How convenient that this time of year Taco Bell is featuring its lighter fat, lighter calorie "Fresco" menu. Yes, this is the same franchise that also promotes eating four meals a day and stuffing your stomach for 99 cents (both of which we Lunch Guys fully support).
So what happens when we Fresco-ize the Zesty Chicken Border Bowl, replacing the cheese and sauce with salsa to lower it to an advertised 350 calories and 8 grams of fat? Is it too light and lean?
Chris: Did I used to like the Fresco style? Our longtime readers (Hi, Mom and Dad!) will remember that in a review from quite a while ago, we thought adding the fresh salsa invigorated some of the basic Taco Bell menu offerings with a flavor kick. That may be true of the bean burrito, but not so with the Border Bowl.
Really, it’s a cryin’ shame to make this Fresco. It takes away everything that stands out about this bowl — the three different shredded cheeses, the red tortilla strips of crunch and color, the special "Zesty" dressing.
The bowl was, frankly, pitiful when it wasn’t gussied up. It’s only about the size of a chihuahua’s bowler hat. Filled to less than the brim with off-white chicken chunks, off-green lettuce shreds and off-red tomato bits, the thing reminded me of what salad bars must be like in prison.
Thank the maker for the dollop of rice and beans at the bottom to somewhat fill my stomach. Otherwise I would have had to hit the office vending machine much sooner than 3:30 p.m., when I scarfed down a supplemental granola bar.
Next time, I’ll get the cheese and dressing — maybe extra of each — even if it will go right to my hips.
Tom: I completely disagree. Fresco is the way to go. This item is muy authentico! On taste alone, the Fresco Border Bowl — a light Mexi-chicken salad with some rice and beans on the bottom, rises above normal Taco Bell fare because you can taste the individual ingredients.
I thought the chunks of chicken had flavor and moisture and the small-grain brown rice and refried beans could hold their own at most Mexican restaurants. Sure, the lettuce is simply shreds of iceberg and there’s not too much chicken, but what’s so wrong with that?
The important thing here, though, is that this item is actually really healthy.
Chris, when you look at the health numbers, the Fresco Border Bowl gets only 20 percent of its calories from fat, yet it’s packed with carbohydrates and protein.
This is the item a Lunch Guy would eat before running a marathon (if a Lunch Guy ever would contemplate such a thing).
I know you aren’t swayed by arguments like that, and Chris, maybe you were thrown off by needing to use a fork at Taco Bell. But this is the gem on the menu.
Chris: Tom, I think the Colorado altitude is affecting your taste buds. Like I said, other items do OK Fresco-ized. But this bowl is about the worst thing to skimp on. And for $3.29, it’s one of the worst deals on the menu — like one 7-Layer Burrito, sans tortilla. I was so desperate, I almost ate the plastic bowl.
Tom: Chris, with a couple packets of hot sauce and a little Zesty Sauce (mine came on the side), I’ll have one of these weekly.
It’s not exactly a bargain but Chris, you can’t put a price on your health. Never thought I’d say that about Taco Bell.
Tom James and Chris Tauber are freelance writers.