No doubt there will be some rejoicing in the Near South neighborhood in the coming days, as D’Leon’s “Taco Rico” location on 12th and South finally opened yesterday. Walking in there for lunch earlier, the two main questions I had in mind were:
1) What exactly IS the difference between a D’Leon’s “Taco Rico” location and a “regular” D’Leon’s?
2) Given the fact that Lina’s - another rather good fast food Mexican place is just down the street, would this new D’Leon’s location be good enough to prompt me to stop visiting Lina’s?
On the first question, the answer seems to be that there is no significant difference between a “Taco Rico” and a “regular” D’Leon’s, at least that I was able to discern. I have yet to visit the other “Taco Rico” on 48th, but I have been to the D’Leon’s on 27th many times, as well as the location down by Lincoln Southwest and of course the original drive-through on West O.
It didn’t seem to me that there were different menu items or prices at this new “Taco Rico”. The new location offers the same assortment of combination platters ($6-$7), tortas ($3-$4), breakfast burritos ($3-$4), and assorted side items, stand alone dishes, and Mexican drinks. I ordered my standard chicken taco combination plate ($6.45) – which I often order as an overall gauge of the quality of Mexican fast food.
This leads me to the second question: Is this new D’Leon’s significantly better than Lina’s? Should I stop driving the extra minute or two over to Lina’s in favor of this new fast food Mexican location? The answer – I have concluded – is probably not.
Don’t get me wrong here. I am a fan of D’Leon’s, but since Lincoln has so many more choices when it comes to fast food Mexican nowadays, it is no longer the only game in town by a long shot. As much as I like Super Taco and Mi Guadalajara, Lina’s is my main point of reference for Lincon-based Mexican fast food because I go there quite often due to its proximity to Near South (of course there is also El Chaparro but that is a step above the fast food joints). With Lina’s being the basis for my criteria, I’d have to say that it still ranks slightly better than D’Leon’s in my opinion.
The chicken tacos I ordered were basically the same as those at other D’Leon’s locations: Deep fried corn tortillas, semi-spicy chunks of well-cooked white and dark meat, some yellow American or Cheddar cheese, and of course - a huge mound of fresh lettuce on top of them (to signal its non-authenticity). These tacos are good, but a little on the bland side compared to those at Lina’s. The chicken was pretty typical of fast food tacos - with enough spice to cover up the fact that its pretty standard fast food taco chicken (as opposed to the superior grilled chicken tacos you find at nicer places). Also, if quantity is a criteria - the tacos seemed to be slightly smaller than the ones at Lina’s.
The D’Leon’s combo plate also came with the standard rice and bean sides. I use the word “standard” because I can’t think of a better adjective to describe the rice and beans at the D’Leon’s restaurants. They are consistently standard: certainly not bad, but nothing to write home about. I’ve often felt that many patrons of these fast food Mexican places tend to take the rice and beans for granted, or don’t have high expectations for them. After all, there isn’t a whole lot one can do to jazz up some Mexican beans or rice, and its not as if one expects anything worthy of the food channel at a fast food place.
BUT, a good side of fast food rice and beans can make a combo plate a bit more memorable. The rice and beans at D’Leon’s aren’t at that level unfortunately (I would argue that Mi Guadalajara has rice and beans that are a bit better than other fast food Mexican places in town). The D’Leon’s beans were a bit salty, which I dislike, but they did have a somewhat watery consistency, which I do like. The rice was pretty basic with the typical seasonings, salt being the primary one. And like the other D’Leon’s, the combo meals all comes on a paper plate with plastic utensils. It’s a pretty no frills place.
A few noticeable items: First, there are no complimentary chips at this D’Leon’s location. Nor is there a salsa bar - although I did notice that there was a sign saying that there would be one soon. Instead, you just get a bottle of salsa on the tray with your food. Also, there were no free pickled veggies either. These are all things that Lina’s does have, which gives it a point up in my book. Secondly, when you order at the counter, you have a clear view of the kitchen area and can see the cooks back there making the food, which is always a positive sign. It looked to me like a very clean cooking area.
To conclude, I realize that everyone is loyal to their own Mexican restaurant in town. For me, Lina’s is the place to beat in terms of Americanized-Mexican fast food. It is slightly better than D’Leon’s, and there are a few extra perks available there. So let me be clear again that Lina’s is my frame of reference for putting my thoughts about this new D’Leon’s down in writing, and I still think Lina's is a hair better than D'Leon's.
Having said that, I find the new D’Leon’s “Taco Rico” to be a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Sure, its not gourmet food by a long shot, but if you want to eat a lot of decent fast food Mexican at a reasonable price, it’s a great option. It should do very well in this new location as well. One thing is for sure, now that we have this D’Leon’s at 12th and South, area residents have absolutely no excuse to eat at the Taco John’s a stone’s throw away (or at the nearby Amigos).
Not that I actively dislike Taco John’s, but I can’t see how that sort of industrialized Mexican fast food can hold up against a Lincoln classic like D’Leon’s.