There can be only one: Taco Inn vs. Amigos

January 24, 2005 at 12:35am By: Mr. T Posted in 625 Elm Street

There is a sizable presence of Mexican food here in Lincoln. Of course, we are no San Diego or Los Angeles – where there are mom and pop taco shops on every block which serve free nachos, salsa and hot vegetables. We are not yet that advanced. Still, we have two large chains – Taco Bell (i.e. Taco Hell), Taco John’s – and a number of higher-scale, family oriented, privately owned establishments. More recently, Chipotle has entered the Lincoln market, representing the latest craze in gourmet Mexican fast food similar to the Baja Fresh Grill concept.

Beyond Taco Bell and Taco John’s, which everyone is familiar with, Lincoln also has two local chains, Amigos and Taco Inn. Mexican fast food can be tricky. Nowadays everyone likes tacos and everyone likes to eat them quickly at bargain prices. Which of these two local chains is better? After having spent countless hours dining at both restaurants, I have come to the conclusion that Taco Inn is the superior establishment. Why? Lets take a look at each.

On the plus side, Amigos has somewhat large soft shell tacos, sort of similar in size to the kinds at the Pacific Northwest Taco Time chain. Also, Amigos has hot nacho cheese at its salsa bar. Those are the only two positives on the plus side of Amigos. The negative list is much longer.

First, the taco meat is both horribly salty and horribly bland. I’ve always thought it was impossible to make taco meat that is both salty and bland at the same time but I guess whoever developed Amigos recipes has managed to do it. Yes this is middle America and yes this isn’t really “Mexican food” but Americanized Mexican food, but the taco meat should at l

east attempt to have some spice in it (salt doesn’t count). The other thing that really bothers me about Amigos is that the “crisp” in their “crisp bean burritos” is puff pastry. I like bean burritos and I like puff pastry, but bean burritos made with puff pastry just doesn’t fly.

At Amigos you can also “dinnerize” an entrée which means you can get the entrée along with beans and rice at a bit higher price. Both the rice and beans are so bad at Amigos that they should be paying you NOT to eat them. Especially the rice. Its not fluffy or spicy, but instead heavy, moist and in clumps, and similar to the taco meat - just plain bland. Enough about Amigos – or should I say – Ami-blows. On to Taco Inn.

Almost everytime I have ventured out to Taco Inn, I have been satisfied. Like Amigos, they also have a salsa bar, but minus hot nacho cheese. However, the missing cheese is made up for the fact that Taco Inn’s salsa bar has black bean salsa. This black bean stuff is, I admit, a bit salty. You probably are not going to want to use it on the beef tacos, which have enough of a salt taste to it already although not nearly as much as Amigos (and you can actually taste the chili and other taco seasonings on the Taco Inn taco meat), but it goes great on the milder chicken tacos, which is one of Taco Inn’s strongest items.

A chicken taco can be a very tough sell. Everyone likes chicken tacos and to make a decent one at fast food prices, you’ve really got to do a good job. Taco Inn has achieved that mission. Their chicken tacos have an abundant amount of nice sized chunks of tasty chicken that haven’t been dried out. I highly recommend the chicken tacos and burritos. The only negative I can say about the chicken items at Taco Inn is that the chicken enchilada, although still tasty, is extremely small – a fact that the employees try to cover up – literally – by pouring a lot of lettuce and sauce over it.

As for non-chicken items, the strongest item at Taco Inn is the nachos. Again, nachos can be very tricky because everyone knows and likes nachos and expects them to be like they are used to eating. To make really memorable nachos you’ve got to knock it out of the park. Taco Inn’s deluxe nachos have done that.

First of all, you get a choice of corn chips or flour chips for your nachos. Both are excellent but the flour chips are especially tasty, and it is very nice to have a fast food Mexican place in town actually serve flour chips to begin with. With the deluxe nachos, you get the chips (I prefer flour), and then an abundant amount of taco meat, beans, cheese, tomatoes, white onions, peppers and black olives on top of them. And check this out: they actually put your nachos in the oven briefly to melt the cheese prior to putting on the rest of the items. After getting your nachos, head on over to the salsa bar to grab samples of the black bean salsa, original tomato, or super hot salsa verde. These nachos are, in some ways, Taco Inn’s “signature dish” and the most superior item on its menu.

Next time you have a craving for inexpensive Mexican fast food, think about visiting one of the two local chains here in Lincoln if you feel like passing up the ubiquitous Taco Bell. After extensively sampling the menus of both establishments over the past two years, the choice between Taco Inn and Amigos has become obvious to this critic: Taco Inn for the win!

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The Comments

Mr. Wilson January 24, 2005 at 4:38am

I have to agree: Taco Inn is superior. There is plenty of room for improvement, though. Neither Amigos nor Taco Inn comes even close to earning 5 stars in my book. Taco Inn is in the 3-star range, and Amigos is down in the 2-star range. And that’s even after adjusting for the fact that they are fast food restaurants.

I love the fact that Taco Inn offers flour chips, and I really appreciate their salsa verde. No other fast food joint in Lincoln offers those two things. Or at least not that I’m aware of.

If I had my druthers, I’d take a chain of Oso’s scattered throughout town. But until that happens, if I want local fast food Mexican, I’ll take Taco Inn 9 times out of 10.

Christopher January 24, 2005 at 5:50am

Ummm..

inexpensive Mexican food, and you say go to Taco Inn over Amigos?!?

If I wanted to eat dog poop that’s where I’d go (yes I remember the high school days and all the times I ate at Amigos…but taste buds have developed).

If in Lincoln and I want Mexican, I’d rather spend a couple extra bucks for good food at Oso Burrito.

(Heck, ever crawdaddies tacos are better than the poop Amigos and Taco Inn put out)

Mr. T January 24, 2005 at 9:21pm

Well yes, the Inn isn’t exactly comparable to Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill or anything, but I head on over there for nachos all the time when I only have a few bucks.

There is also a drive in, 24 hour, place on west O. I have noticed that they have fish tacos but have yet to try. I have yet to find a decent fish taco in town. Oso’s leaves me unsatisfied. I would think that some chain like Wahoo’s Fish Taco or Taco Del Mar might do well here, especially Wahoo’s.

The La Mexicana grocery store and deli (and pretty good restaurant too) I have noticed sells ceviche but only once or twice a week on select days. I might head on over there to pick some up. I wouldn’t want to try and make my own and end up with food poisoning.

Christopher January 25, 2005 at 6:12am

If Freebirds ever came up to Lincoln or Omaha I’d be in heaven.

Jamba Juice too.

Mr. Wilson January 25, 2005 at 4:34pm

Mmm…Freebirds. I could have Freebirds on Monday, Oso on Tuesday, and Chipotle on Wednesday. A couple more and I’d be set.

Zach January 10, 2006 at 3:14am

If you go to Taco Inn, you have to get the bean burritos.  They are the BEST!!! I can’t 4 or 5 everytime I go to Lincoln.

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