Yo quiero Taco Bell.
In the US, you take it for granted that when you want Taco Bell--a chalupa, a seven-layer burrito, nachos supreme, whatever--there is a Taco Bell not to far from you. Somewhere within driving distance, at least. And if not, you probably live somewhere way out in the middle of nowhere in an area referred to by us city folk as "The Boonies." You know, a place where the Internet is still something that exists only in science-fiction books and movies like The Matrix (or, of course, the wonderful Sandra Bullock movie--but aren't they all?--The Net), so you have no way of reading this and therefore don't matter at all. Sorry!
But I digress. My point is that, in China, going to Taco Bell is a bit more complicated. And not just complicated, but basically impossible. Unless, of course, you happen to be in Shanghai, where there is at least one and--if the rumors are true--possibly two Taco Bells to choose from, which, as far as I know, are the only one or maybe two Taco Bells in China. (I've said it once and I'll say it again: Hong Kong doesn't count as China. Still.) Naturally, when we were in Shanghai, I decided--having already been to Hooters--that I quiero-ed some Taco Bell, so I hopped on the subway and made my way there for lunch one afternoon.
(Side note, Taco Bell nicely illustrates the difference between Beijing and Shanghai--at least in my mind. In Shanghai, Taco Bell is just north of Renmin Square, the Shanghai equivalent of Tiananmen Square: Tiananmen is a gigantic concrete and flagstone square surrounded by imposing structures like the Forbidden City, the People's Congress, the National Museum of China, and the Mao-soleum, where you can go to see Mao's body, Lenin-style; Renmin Square, on the other hand, has a fountain, is surrounded by a park, has a huge shopping mall underneath it, and is within eyesight of Starbucks--the Starbucks I was stared at, in fact--McDonald's, Pizza Hut, and, as previously mentioned, Taco Bell. And let's face it, Tiananmen just can't compete with that. Sure, the Forbidden City has a Starbucks, but that's it. And the Starbucks doesn't even have croissants, I don't think. Imagine.)
Anyway, back to Taco Bell. Or, to be more specific, Taco Bell Grande, as the case may be.
No my friends--or should I say amigos?--this is not the Taco Bell you are used to. Here in China, it's a bit more upscale: it's actually a sit-down restaurant with menus instead of a reader board; nice chairs and tables instead of easy-to-clean but incredibly uncomfortable plastic booths; and pleasant waiters and waitresses instead of surly high-school dropouts with bad skin who you know spit in the sour cream when they think no one's looking. All that, plus free chips and salsa. How can you beat that?
You can beat that with uniforms, that's how! (For some reason, this reminded me of Judge Reinhold's pirate costume in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but maybe that was just me. Sadly, Phoebe Cates was nowhere to be seen.) They even spoke Spanish, or at least gave it their best try. My waiter (pictured below) kept trying to say gracias, but it insisted on coming out as grass. I figured that was close enough.
Sadly, upon opening the menu, I discovered that the decor was not the only thing different from US-based Taco Bells. In Shanghai, to my surprise, you can get Mexican favorites like Ox-Tail Soup. Yeah. Not that I'm a Mexico expert or anything, but I've been there more than once and I don't ever remember seeing that on the menu. Coincidentally, however, it is definitely something you can find here in China. Hmmm ...
Lucky for me--yes, that's sarcasm--I had also hit Taco Bell during the middle of their "Seafood Festival." When else can you get stuffed squid--sadly, I thought they were jalapeno poppers when I first saw the picture--and ceviche at the Bell? If you said never, you're right! And with good reason, I might add. (For those with an interest in doing division, one US dollar is worth about 8.27 Chinese Yuan.)
There was one thing that was better about this Taco Bell, however: a full bar, which is always nice. Even if the Coronas come with lemons instead of limes. Once again, close enough: in China, you just can't be that picky.
After mucho deliberation, I went with the chicken enchiladas, which came with an ear of corn and mushy cubed potatoes covered with some kind of peppery, vaguely Mexican tasting spice. Mmmmm.
So how did it taste? Well, the corn was corn, the potatoes were about as good as I make them sound above, and the enchiladas were ... okay. Not good, not bad, but edible. When it was all said and done, I would have rather had a soft-taco supreme. Sadly, that wasn't on the menu.