Houston's Drive-Thru "Trash" Tacos, Ranked

30,000 calories later...
30,000 calories later... Photo by Gwendolyn Knapp
Ah, the drive-thru taco. Is there anything more satisfying when you have a craving for salty, high-caloric, trashy filler for your insatiable and very shameful fast-food desires? Okay, maybe just an entire pool filled with queso, but we aren't wealthy enough to get all Scrooge McDuck with liquid cheese over here. We're mainly just interested in where we can get a cheap drive-thru taco that doesn't suck and won't break the bank.

Last Saturday we hit up seven Houston taco drive-thrus (and one drive-in) to see how the city's "trash" tacos, those composed of ground beef or relatively comparable filler, stack up against each other. Thankfully, we had a few lackeys on hand that we could torture with a blind tasting.

Now, not every drive-thru in the greater Houston area was tested out. Plus, we absolutely had to stop at Gerardo's Drive-In, a magical place on Patton that, with just one woman working the food counter, is about ten times faster than any of the drive-thrus we went to.

Read on for the best soft and hardshell tacos we found in Houston. The overall champ is kind of a shock.

Soft Tacos

click to enlarge Avoid. Abort. Turn back now. - PHOTO BY GWENDOLYN KNAPP
Avoid. Abort. Turn back now.
Photo by Gwendolyn Knapp

Whataburger Chicken Fajita Taco

Rating: D

This is a lazy chicken fajita wrap. It's so lazy, in fact, it seems as if somebody just dumped some Tyson frozen chicken on a baking sheet with a few peppers and threw it in the oven for 20 minutes — the actual time it took to get this delivered to the vehicle at the Shepherd location, after we were asked to pull up into that special waiting area in the sun where car a/c systems go to die. For taking such a long time, and having an astronomical cost (two were $9.50 with tax), the experience was also topped off with a grotesque climax: One of the tacos leaked out a watery, smelly substance through the paper bag and onto the car seat.

The fajita doesn't taste cooked in any way, shape or form, not even microwaved. The taco as a whole tastes like that scene from Carrie when the Mom is all "I could smell the roadhouse whiskey on his breath," except in this case you can smell the roadhouse Whataburger on the taco's breath and then on your own for hours after. You will need some whiskey after that.

click to enlarge Nope. - PHOTO BY GWENDOLYN KNAPP
Photo by Gwendolyn Knapp
Taco Bell Soft Taco

Rating: D+

And here, now, the taco of America's fleeting youth. That's what it is, right? A dollar-and-change treat for high schoolers on the way home from band practice? The salty, questionable meat — it's only 88 percent antibiotic-laden beef, and the rest magic? — was accompanied by chewy lettuce with an off-putting taste. Perhaps it was about to turn. The tortilla was papery, albeit in a thicker way, like a sheet of ancient papyrus recovered from an archaeological dig. Borrow those excavation tools and put this one back in the ground, buried deep, lest the scent rise like the living dead.

click to enlarge Can you guess this taco? - PHOTO BY GWENDOLYN KNAPP
Can you guess this taco?
Photo by Gwendolyn Knapp
W Grill

Rating: C

This drive-thru at Washington and Durham, known primarily for its array of margaritas to go — indeed, the signature house frozen marg is potent, flavorful and available even as a two-gallon party starter — also offers a menu of food, including tacos, but chewy, tendony chopped steak and seemingly microwaved tortillas (the edges were hardened like cardboard) couldn't be saved by the accompanying fiery orange sauce, delicious as it was, no matter how much you slathered it on. That and with a margarita and tip, the bill was more than $25.

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Gwendolyn Knapp is the food editor at the Houston Press. A sixth-generation Floridian, she is still torn as to whether she likes smoked fish dip or queso better.