Cheez-Its have entered the Taco Bell Extended Culinary Universe. For two weeks, the experimental fast food stalwart is product-testing a new innovation in Irvine, California: the Big Cheez-It, reported to be 16 times bigger than a normal piece. It’s the focal point of two new dishes, a Crunchwrap and a tostada. Taco Bell has a history of trying things out at the nexus of pop culture and snack food, and the Big Cheez-It does feel like one of those ideas you wish you had. It makes sense! The salty, mild cheddar taste of the Cheez-It seems like the perfect bedfellow for Taco Bell’s staples while also appealing to Taco Bell’s energetic fanbase. Does it deliver on its promise?
I arrive at the Big Cheez-It’s Taco Bell test location in a nondescript Orange County mall. Little do the shoppers at Walmart or GNC know that they are at the epicenter of the fast food world.
There is a genial energy in the lobby, where people are pleasantly realizing they’re in on a small secret: customers ogle the menu, friends laugh together, and everyone’s phones are out, taking pictures of the new items. Soon, the cars angling for the drive-thru will put the parking lot in gridlock, but in the dining room we have forgotten the pain of the outside world. Here, there is only the satisfaction of a crowd trying something for the first time. I mean, let’s be serious here: Who wouldn’t want to try a Big Cheez-It?
The Tostada here is a revelation, because the Cheez-It works so well as a base. It’s more substantial than you might assume, holding up the beef, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and sour cream without feeling flimsy. There’s a satisfying crunch. What the Big Cheez-It does here is justify its size. The classic cracker is a great snack, but super-sizing it gives the Cheez-It more density: it is a stable vessel that makes all the sense in the world as you eat it.
The Tostada is not as messy as I expected, either, with the Cheez-It keeping its form when I took a bite and not collapsing into pieces. The toppings complement the cheddar cracker, and the sour cream is an especially exciting counterpoint. Turns out Cheez-Its and sour cream are a match made in heaven. (Heaven here is the suburban sprawl of Irvine, California).
Here, the Cheez-It falters for me. Whereas the Tostada gave the Big Cheez-It a place to shine as a vehicle for the ingredients, the Crunchwrap Supreme suffocates it. Underneath all the beef and sour cream it’s slathered in, the Cheez-It begins to lose its crunch. Wrapped in a tortilla, this process is catalyzed. My Crunchwrap wasn’t especially crunchy, and the Cheez-It soon became more of a soft, bready layer, almost mealy, rather than its own differentiating layer.
I’d also say that this falls on ideological lines. Usually, at Taco Bell I’m getting a Chalupa or Soft Shell Supreme Tacos, rather than the Crunchwrap. If the Crunchwrap is your vibe, then I think it’s definitely worth trying. But for me, the new addition doesn’t elevate the Crunchwrap into must-order territory.
I think the real winner here is the Cheez-It N Dip. I’m not sure it’s even listed on the menu, but I asked the cashier if I could try both of the Cheez-It items, and he told me there were three. The third is the simplest and, to me, the most rewarding. It’s just one of the Big Cheez-Its served with a container of nacho cheese. It costs $1.99 and feels like the perfect afternoon snack. While the cracker is hidden inside the Crunchwrap and performing the duties of Atlas in the Tostada, here is where we can appreciate the Big Cheez-It’s merits all on their own. It’s a silly food, the Big Cheez-It, but it’s a sight to behold. Plus, it goes great with extra cheese.
For my money, I’m picking up a Big Cheez-It Tostada with a Cheez-It N Dip tucked away for a snack a little later.