¿Taco? ¡Bueno!

Taco Bueno
The fare at Taco Bueno is a lot like Taco Bell’s, with similar faux Mexican dishes. Photo by Robin Garr.

Remember last year, when the return of the old Taco Tico chain brought traffic jams to Southwestern. Jefferson County as crowds of pilgrims trooped out Lower Hunters Trace in search of a nostalgic lunch?

We’re seeing something like that again this month as the iconic Taco Bueno chain arrives in the metro, luring lines of supplicants to form around its small new building in Jeffersonville.

The 40-year-old chain, based in Dallas, bears some resemblance to Taco Bell, although it’s only a smallish competitor, with about 170 properties against the Bell’s 6,000 stands. Still, local folks who know Bueno have been craving Bueno, and they’re turning out in big numbers.

The place has a definite fast-food look, but it seems a bit more upscale than the Bell, with bright desert colors of adobe and sand and deep Western sky blue. It’s a good-sized, free-standing eatery with comfortable leather-look banquettes, dark granite-look tables and sturdy metal chairs.

The bill of fare isn’t dissimilar to Taco Bell, with similar faux Mexican dishes, some bearing different names: The Bell’s Gordita becomes Bueno’s Muchaco, for instance; but you’ll find all your familiar tacos, burritos, quesadillas and such without need for translation.

In a considerable improvement over Taco Bell’s industrial-made salsas in plastic packets, Taco Bueno’s condiments bar offers freshly made salsas (original red and chunky), pico de gallo, chopped onions, sliced jalapeños from the jar and fresh lemon wedges. (The chunky salsa is quite good, piquant if not painfully fiery, with good tomato and red chile flavors.)

We sampled a Combo No. 5 ($5.69 for a muchacho, burrito and taco with a giant cola included) and a tamale platter ($5.69, with a refillable iced tea $1.39 extra), and for dessert a “2-pack” of cheesecake chimichangas ($1.99).

The taco was a decent Mexican-American hardshell model, very fresh and crisp, stuffed with finely ground beef laced with mild chile flavors, shredded iceberg lettuce and yellow cheese.

The muchacho, as noted, bears a close resemblance to the Bell’s Gordita, taco fixin’s folded into a round of something that bears a close resemblance to Wonder Bread.

The burrito was basic, a small flour tortilla wrapped around taco beef and cheese, leaking a bit of unappetizing reddish-orange oil.

The tamales seemed to be the real thing, three cigar-size rolls of masa flour stuffed with bits of long-cooked chicken white meat laced with chile seasoning, unfortunately sauced with a gloppy, yellow blanket of “cheez.” Mexican rice was decent, with good spicy flavors; refried beans were standard issue, and a small scoop of guacamole was smooth and bland. A ration of sliced iceberg lettuce is topped with a scoop of sour cream.

All in all, I’d declare it significantly superior to Taco Bell, although it passes my understanding why anyone would drive past so many excellent and authentic Mexican options to get to it. (In Indiana alone, I’m thinking of La Rosita, La Herradura, Puerto Vallarta and many more.)

Still, lunch for two was an eminently affordable $15.26, and there wasn’t a tip jar in sight.

Taco Bueno
2909 Highway 62
Jeffersonville, Ind.
(812) 284-4073
Robin Garr’s rating: 75 points