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The legendary Lansing taco shop Mr. Taco has become a nexus of fast food and the absurd. Take one look at Mr. Taco’s social media presence and suddenly you’ll be questioning yourself: Is this a restaurant or a cult?
To find out whether or not you can have a taste of the long-dormant, recently re-opened Mr. Taco on any given day, you have to check on the near-daily Facebook posts of owner Bill Bonofiglo. The “CLOSED” or “OPEN” posts are always met with a mountain of comments. After all, the group has 13,000 members — quite a base for a small Mexican restaurant.
There’s even a Twitter account dedicated to alerting potential customers about Mr. Taco’s status for the day and highlighting especially hilarious posts patrons have made on Facebook and Yelp. Customers have reported strange behavior from Bonofiglo, with one Yelp testimonial claiming to have overheard him yell, “I can’t possibly take orders right now; I am under so much pressure. This restaurant is about to close!”
The claims of unprofessionalism via online reviews are dwarfed by fervent support on Facebook. Commenters that question the validity of Mr. Taco’s current state as a business are often met with a tidal wave of remarks boiling down to “If you don’t like it, keep it to yourself.”
Either the food there is good enough to withstand erratic hours and moods, or the daily gamble is scratching a deep-seated itch for chaos most restaurants don’t exploit.
There was only one way to find out. This all left me desiring to become a part of the phenomenon myself.
The opportunity came Wednesday, when Bonofiglo’s latest post announced that the restaurant would be open. So for lunch, I tested my luck and drove down to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
I arrived at Mr. Taco at approximately 11:30 a.m. As Bonofiglo promised, Mr. Taco was open. An LED sign indicated that the drive-thru was “probably open.” Peeking around the corner, I noticed that it was. The cars seemed to move at a steady pace, so it looked like things were going smoothly.
Finally, I ordered two tacos without lettuce and a side of beans. After a few bites, the verdict was that the food was, well, good. Does it deserve the bizarrely exalted status it has on Facebook? Probably not. Somebody with no investment in all of this would have no idea why it’s “special.” The food reminded me of a Mexican fast food chain popular on the West Coast called Del Taco, which, like Mr. Taco, is a step above Taco Bell, but is still just fast food.
But that’s without mentioning the taco sauce — another key part of the Mr. Taco mythos. It was kept in a large metal dispenser on the front counter. There was no problem making sure that my food was sauced properly. Additional sauce packets cost 10 cents each, making it quite a hot commodity.
The tacos on their own weren’t particularly captivating. The hard corn tortilla broke apart satisfyingly, easy to chew but not frustratingly crumbly. But what made it feel unique was my compulsion to drench my taco and my beans in the star attraction — the sauce.
It isn’t spicy, but there’s a delicious tang and richness to it. It’s miles above any comparable fast food sauce packet. If Bonofiglo bottled this signature sauce, it wouldn’t be shocking if the apparent thousands of Mr. Taco sycophants purchased it by the truckload.
Through all of the internet nonsense, the clear driving factor for this Mr. Taco fever is nostalgia. Having lived in Greater Lansing my entire life, I do have my own Mr. Taco story.
I remember constantly refusing my father opportunities to enjoy Mr. Taco as my childhood self hated Mexican food. Why? I don’t really know. But I’d throw a fit any time Mr. Taco or El Azteco was suggested, and thus we rarely went.
When I found out Mr. Taco was closed, I made fun of the fact my father would never be able to go there again. I am just now discovering how cruel I was. But that joke continues. Considering how random Mr. Taco’s hours are, there’s a solid chance he may still never taste that fabled sauce again.