We’re all in agreement that 2020 sucks at this point, right? And it’s really not looking like 2021 is going to be any better. Aren’t you getting tired of this bullshit? Wouldn’t you like to go back?
Great news: there’s a magical website called the Wayback Machine where you can go almost anywhere you want, to almost any point in time where the internet existed. So as long as your fond memories aren’t from before the technological corruption of society, you have a chance to get away from this madness, even if just for a little bit.
Maybe unsurprisingly, I’ve been using the Machine a lot recently to escape the monotony of everyday horror. Today, I’d love to take you on a journey with me. This time I’m going to the website for the midwestern fast food chain Taco John’s, all the way back in 2004 – before online apps were a thing, and before competitor Taco Bell fucking betrayed all of us when we needed them the most.
Let’s go back… wayback!
Wow. Incredibly quaint-looking, right? Funny story, I kind of remember the background being purple, but that doesn’t really feel right and I’m worried I might have it conflated with the Taco Bell website from this same time period. There’s a background image, but it’s missing.
This mission statement is fun, by the way. I think just about every fast food place had a Promise, but when’s the last time you’ve really thought about those? I really do enjoy the rather questionable pledge of authenticity. At least they tried.
Let’s go ahead and click into the Menu…
Oh. Wow. It didn’t really survive the archiving process, huh? There’s like, no images. Shucks. That’s sadly pretty typical for niche sites like this.
Well, I have a memory of this page. It’s one of those memories that’s simultaneously hazy and indiscernible, but vivid in all the wrong places. I was visiting it on a mission to prove to my childhood friend that we did indeed have a weird knockoff Taco Bell, and not only that, but that they served “Choco Tacos”.
If that means nothing to you, a Choco Taco is an ice cream novelty treat consisting of a waffle cone folded around ice cream in the shape of a taco, then covered in fudge and peanuts. It’s a Good Humor-Breyers product that you can buy at your local convenience store next to the Klondike bars, and I really should have known that, but at that point in my life I had never seen one before and I was convinced Taco John’s was making them in-house. I really wanted to try one, too, because it sounded amazing.
Excluding burger chains with a soft-serve machine, dessert is the one part of the menu that fast food places know they can just give up on, and that’s pretty hilarious to me. I wonder sometimes if any kids are having this same revelation about the pie slices you can get from Popeyes … nobody is making pies on-site, they just buy them wholesale and repackage them for a ridiculous markup. The Choco Taco is just a Choco Taco.
Way later in my life my family purchased the Chocolate Tacolates on a whim. It was the first time I had seen one in person, and I finally had the chance to try one straight out of the comforts of my home freezer.
It was underwhelming. It was weird and stale. I did not like it.
There are some other oddities on the menu. Even stranger is that Googling a lot of these has shown that they aren’t even discussed often in the typical places you’d find fast food nostalgia, like I dunno, Reddit or InThe90s or whatever. These are things utterly forgotten except for this time capsule.
The most exciting for me is the Taco Burger, which appears to have been a knockoff of Taco Bell’s Bell Beefer. I’m seeing people say it was on the menu up until 2016, which means I could have tried it while I was running this damn site. Dangit! It’s nearly a dead ringer, too: taco beef, shredded cheese, lettuce, and mild sauce. The only thing it’s missing is diced onions, but who’s gonna cry over those?
There’s also the Sierra, a chicken flatbread smothered in what is either described as ‘chipotle cream sauce’ or ‘Sierra Sauce’. I can’t find any clear answers as to what it is, though. The only review I can find of the sandwich spends all of its time describing the “moist, tasty, white, 1/2″ thick portion of chicken”. It looks mayo-based? That’s all I can tell you. Anyway, I guess it was popular, because they brought it back for a bit in 2019. Wish I had tried it.
Apparently they had Texas Chili at one point. The image attached is broken, and the only information is that it is “topped with shredded cheddar cheese”, which makes me think it may have just been an answer to Wendy’s chili which can be served with cheese.
They also had a Chicken Festiva Salad, which was pretty much your standard grilled chicken salad, except this one came with the ‘festive’ twist of cheese, sour cream, and tortilla strips. Neat! Taco John’s currently only serves the taco salad, which as we all know is just a taco with anxiety.
Probably the weirdest takeaway I got from this was the choices for Potato Olés: you could either get a side of Olés, a ‘Potato Olés Bravo’ which is Olés served with nacho toppings, or a ‘Super Potato Olés’ which is … a bigger size of the Bravo with more things on it. The current menu has graciously simplified this into the Olés (plain) and the Super (toppings), with both coming in different sizes. It makes me wonder if anyone mourned the absence of the Bravo. I guess there must be some people out there who hate guacamole?
Wow. Look at the joy on those employees’ faces.
Things were so innocent back then, right? No. Fast food has always been a joke. But it’s funny to think we were optimistic enough that this was acceptable advertising.
“Taco John’s Is A Whole Lot More Than Just A Great Place To Eat.” What does that even mean? What else is it, John? Is it a great place to work? Because you’re not actually saying that.
Most of these are broken, but you can read about the charity fundraiser and the South Dakota remodel.
The fundraiser article is a strange look into another world that dumps way too much information onto you at once: there is a man named Mike Sartwell who owns a company named Preferred Restaurant Group which franchises Taco John’s locations in North Dakota. He has a child with cystic fibrosis. She is 2003’s ambassador of the Cystic Fibrosis Association of North Dakota, which exists, by the way. Taco John’s is doing a fundraiser by selling ‘Nachos Navidad’, which are their regular nachos, except red and green. Okay.
The South Dakota remodel article is about them remodeling a store in South Dakota. It goes at length about their ‘new contemporary look’, but doesn’t actually articulate what the differences are, so your guess is as good as mine.
This is their page for their TV promotions, which at this point in time currently featured their cross-promo with, uh, Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey. The corner of the page proudly boasts “Click on graphic above to view our current promotion TV spot featuring Whiplash!!”, which links to an unarchived RealMedia file.
The curiosity was overwhelming at that point, so I looked it up on YouTube.
And, well, that’s just about everything noteworthy I found on the Taco John’s Wayback archive. But hey, don’t take my word for it, maybe you can find cool stuff on there!
The Internet Archive is really amazing, and now more than ever it could use your help. They even take Bitcoin, in case you have a Bitcoin or two. Just something to think about.