo meals among the tacos, burritos, nachos, salads, and shakes.

On our visits, we found the double Del cheeseburger to be good for the price ($2.59), though ordering it medium-rare seemed laughable in retrospect the patties are too thin for such cooked-to-order nonsense. The beef tacos ($0.69-$1.99), hard or soft, aren t bad, and the 99-cent soft chicken taco with mole sauce had a nice tang.

The first fish taco I ever tried was in Mexico, and it was awful two or three pinches of minced fish so Del Taco s $1.79 crispy fish taco was a feast in comparison, with a small fillet seasoned with salsa over shredded cabbage, cream sauce, and lime. I wanted to try the shrimp taco but was told it s been discontinued.

Among a baker s dozen of burritos, the one-pound macho combo ($3.99) offered up beef and the restaurant s much-touted slow-cooked beans in a soft taco, which was filling enough. But the too-finely ground beef, mixed with beans that are mashed in the manner of refried, robbed the burrito of texture and all-important mouth-feel.

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com



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