Taco John’s Potato Olés could be fast food’s finest spuds

Illustration for article titled Taco John’s Potato Olés could be fast food’s finest spuds
Photo: Kate Bernot

French fries dominate fast food potato sides, an arrangement most of us take for granted. Wake up, sheeple, because it doesn’t have to be this way. Dare to dream! No disrespect toward the salty, pillowy satisfaction of a fresh-from-the-oil McDonald’s fry. It cannot be denied. But there are even more flavorful, more crispy options, if one knows where to look.


And one must look to Taco John’s. The Mexican-ish fast-food chain began in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1968, then spread across the West and South, clustering in the square states most Americans struggle to identify on a map: Nebraska, Montana, Iowa, the Dakotas. Taco John’s tacos are adequate—the chain did trademark the phrase Taco Tuesday in 1989—they but hardly explain such geographic profusion. Its manifest destiny was driven, I suspect, by Potato Olés.

These disc-shaped joy nuggets have a leg up on French fries in several ways. First, let’s acknowledge it, its name is incredible. It’s basically the lady-dancing-in-red-dress emoji in written form. Taco John’s slogan is Olé The Day, and unlike Taco Bell’s Live Mas, it doesn’t even mean anything. But no matter, it got you thinking about Potato Olés. Second, and more substantially, Potato Olés circular shape lends it an expansive, crisp exterior as well as ample fluffy tater interior, not unlike Burger King hashbrowns. Third, Olés are seasoned with what’s said to be a mix of Lawry’s seasoned salt, cumin, paprika, and cayenne. It’s not overwhelming, but it gives Olés the advantage over plain, salted fries in my book. Fourth, while flavorful, Olés are a blank canvas. One can choose from dipping sauces of ranch, guacamole, nacho cheese, or sour cream. They’re also great in ketchup. Name another fast food spud that can claim such versatility! Finally, Olés are served in a small cup, which is much more easily manipulated as you’re exiting a drive-thru than a flimsy French-fry bag. It even fits in a car cupholder.

I have stated my case, and I know Olés fans are legion. A couple summers ago, when I was new to Missoula, Montana, I pointed up at a tony-looking, glass-enclosed penthouse atop some prime downtown real estate. “Who lives there?” I asked my friend, a lifelong resident. “The guy who franchises a bunch of Taco John’s,” he responded. I don’t know whether that’s true, but I’d believe it. Potato Olés are not just the height of fast-food potatoes, but tiny, golden dubloons upon which one could build an entire empire.

Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.



I weep that Taco John’s does not extend their tacoist empire to the pacific northwest, but I shan’t turn my nose up at our local-ish runner up Taco Time.