As soon as that grease-stained brown bag enters from the drive-thru window into your car, the proceeding scent is unmistakable: a mélange of deep-fried potato heavily combatting only the finest of Latin spices, wafting so thick through the air that as you set said bag in the passenger’s seat, before you’ve even left the parking lot your nimble fingers are jostling through slick wrappers and fatty tubers, desperately grasping for at least one or two of those fast food communion wafers, unable to wait until you even get to a red light, let alone home.
Yeah, I’m talking about Taco Mayo’s Potato Locos, a sheer blessing of a side item that I feel we take too much for granted, not offering the Lord our God Above enough thanks and praise for granting someone in a research and development lab the extraordinary gift of creating what is perhaps the nonpareil potato-based side item any fast food joint in Oklahoma has to offer. You can keep your Braum’s crinkle-cut fries and Sonic tater-tots—when it comes to the perfect add-on for anything from a bean burrito to a Big Mac, I’ll make the extra trip for a large cup of Potato Locos.
Founded in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1978, Taco Mayo is firmly a rag-doll Okie institution, the little taco eatery that could against mega-chains with, let’s face it, more popular (Taco Bell) and far superior (Taco Bueno) culinary offerings. But what this bedraggled little company makes up for in its failings to produce Mexican fast food to get excited about, it makes up for in that one little idea that I’m sure has to composite most of the company’s sales figures for each fiscal quarter – the Potato Loco.
Not quite a tater tot, not yet a woman, this nickel-sized portion of pressed potato product is far more addictive than any drug I’ve ever used. How many of us haven’t been up at three in the morning, frying some Great Value tots in the cast iron, experimenting with various paprikas and cumins and chile powders to try and create that same sensation, unable to sleep until that necessity for a little late-night Loco is realized? Don’t lie, we’ve all been there.
It’s kind of shocking to remember that Potato Locos are a relatively new menu item for Taco Mayo, introduced in the mid-to-late 90s, I believe. Sometimes our high-school cafeteria would allow fast food companies to come in and serve their products out of a cooler. Being a poor kid on free lunch, I remember those middle-to-upper class kids gently making love to their Taco Mayo bean burritos and newly introduced Potato Locos as I sat there, admiring their parents’ resiliency for making money in a recession while I downed my decent-enough Salisbury steak, hot roll, whipped potatoes, mixed vegetables and whole milk.
Don’t get me wrong, that was a great meal, but, like a kid envying another with the latest pair of Air Jordans, I wanted to be able to get Loco with the cool kids. And, since I couldn’t, I just listened to a lot of Morrissey and talked in vague rumors of suicide, but that’s a story for a whole other time. (Of course, once I got out on my own and became my own man, I made up for lost time, a true American success story. (Although my cardiologist has another phrase for it: dead man walking.))
When I was living in Fort Collins, Colorado, there was a regional chain, much like Taco Mayo, called Taco John’s. They offered a similar concept called “Potato Olés.” And while they were not the same, admittedly, they filled a gaping hole in my heart and psyche, like a lovelorn soldier bedding down with a prostitute whilst overseas. It fulfilled a base need that I’m not proud of, but, you know, fast-food war is Hell.
So what is the secret to Potato Locos? Why are they so addictive? What magical pixie dust, what Sandman’s dream cinders, what Thrall Demonsweatlive do the well-trained chefs behind the counter of my area Taco Mayo know that I don’t? To quote Nick Cave:
“I’ve searched the holy books, tried to unravel the mystery of Jesus Christ, the savior;
I’ve read the poets and the analysts, searched through the books on human behavior;
I traveled this world around, for an answer that refused to be found…”
Some mysteries are just too above our metaphorical pay-grade to be solved. Some mysteries just don’t need to be solved. Keep your Sonic tater-tots covered in chili and cheese to the dark corners of your self-disgust. Keep those ketchup-drenched Braum’s crinkle-cuts hidden in the shadows of your shame. Let the mercy of God’s love for his children manifest in whatever way we may deem it, even if it is something as trite as the pure, narcotic-level bliss we might get for five seconds by sitting at a stop sign, sneaking as many small, cylindrical potato-based pleasures from that Taco Mayo bag, just enough to satisfy, but barely enough to make a dent, as we can.
Don’t you know I’m Potato Loco, esé?
Sadly, this was not a sponsored post. Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler.