Taco technology

In his latest Backfence column, James Lileks notes that Old El Paso has unveiled a new taco shell with a flat bottom, so that it stands up by itself while you fill it. Lileks has mixed feelings about this innovation. I do too, but for different reasons — it doesn’t seem necessary to me, because this particular problem is already solved by various sorts of taco holders or racks. But I might give the new shells a try.
As impressive as flat-bottomed taco shells are, I don’t think they are the most significant recent advance in taco technology. That honor belongs to Taco Bell‘s ingenious design for its Double Decker Taco, which addresses the fatal flaw of all conventional taco shells: they are brittle, and tend to fracture under stress. Frequently, the shell just cracks in two along the bottom, allowing the taco juice to drip down your shirt. Or (even worse) the shell shatters into multiple fragments, raining ground beef, shredded cheese, and lettuce all over you. The so-called “soft taco” (made with a flexible flour tortilla instead of a hard corn-tortilla shell) may have been intended as a solution to this problem, but I reject it out of hand. If I wanted my fillings wrapped in a flour tortilla, I would have ordered a burrito! No, a taco must have a hard shell, but it shouldn’t disintegrate when you bite it.
The Double Decker Taco solves the problem by using both kinds of tortillas. The corn-tortilla shell is enclosed in a flour tortilla, with a layer of refried beans in between. The shell gives the taco rigidity, while the flour tortilla holds the taco together and prevents leaks even if the shell cracks. Brilliant! It’s too bad there’s no Nobel Prize for fast food design; the taco engineer who achieved this breakthrough would certainly have won it.
While I’m on the subject of Taco Bell, I’ve been meaning to post a link to ChiliCheese.org, a Web site dedicated to saving the Chili Cheese Burrito (formerly known as the Chilito) from extinction. Apparently, some Taco Bells have dropped it from their menus, so it can be hard to find. At ChiliCheese.org you can sign a petition, order ChiliCheese.org merchandise, or use the Chili Cheese Locator to find a Taco Bell near you that offers the CCB. (Lileks alludes to this site at the very end of his column, where he refers to himself as SavetheChilito.)