Giant Pork Burrito Chain Challenge: Taco Del Mar

I'll bet you thought I forgot all about this, didn't ya?  HA!  Actually, I just lost interest for a while.  Anyway, let's move on!

Once again, here are the rules: I will only be reviewing pork burritos because, well, it's me. Also, it saves me from having to take places like Taco Time and Taco Bell into consideration. I will not be purchasing any premium add-ons; if it isn't available as a standard choice, I ain't getting it. I'll only be reviewing burritos from fast food chains, because bringing restaurants and taco trucks into it just casts too wide a net. And because this is a series about a specific food item from fast food chain eateries, I won't be using my standard rating system for the atmosphere, service and so on (though I may mention those things in passing). Also, keep in mind that I'm rating this stuff for what it is, not measured against authentic Mexican food or restaurants, so an A+ doesn't mean it's the best food ever. And now...

Taco Del Mar has had a sketchy relationship with the Boise market.  I first heard of them a few years back when they were sponsoring the Idaho Steelheads.  They were also blowing up all over the Valley at that point, with new restaurants seemingly popping up every few months.  My family went to Taco Del Mar fairly often back then, because the food was decent and the prices were reasonable, and they were basically everywhere.

Then things began to change.  A location closed its doors, followed by another and then more.  You stopped seeing commercials.  I didn't much care because I was firmly entrenched in my taco truck phase by then, and that's where I was going when I wanted Mexican.  Chronic Tacos came and went, Chipotle finally came to town, and at this point there is no shortage of places to get a huge burrito.  Taco Del Mar seemed to be going the way of the dinosaur; too pricey and inconvenient (read: no drive-through) for the Taco Bell crowd, not enough snob cred to bring in the Chipotle fans.

With the dust finally settled, three Taco Del Mar locations remain and seem to be dug in pretty well: Gowen Road, McMillan Road in the Albertson's plaza, and on State Street and Horseshoe Bend Road in Eagle.  Until just recently I hadn't been to one in years because, to be honest, of my own snobby streak.  What Taco Del Mar does isn't really all that different from most of the burrito joints in town, and in some ways it's even a little better than the competition, but I think their marketing is their worst enemy.  The clean and casual environments of places like Baja Fresh and Chipotle speak more to family and general middle-class sensibilities, whereas the beach and surfing motif of Taco Del Mar speaks to...hell, I don't know.  Certainly not me though, it just reminds me that I'm in a cheesy chain eatery.  I mean their logo used to feature a fish wearing a sombrero and a mustache.  If you can get past that though, there is good to be had here.

Tortilla - Baja Fresh has recently added wheat tortillas to their menu and making a bit of a big deal about it, and certainly it's a rare thing amongst their competition.  Except at Taco Del Mar that is, where wheat tortillas have long been an option, along with tomato and (my personal favorite) spinach.  The same steam press preparation as pretty much everyone else, but they never seem to overdo it and reduce the tortilla to a doughy mess.  Grade: B

Filling - Taco Del Mar is another steam table assembly line joint.  To be honest, while there's nothing wrong with the available options, I'd say the meat tends to be of ever so slightly better quality at some of the other places in town...or maybe it's just that damn atmosphere again.  Then again you'll also save a buck or two here over most of the other joints.  Regardless, as I said there's nothing wrong here.  In fact, I have to give them credit for including jalapeños as an option on the assembly line, something the bigger kids in town don't do.  Which begs the question: if I can get jalapeños on my sandwich at Subway, why can't I get them on my burrito at Chipotle?  Their salsas are ridiculously simple as well;  tomatillo is mild, chipotle is medium, and habanero is hot.  There is also pico de gallo available, and a white sauce option designed for their seafood offerings.  Grade: A- for quality, B for customizability

Balance - Taco Del Mar has been putting together burritos for twenty years now, and it shows.  There is a definite emphasis on protein, but all the other ingredients get their time in the sun too.  You taste everything, nothing is pointless filler or overwhelmed by anything else.  Grade: A

Fine-tuning - This is the area where Taco Del Mar really suffers.  Not so much as a bottle of hot sauce is available at their end counter, just salt, pepper, napkins, straws and flatware.  Grade: F

Portability - This is an area where Taco Del Mar really shines.  They do the whole wrapped in foil for peeling and eating thing, but most of the time these guys pack it so tight you'd think the burritos were machine-wrapped.  Seriously, look at that picture up there again!   Grade: B+

When all's said and done, Taco Del Mar is kind of the middle ground of this style of food.  They may not be the best in town, but they're certainly not the worst (not by a long shot).  If you're not as bothered as I am by atmosphere you should have no problems, and if you are then hey, get it to go.  They usually do really cheap burrito specials on Wednesdays, and if you don't feel like swallowing one of their behemoth Mondo Burritos, the smaller-sized Mondito option might be more your speed.  Final Grade: B

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