15 Popular Fast Food Tacos, Ranked Worst To Best

Is there any food as instantly mood-boosting and universally beloved as tacos? Since their invention in 19th century Mexico, tacos have become a cultural phenomenon popular for being convenient, inexpensive, and utterly delicious. People sport taco earrings, T-shirts, or purses and proudly celebrate Taco Tuesday. Tacos are essentially seasoned meat and toppings folded inside a tortilla but can be so much more. From marinated pork (al pastor) to pulled jackfruit, almost anything can go into them. It's easy to see why tacos spread across the globe to become a craveable worldwide favorite.

Tacos are quite simple, so if just one element is subpar, the overall quality suffers. Fried tortillas can get greasy, while uncooked tortillas get soggy or fall apart. You've got to get the ratios right, too. Too much filling and the taco won't hold together, but not enough filling is disappointing. Too much spice imbalances the flavor, while too little seasoning leaves it bland. The best tacos are all about balance and getting that superb combination of salty, spicy, savory, cool, and creamy flavors. 

Tacos have long been appreciated as a fast and cheap handheld food, so they're a natural fit as a fast food menu item. The number of fast food taco chains has exploded in recent years, and each has its own take on the endlessly versatile format. Today we break down the top taco offerings from fast food chains with more than 50 locations to see which one comes out on top.

15. Jack in the Box 2 tacos for 99 cents

Jack in the Box has had tacos on its menu since the 1950s. The Two Tacos for 99 cents contain the sparest of taco fillings: just meat, cheese, lettuce, and taco sauce. What kind of meat, you ask? Jack in the Box lists its taco filling ingredients as beef, chicken, textured vegetable protein, and defatted soy grits plus spices and flavoring. The resulting texture is a homogenous packet of meat that's been compared to cat food. Then there's the cheese. Jack in the Box uses slices of American cheese — aka pasteurized process cheese food — in these tacos rather than the more traditional shredded cheddar or crumbly queso fresco. The result is an oily, often soggy taco that no one would claims is fresh, authentic, or high-quality.

Jack in the Box tacos are widely regarded as terrible, and yet they have a certain inexplicable trash-tastic appeal. The chain serves up 554 million of these tacos per year, which means people eagerly gobble up about 1,055 Jack in the Box tacos per minute. Clearly, there's something to these cheap, greasy, so-bad-they're-good tacos.

14. Chronic Tacos Potato Tacos

Relative newcomers to the fast food taco scene, Chronic Tacos founders Daniel Biello and Randy Wyne were influenced by their Southern California roots and drew inspiration from the region's ubiquitous taquerias. They opened the first location in California in 2002, and since then, Chronic Tacos has expanded to more than 60 locations across the U.S., Canada, and Japan.

Chronic Tacos' vegetarian-friendly potato taco is a customer favorite. It consists of a fried corn tortilla filled with mashed potatoes and cheese, topped with lettuce, pico de gallo, and sour cream. If you're confident in your ability to build the perfect taco and you enjoy having your food just the way you like it, Chronic Tacos fits the bill. Fans appreciate the variety of options available and how customizable the menu is. If you prefer tacos with a spicy kick, though, this one may not be for you — critics complain that the salsa lacks bite and the flavors overall are a bit bland.

13. Taco John's Fried Chicken Taco

Taco John's was started in 1969 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Taco John's claim to fame is the somewhat disputed assertion that it invented Taco Tuesdays back in 1982. What's not in dispute is the chain's popularity: it's closing in on 400 restaurants in 23 states throughout the U.S. Although it's not the top-ranked taco on this list, Taco John's Fried Chicken Taco does deliver a delightful if less-than-healthy midwestern spin on the genre.

Think about it: fried chicken plus a taco. What's not to like? Two fast food standbys come together for a guilty pleasure that disregards any rules of health consciousness or restraint. Think of this taco as an American-Mexican fusion. A soft flour tortilla is stuffed with crispy fried chicken tenders topped with lettuce, shredded cheddar cheese, and a choice of chipotle lime or spicy jalapeño ranch sauce. Order it with a side of the chain's immensely popular Potato Olés. It's certainly not an authentic Mexican taco, but that's alright. It's not the absolute best taco out there, but the fried chicken taco at Taco John's has its own unique appeal. It's not stellar, but it's not half bad.

12. Taco Time NW Fish Baja Taco

Taco Time NW opened back in 1962 in the Puget Sound region, and is not to be confused with Taco Time, the chain owned by Kahala Corporation. Taco Time NW exists only in the western part of Washington state. (Still confused? Look for the Taco Time without the sun in it logo.) Naming disputes aside, Taco Time NW holds a special place in the hearts of Puget Sound residents because of its quick service, affordable prices, and fresh house-made ingredients.

Taco Time's style tends toward an Americanized version of Baja cuisine, and the Fish Baja Taco is an excellent example of Taco Time's spin on tacos. It starts with doubled-up white corn tortillas, filled with battered and fried Alaskan cod, topped with a cabbage slaw sort of vegetable mix, and finished off with a cilantro-lime white sauce and mild salsa. This one can use a little more spice, so it's great with additional hot sauce or habanero salsa. Like most fast food tacos, it's not exactly authentic Mexican food, but it is authentically delicious. It's solidly middle of the pack when it comes to fast food tacos. 

11. Moe's Southwest Grill Sirloin Steak Taco

Moe's Southwest Grill was founded in 2000 in Atlanta and today has a whopping 629 locations across the U.S. Fans adore Moe's signature queso and use it as a dipping sauce for nearly every menu item. When it comes to the taco itself, the sirloin steak is a standout protein option, but Moe's takes the DIY approach to building your own tacos so the quality of the taco is largely up to you. Everything on the menu is made to order with your choice of protein, crispy corn or soft flour tortilla, and a plethora of available toppings such as beans, rice, cheese, pico de gallo, corn salsa, fresh or pickled jalapenos, and even some questionable options like cucumber and black olives. You can also add guacamole, queso, or even bacon for an upcharge. 

With so many options, you have the freedom to potentially create something wonderful. Of course, there's also a chance you'll create a taco abomination, but you'd really only have yourself to blame. Moe's is the choose-your-own-adventure of taco joints. Since results will vary wildly depending on your unique taco build, Moe's comes can only be ranked so high. Tacos here are not exactly a guaranteed home run.

10. Baja Fresh Crispy Wahoo Taco

Baja Fresh has been open since 1990 and focuses on minimally-processed ingredients and fresh flavors. True to its name, the chain draws inspiration from the coastal Baja California region of Mexico, where the cuisine relies heavily on seafood mixed with bold fruit and bright citrus flavors.

Fast food seafood always feels like a bit of a gamble, but Baja Fresh's commitment to quality ingredients is the reason the Crispy Wahoo Taco stands out. It combines with battered fried wahoo fish filets wrapped in soft corn tortillas, topped with cabbage, pico de Gallo, and salsa. Besides being notable for its lighter options, Baja Fresh is also known for its salsa bar, which offers diners a choice of Chile, Baja, Pico de Gallo, Mango, Molcajete, or Verde salsas to top its tacos. It's not the perfect taco, but it does get a boost in its ranking since it's a slightly less guilty indulgence. But like most healthy alternatives, it isn't quite as tasty.

9. Del Taco Grilled Chicken Taco

One of the veterans in the world of fast food tacos, Del Taco has been around since 1964. Most of its 600 locations stay open 24 hours a day, which endears it to the late-night crowd. Del Taco is the go-to when you have an all-night study session, late shift at work, overnight road trip, or any other reason you might need tacos in the middle of the night.

Del Taco's Grilled Chicken Taco has marinated grilled chicken inside a soft flour tortilla topped with shredded cheddar and lettuce, and fresh house-grated cheddar cheese. It's topped with Del Taco's savory secret sauce which is a creamy mayo-type condiment that compliments the juicy chicken really nicely. The chicken is marinated so the seasonings permeate the meat, which makes the grilled chicken moist and flavorful. The biggest downside to this taco is it's possibly a little too soft. There's no crispy shell nor crispy meat to give the taco any of the satisfying crunch we usually look for in a taco.

8. Taco Bell Crunchy Taco Supreme

Taco Bell is the definite heavyweight in the fast food taco arena. It first opened in 1962 in California, and today Taco Bell operates 8,200 restaurants in more than 30 countries. It's widely recognized and probably the first fast food taco that comes to mind. Its menu is frequently filled with questionable items, like a taco shell made out of Doritos, or one made out of a fried chicken fillet. Comedian Stephen Colbert skewered the chain after a 2011 lawsuit that alleged Taco Bell's beef taco filling doesn't qualify as beef. The lawsuit was later withdrawn, but nobody actually cares if Taco Bell isn't healthy or even if the menu is slightly deranged — that's why we love it and can't stop eating it.

Taco Bell's Crunchy Taco is its original taco, and it's a widespread classic for a reason. Sure, there's nothing groundbreaking here — it's just ground beef, cheese, and lettuce in a crisp corn tortilla — but sometimes simple just works, and it definitely works for tacos. Add tomatoes and sour cream to make it a Crunchy Taco Supreme, and the whole thing is a tasty mix of salty, creamy, and crunchy. Top it with Taco Bell's habit-forming hot sauce packets and it's the messy, munchy taco dreams are made of. 

7. Taco Cabana Chorizo and Egg Breakfast Taco

The first Taco Cabana opened in San Antonio in 1978. Texas knows a thing or two about tacos, and Taco Cabana certainly takes Tex-Mex up a notch. The chain is beloved throughout the Southwest and is frequently open 24 hours a day, with its cheerful pink logo, open-air patios, and frozen margaritas beckoning diners around the clock.

If you believe tacos can and should be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, Taco Cabana's got you covered. Its breakfast menu is available all day and it's more robust than most, making it a top option for egg-stuffed breakfast tacos. The Taco Cabana Chorizo and Egg Breakfast Taco showcases the popular Mexican spiced sausage with fluffy scrambled eggs in a soft flour tortilla. You can customize it with the addition of cheese or queso and your choice of salsas. It's proof that any time is the right time for tacos.

6. Qdoba Street Style Chicken Tacos

The Colorado original Qdoba opened in Denver in 1995 under the name Zuma Fresh Mexican Grill before changing to its current moniker in 1999. Qdoba takes a somewhat elevated approach to its tacos. The chain opts for minimally processed ingredients, so Qdoba avoids MSG, artificial colors, and other additives. The menu is replete with vegetables, bright salsas, and simple toppings like fresh cilantro. There are traditional slow-food influences behind this fast food — think 12-hour smoked brisket, hand-shredded pork, and flame-grilled steaks.

Qdoba's Street-Style Chicken Tacos are no exception. These tacos start with grilled chicken on your choice of soft corn or flour tortillas, topped with guacamole and salsa verde. They're reminiscent of the small, snackable street tacos one might find from a food cart in Mexico, complete with cotija cheese and pickled red onions as final touches. The grilled chicken is juicy and smoky, which pairs beautifully with the fresh toppings, landing Qdoba Street-Style Chicken Tacos at a respectable spot in our ranking. This one is definitely worth checking out.

5. Chipotle Barbacoa Taco

Another Denver original, Chipotle, beat Qdoba to the punch by only two years when it opened in 1993. It quickly skyrocketed in popularity and has today grown to more than 3,000 locations. Chipotle wins big points with consumers for responsible sourcing and green initiatives including a commitment to ethically-sourced meats, company recycling efforts, and its preference for natural, often organic ingredients.

The Chipotle Barbacoa Taco layers braised shredded beef, salsa, cheese or sour cream, and lettuce into your choice of crispy corn or soft flour tortillas. The slow cooking process used in barbacoa turns tougher cuts of meat into meltingly tender, thoroughly seasoned shreds of bliss. Barbacoa is a king among taco meats, and Chipotle does it well. It's nearly as good as barbacoa you would get from a small, authentic taqueria. This earns the Chipotle Barbacoa Taco its place as one of the better fast food tacos out there.

4. El Pollo Loco Chicken Taco Al Carbon

Since it was founded in Sinaloa Mexico in 1975, El Pollo Loco certainly has an edge when it comes to authenticity. But that's not what sets this restaurant apart. While some taco chains excel with range, El Pollo Loco has chosen to do only one thing but do it well. As the name suggests, El Pollo Loco focuses mainly on chicken in its tacos — incredible chicken. It uses only fresh never frozen cuts, and each piece is marinaded in citrus and then fire-grilled to achieve a scrumptious char on unbelievably tender meat. 

According to the El Pollo Loco website, each piece of chicken takes 55 minutes to cook. That patience really pays off in the final product. El Pollo Loco's Chicken Taco Al Carbon lets the unadulterated flavor of its chicken shine through with minimal toppings of chopped onion and cilantro. The flame-kissed, smoky flavor of the chicken secures this taco's place among the very best.

3. Taco Bell Cheesy Gordita Crunch

Can't decide between a crunchy taco or a soft taco? You don't have to! The Taco Bell Cheesy Gordita Crunch has it all: the crunch of a fried tortilla shell combined with the pillowy softness of a gordita-style flatbread, all sandwiched together with gooey queso. It's filled with the standard Taco Bell beef filling, lettuce, and shredded cheddar cheese, and is topped with spicy ranch sauce. It's not one of Taco Bell's more outrageous creations nor is it a classic. Instead, it strikes a balance between traditional and unexpected.

Surprisingly, the queso and ranch don't dampen the crunch of the taco shells or overpower the seasoning in the meat. It's not as sloppy as you might think either; it actually holds together nicely as a portable handheld nosh. The tangy ranch cools down any spiciness with its creamy smoothness, and the whole thing is satisfyingly trashy. It checks all the boxes and then some.

2. Taco Cabana Shredded Chicken Taco with Soft Tortilla

Taco Cabana may be the leader in breakfast tacos, but it's a serious contender when it comes to lunch and dinner tacos, too. Taco Cabana makes salsas and sauces from scratch by hand and whip up a fresh batch of guacamole daily. Taco Cabana also prepares tortillas fresh in-house every day. Any die-hard taco aficionado knows that the quality of the tortillas can make or break the taco, and Taco Cabana's tortillas are absolutely top-notch.

For the Shredded Chicken Taco, Taco Cabana stuffs one of its exquisite tortillas with stewed chicken, shredded chicken lettuce, and tomato for an uncomplicated soft taco that's sheer perfection. The fresh tortilla doesn't get mushy beneath the succulent stewed chicken. It just cradles the meat and toppings in an easy vehicle for delivery to your mouth. This is exactly what you want in a taco, and Taco Cabana nails it.

1. Torchy's Tacos Green Chile Pork Taco

From taco-crazed Austin, Torchy's Tacos began as a food trailer in 2006 where it quickly gained a following. Torchy's is known for inventive fillings like the Tokyo Drifter, with teriyaki chicken, or the Brushfire, which has jerk chicken and mangos. Its bold, eccentric flavors have won it a legion of fans in Austin and beyond.

It's not the most inventive item on the menu, but its Green Chile Pork Taco reigns supreme regardless. Green chile pork stew is a legendary Southwest comfort food, and Torchy's reimagines it in taco form. It starts with a corn tortilla loaded with pork carnitas, quite possibly the best taco filling of all time. Then comes the addition of green chiles and cotija cheese. The whole thing is dressed fairly simply with cilantro, onions, lime, and tomatillo sauce. It's even better when ordered missionary style, with extra pickled onions, guacamole, and an additional flour tortilla around the crispy corn shell. The combination of soft and crispy taco shells plus the green chile pork form a little pocket of joy which easily rises to the top of the list.

Goliath taco chains be warned — Torchy's is coming for you.