6 Taco Chains Chefs Actually Eat At

Unsurprisingly, many chefs are picky about what they eat. Others, however, are just like us: unafraid to indulge in the simple pleasures every now and then. It may or may not surprise you then to find out that taco chain drive-thrus and walk-up counters are actually beloved by many chefs.

Chefs see the world of prepared food differently than we civilians gazing up at the backlit order board. They're experts in the process, the ingredients, and the steps an establishment takes to ensure freshness and optimal flavor. So, learning about an expert's culinary happy place — and what makes it so — can give you the feeling that you're getting the scoop from someone who knows their foodstuff. Call it insider info.

Also, chefs often have a good take on the value of a meal — not just how it's prepared, but how much money goes into it compared to what we pay. Through that lens, if a chef is a fan, it's likely a good spend of your food coin. Or it all just may come down to the fact that no matter who you are, some cravings can only be satisfied by a taco chain taco. From taco behemoths to small establishments, from fast-casual to West Coast-based to Mexico-rooted, the culinary world is filled with taco chains. And they give these chefs a lot to love.

Chef Tim Hollingsworth loves Taco Bell

LA-based, James Beard Award-winning chef Tim Hollingsworth is a fan of Taco Bell, as he revealed in an exclusive interview with Mashed. Going there is a nostalgic treat for him, taking him back to his childhood in the Houston, Texas, area.

A creature of habit, Hollingsworth notes that he always starts with Nachos Bell Grande, an oval plastic boat filled with corn chips, taco meat, tomatoes, and melted cheese, topped with sour cream. He then moves on to two Tacos Supreme, basically all the ingredients from the nachos, in crispy taco form. For the kid in him, the chef always has to end with Taco Bell's crunchy Cinnamon Twists (note the plural).

As a chef, Hollingsworth is known for modern American cuisine. But even with the high-minded dishes you'll find at his restaurant, Otium, the Taco Bell connection doesn't end in the drive-through parking lot. Hollingsworth is the co-founder of the pop-up concept Chain (along with actor and foodie B.J. Novak). Chain is dedicated to putting together chef-level recreations of kitschy, comfort, or fast-food dishes people know and love. Unsurprisingly, one of Hollingsworth's Chain creations is inspired by, yep, you guessed it — Taco Bell. Using ingredients like wagyu beef and house-made sauces to replace taco meats and foil packets, he's known to sling an inspired take on the Crunchwrap Supreme.

Chef Kevin Templeton is a Del Taco fan

Not only does chef Kevin Templeton oversee barleymash, one of San Diego's destination fine-dining restaurants, but he has also been featured on Food Network's "Beat Bobby Flay," and came out as champion on "Chopped!" However, his chef creds don't prevent him from enjoying a quick drive-through meal.

Templeton has championed the virtues of Del Taco as his taco chain of choice. When ordering, he'll go old-school with a plain quesadilla — he likes the soft flour tortillas and fresh-grated cheddar — and he'll also add one or two signature Del Tacos to his order. The original Del Taco is a classic American-style meal with fresh ground beef, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and a crunchy or soft shell choice.

Regardless of which you choose, Templeton sees both of these Del Taco staples as perfect vehicles for the chain's popular hot sauce, Del Scorcho. Blended with hot chilis, tomatoes, and a proprietary blend of savory spices, Del Scorcho has a loyal following. Patrons are known to hoard packets, keeping backups in the fridge. As for chef Kevin Templeton, the Del Scorcho hot sauce may be the best hot sauce to ever come in a packet.

Seattle's Taco Time has a fan in chef Maximillian Petty

Maximillian Petty, head chef at the popular fine-dining restaurant Eden Hill in Seattle, has a fast-food taco weakness. Fortunately, Petty, who has been named to the shortlist for James Beard's "Rising Star Chef" award and has also been on Zagat's "30 Under 30" list, has taste. According to the Seattle Times, before reaching local celebrity chef status, chef Petty had a different, less glorious job as a drive-thru concierge at regional taco chain Taco Time. (Petty was sure to tell the Times that the title was a self-bestowed one and not something the chain hoists upon every drive-thru worker.)

Taco Time has a broader menu selection than many of its taco convenience competitors. Perhaps in a nod to its Pacific Northwest roots, it offers several different fish taco and shrimp taco options, plus vegetarian and even vegan options. Informal polling reveals that its coffee even gets approving nods from notoriously coffee-picky locals.

Though his time working the drive-thru is over, chef Maximillian told the Seattle Times his craving persists, and he crushes on the chain's Mexi-Fries. Think crunchy outside, soft inside, gently spiced tater tots. Chef Petty's go-to Taco Time order: one or two crunchy beef tacos with fresh-grated lettuce and a signature slice of ripe tomato, and an order of Mexi-Fries. This is where his chef expertise comes in: he folds the Mexi-Fries right into his tacos. "It's all-around magic," he said, "and I am not ashamed."

Vegan chef Chris Tucker is a Chronic Taco guy

With over 60 locations in pockets of the west coast, Pacific northwest, Hawaii, and the southeast, Chronic Tacos has been serving up California-style Mexican fast food for more than a decade. Chronic Tacos might not be the first place you'd think a pioneering vegan chef would love, yet chef Chris Tucker is a fan. 

Tucker's career catapulted after a successful run on Season 4 of "The Great American Baking Show." That experience focused him more than ever on vegan cooking, with an emphasis on baking. Chef Chris' LA-based baking company, Betta with Butta, provides creations for celebrities like Elton John and Steven Tyler.

So what does a vegan baker to the stars love about Chronic Tacos? Among the mission-style burritos, carnitas tacos, and mahi mahi on its menu, it also offers a vegan, plant-based chicken option. That's the option chef Tucker takes. Reportedly, he loves Chronic's plant-based tacos with extra salsa.

Chipotle is in the rotation for Danny Meyer

More restaurateur than chef, but known for innovative, top-notch dishes at some of New York's iconic eateries like Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern, New York-based Danny Meyer doesn't mince words when it comes to fast food chains. When asked once which chain he would choose between Burger King, McDonald's, or Wendy's, he told Business Insider: "I wouldn't." His choice, if given the ultimatum that his next two meals had to be fast food, were Popeye's and Chipotle.

Chipotle Mexican Grill has over three thousand locations in the United States, Europe, Kuwait, and the U.A.E; despite being better known for hefty modified mission-style burritos, Chipotle hangs its hat on always-fresh ingredients prepared in-store, and that makes it an innovator in the world of taco chains. 

If you've not had a Chipotle taco, orders here come in threes, with a choice of either crispy corn or soft flour tortillas. Protein selections include chicken, steak, al pastor, and veggie options, topped as always with your choice of lettuce, cheese, beans, salsas, and rice. Perhaps it's a respect for Chipotle's processes and business strategies that make Mr. Meyer a fan. Either way, Meye has made recent news by looking to compete directly with Chipotle via investment in the NY-based taco chain Tacombi.

Chef Colin Smith loves customizing tacos at El Pollo Loco

Tacos are famous for their flexibility; it's one of their enduring charms. And, as he told Thrillist, that's what chef Colin Smith of Reno's Roundabout Grill loves about the tacos at El Pollo Loco. Chef Smith, also an alum of Food Network's "Beat Bobby Flay," owns and manages several restaurants in Reno, including a "gym rat" food program that supports local schools.

With over 450 stores, mostly in the western U.S., El Pollo Loco focuses on grilled, lime-marinated chicken dishes. One look at its menu shows a focus on combo plates, much like you'd traditionally find in the taquerias of Mexico. The plates commonly consist of grilled chicken, burracho or refried beans, rice, and a side.

It's these combo plates where chef Smith turns his attention. His reported go-to order is the three-piece chicken meal El Pollo Loco offers, to which he'll add a side of coleslaw. Tortillas come with all plates, another nod to Mexico's taqueria tradition, and Smith has been known to add the restaurant's spiced avocado salsa into the mix. Smith summed up his fandom of El Pollo Loco's chicken plate as being "easy and delicious."

Static Media owns and operates Mashed and Tasting Table.