Consumers can hanker for tacos with soft or hard shells, corn or flour tortillas, steak or fish, varied cheese types and numerous veggies. But what craveability factors truly make a taco that encourages return visits? (Hint: You don't have to be a Mexican restaurant to offer a craveable taco.)
Click through to find the 10 chains that recent customers say offer the most craveable tacos out of any of the leading chains surveyed for Technomic’s Consumer Brand Metrics data. The chains are ranked from 10th to first in order of the percentage of recent diners who say the tacos are craveworthy and one-of-a-kind. Fun fact: One delectable taco praised by consumers derives from a top burger chain.
10. Chipotle Mexican Grill
About 6% of recent consumers crave the tacos at Chipotle, which come in crispy and soft corn and soft flour varieties. Though no specific variety stands out as far as consumer mentions of most craveable taco at the fast-casual Mexican chain, many customers point to variety as the reason they find Chipotle’s tacos desirable. Specifically, one consumer notes the “different varieties of meat, guacamole and salsas,” and another mentions “tofu and the ability to choose my own add-ins” as craveable additions. Carnitas, barbacoa and sofritas (shredded tofu braised with chipotle chilies, roasted poblanos and spices) in particular receive high mentions as craveable protein options. One consumer even voices affection for the “special chicken spices,” which derive from a smoky, spicy chipotle pepper adobo sauce.
Add-ins like the cilantro-lime white and brown rice also receive notable mentions, as do the various sauces such as mild fresh tomato salsa, medium roasted chili-corn salsa, medium hot tomatillo-green chili salsa and hot tomatillo-red chili salsa.
9. Qdoba Mexican Eats
More than 8% of recent customers say they can’t get their Qdoba taco fix anywhere else. Consumers specifically point to the fast-casual Mexican chain’s Knockout Tacos as craveworthy, particularly the Triple Threat Taco, which features grilled steak, bacon, three-cheese queso, fajita veggies, pico de gallo and cotija cheese. Also receiving multiple mentions is the Drunken Yardbird Knockout Taco, featuring tequila-lime chicken, guacamole, salsa verde, cilantro, minced onion and cotija cheese, with one consumer saying he has even “tried to recreate it at home.”
The chain’s three-cheese queso and hand-mashed guacamole are noteworthy callouts as craveable taco add-ons (both available at no additional cost), as well as various salsas, specifically the roasted chili-corn salsa that one consumer notes she “can’t find anywhere else.”
8. On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina
More than a tenth of recent customers say the tacos at On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina are a craveable item they can only get at that brand. Many consumers point to the traditional casual-dining Mexican chain’s Southwest Chicken Taco—filled with mesquite-grilled chicken, creamy red chili sauce, cheddar cheese and fried onion strings wrapped in a flour tortilla—as craveworthy.
Other tacos at On The Border include one with chimichurri grilled shrimp, one with grilled whitefish, street-style mini tacos, fish tacos battered in Dos Equis beer and brisket tacos.
7. Mi Cocina
Over a tenth of recent customers find tacos craveworthy at Mi Cocina. The contemporary casual-dining Mexican chain offers “Mexican cuisine that tastes home made,” as one consumer states. Mama’s Tacos are a notable callout, as are Tacos “De Pescado,” which combine tilapia with Veracruz sauce and poblano on corn tortillas with Mexican coleslaw, sliced avocado salad and rice.
Many consumers also point to the chain’s spicy Sunset Sauce—which the chain is known for serving over enchiladas—as a craveable add-on over tacos. One consumer raves “Sunset Sauce over tacos...YUM!!!!! I am craving it again now since I started thinking about it again...soooo good!!” The ingredients in the sauce are unknown, but it’s described as having a cheesy yet spicy flavor.
6. Baja Fresh Mexican Grill
Tacos at Baja Fresh are a craveable item that just under a fifth of recent customers say they can only get there. Consumers praise the fast-casual Mexican joint as having “good tacos with high quality ingredients,” and where “pretty much everything on the menu is craveable.” Many customers list the Original Baja Tacos as craveable, with many pointing to protein mentions like shrimp, steak and pork carnitas.
The Line Caught Wahoo Taco is another specific callout among customers, which features grilled or fried wahoo (ono) fish topped with shredded cabbage, pico de gallo and avocado salsa to boot. The only other chain in the top 10 to feature ono on its menu is the No. 1 most craveable.
5. Jack in the Box
More than one in five recent customers crave the tacos at Jack in the Box. Though it’s known for burgers, the quick-service chain (the sole burger joint on the list of 10 most craveable chain tacos) offers standard tacos and three varieties of Monster Tacos. Surveyed customers mention both. The standard Monster Taco —described by Jack in the Box as “the taco that eats other tacos when it’s craving tacos"—has American cheese, taco sauce and lettuce. A number of consumers also point to the two for $1 deal on tacos as being craveable.
Perhaps surprising to some is that consumers rank Jack in the Box’s tacos as more craveable than its burgers (19.8%).
4. Taco John’s
Over a quarter of recent customers crave Taco John’s tacos and say they can’t get them anywhere else. Consumers specifically point to the Street Tacos (featuring shredded beef or chicken, lime sauce and Mexican cheese) and the Crispy Taco (with beef, cheese, lettuce and salsa in a crispy shell) as craveable items.
However, a number of consumers also mention Walking Tacos as craveable. No longer on Taco John’s menu, the limited-time item featured tortilla chips, meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato packed into a portable bag. Despite being very successful when it was available, then-CEO Jeff Linville said he wanted to keep it on a limited run so as not to unveil too many items at once making it difficult to execute. “We’re going to stay disciplined about this,” said Linville, pointing instead to a possible new menu launch in 2020.
Fun fact: Taco John’s trademarked the term Taco Tuesday—something one survey respondent specifically points to as craveworthy.
3. Taco Bell
Almost three in 10 recent customers say that Taco Bell serves up mouthwatering tacos they can’t get anywhere else. Consumers mention the Doritos Locos Tacos, which come in Nacho Cheese, Fiery and Cool Ranch varieties in both regular and Supreme versions, as craveworthy.
A number of respondents also point to Taco Bell’s prices as the facet that makes these tacos craveable. Some verbatims include, “reasonable price,” “value-priced tacos,” and “range of prices.”
2. Del Taco
Almost a third of recent customers hanker for Del Taco’s tacos and say they can’t find any like them elsewhere. Consumers of the quick-service Mexican chain rave most about the craveable Street Tacos. Made up of either grilled chicken or grilled carne asada, the Street Taco is topped with a slice of avocado, onions, cilantro and salsa.
Fish, shrimp, chicken and turkey tacos all receive mentions from respondents, proving that consumers visit Del Taco for a variety of their tacos. In fact, one consumer specifically calls out the “different kinds of tacos,” as being the craveable element at the chain.
Almost half of recent customers rate Rubio’s tacos as craveworthy, elevating these tacos to the top spot. The fast-casual Mexican chain is known for its array of Gulf Coast-inspired fish tacos, according to surveyed consumers. Notable mentions are the Original Fish Taco (made with beer-battered Alaskan pollock topped with salsa, cabbage and white sauce) and the Wild Mahi Mahi Taco (which has garlic, chipotle and cilantro). One respondent states, “I have not been able to find any other restaurant that makes the [tacos] like Rubio’s.”
Many consumers specifically point to the tacos at Rubio’s as being authentic and “real Mexican food,” something Rubio’s asserts on its marketing and promo materials.