At least, not around acclaimed Oklahoma chef Kurt Fleischfresser, whose renowned culinary chops were hired to amp up the flavors of Taco Mayo, the 34-year-old Oklahoma-based, Mexican-food chain.
“They are quick-service restaurants,” he said.
Fleischfresser may be best known for heading up the sophisticated, award-winning Coach House and other Western Concept restaurants.
With his help, however, Taco Mayo has quietly converted about two dozen of its 79 restaurants in several states to its “Fresh-Mex” concept, eliminating MSG, cutting sodium in half, reducing fat and introducing techniques that improve taste while retaining signature flavors.
Several made-fresh daily salsas are available for dine-in customers at its complimentary salsa bars, ranging from the mild tomatillo salsa and the traditional pico de gallo to the heat-seeker’s favorite Pico Diablo.
“We wanted to improve the nutritional value of our products,” said Bryan Gwinn, Taco Mayo’s self-described “food guy,” who works on quality assurance, product development and distribution.
So far, the new concept has been installed at metro-area Taco Mayos on Britton Road and at the Chesapeake Energy Arena and in the ’burbs of Norman, Moore, Noble, Guthrie, Newcastle and Mustang.
“We’re doing them as fast as we can,” Gwinn said.
The conversion has been met with widespread enthusiasm from the company’s franchisees, even though the process requires shutting restaurants down for two to three weeks while the open-kitchen design is installed.
One secret to the Fresh-Mex style is an achiote marinade that tenderizes the chicken and steak ingredients for the nachos, burritos, tacos and salads. The meat is cooked fresh daily on a patented, steam-jacketed flat grill.
Stone-ground corn chips are cooked fresh in 100-percent vegetable oil. The result is impressive, considering the modest prices.
Mayo’s burrito costs $3.95 with choices of chicken, steak or ground beef, Mexicali or cilantro rice, refried or black beans, red chile sauce or queso, sour cream or cheese, tomatoes or pico de gallo, tomato or tomatillo salsa and served in a fresh-made tortilla or “naked” on a plate. Order nachos for $4.95, salads for $5.95 or grilled quesadillas or burritos for $4.95.
“We lowered the fat and increased the flavor,” Fleischfresser said.
Now customers can customize their meal with hundreds of healthy combinations.
Fleischfresser credits Ken Bradford of The Metro Wine Bar & Bistro and Chef’s Requested Foods for helping develop the improved flavors and techniques compatible with quick-service restaurants.
Fleischfresser said he was partly motivated to work with Taco Mayo because it is an Oklahoma-based company.
“If I want to eat at a quick-service restaurant, I want to eat somewhere where the money is staying in state,” he said.
For longtime regulars who dislike change, some things have stayed the same.
“There are people who have grown up with Taco Mayo,” Gwinn said.
Crispy tacos for $1.15 or the favorite 1,040-calorie Ultimate Nachos with a 75-cent hit of freshly made guacamole — classic menu items — are not going anywhere.