What was your teenage hangout? The local mall? Mr. Gatti’s? I worked at a Ponderosa Steakhouse in Clarksville, and mine was a Taco Tico restaurant, which was just across the street.
I hung out there with friends for hours and ate taco after taco (meat and cheese only in those days) and got to know the employees. It seemed like we were going there several nights a week for years and years, even though it couldn’t have been more than a couple. I remember a promotion called the Macho Taco (a bigger shell with double the meat) and playing “Twisting by the Pool” by Dire Straits on the jukebox.
Of course, Taco Bell would come along, ultimately, just down the street from my beloved Taco Tico. Business fell off, and, at some point, Taco Tico closed. For a long time, I refused to darken the door at The Bell. My loyalty remained for as long as I could hold out.
These days, there are precious few locations left of my old friend, which originally launched in the early 1960s in Wichita, Kansas, coming to Kentucky in the 1970s. These days, the only Kentucky locations are in Lexington and Louisville, the latter being in Pleasure Ridge Park on Terry Lane. It’s about a 20-minute drive from my house, which is why I’d never been, until recently.
When I walked into the place, which is in a small strip mall building along with a Little Caesars, the aromas immediately sparked memories. I may have drooled… I can’t remember. I was happy to see the menu has many of the items I remember eating back in the day: crunchy tacos (of course), chili burritos and taco burgers.
That’s right, taco burgers. If you’ve never had one, it’s really just what it sounds like: taco ingredients on a bun instead of in a shell. Unique and bizarre.
I got one of each, along with a large soda (part of the memory), and, in a few minutes, my number was called. I took my food to my table and the clock rolled back.
I started with the taco (I left the lettuce and tomato on it, because I’m an adult now), which I had ordered with house hot sauce, and with the first bite, the flavor didn’t match what I remembered. I read beforehand that the recipes are the originals, but who knows how the ingredients may have changed over the years, not to mention how my taste buds have evolved.
But then I took a second bite and then a third bite, and my brain seemed to build a bridge to where it wanted to go. The sauce certainly was familiar, as was the crisp, white corn shell. Certainly, the meat seemed to have the same consistency and texture. It worked well enough for my memory to feel satisfied.
Then, I unwrapped the taco burger, which back in the day was a favorite for my friend Greg. For the uninitiated, a taco burger presents itself as a sort of Mexican sloppy Joe, with sauce, lettuce, tomato and shredded cheese atop taco meat. It was as messy as I recalled, with chunks of meat oozing out with each bite and landing in the wrapper below.
It was certainly reminiscent, but if I ever get another one, I’ll ask for extra hot sauce — it needed a jolt of flavor, possibly missing something by taking away the salty corn shell.
Finally, the chili burrito didn’t look like I remembered it. The chili was extremely thick, whereas I remember a thinner chili that provided just a coating over the burrito. This chili was so thick that it almost came across as meat paste. That said, one bite took me back — the flavor was perhaps the closest part of my meal to what I remembered.
Of course, if you thought the idea of a taco burger was odd, imagine meat, beans and cheese wrapped in a soft tortilla, then smothered with more meat, beans and cheese. It was intense, to say the least, and I couldn’t finish it — that was a lot of density and meat. Sadly, I didn’t have room to finish off my meal with an order of Crustos, the signature cinnamon Taco Tico dessert item.
All in all, I’m glad I went, and I hope to find time to go back again at some point in the not-too-distant future.
It’s true that you can’t go back in time, even with a DeLorean, but there was one specific aspect of my Taco Tico trip that was true to those days gone by: the burps that came afterward.