The worst rated restaurant in Swansea may surprise some: Taco Bell.
It’s one of the latest fast food chains to set up in the city centre but has only managed to gain a two out of five star rating on TripAdvisor, ranking #406 out of #408 restaurants in the city.
With the only two more poorly-received options being a permanently-closed Indian restaurant alongside a Chinese takeaway, Taco Bell is the worst rated sit-in restaurant according to the site.
“Waste of money”
“Avoid” and “expected better”
These are just a handful of the short negative reviews left on the restaurant’s TripAdvisor page.
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Despite all these warnings to stay away, the fast food chain is still one of the most popular dining venues in central Swansea with hundreds of more positive experiences being left on delivery sites such as JustEat and Deliveroo.
Taco Bell and the sister branch to the Swansea restaurant – Cardiff ‘s Taco Bell which opened in 2020 before Covid struck – has a marginally improved score of 2.5 ranking itself #797 of 832 restaurants in the city.
This begged the question, is the experience of dining in a two-star restaurant worth it?
So has Taco Bell just struggled to make its mark in Wales? If you ask someone about going to the chain in the UK, chances are you’ll always hear the same thing “it’s not the same as the US”. But with the ongoing pandemic affecting travel plans, crossing the Atlantic remains a difficult proposition.
With similar complaints of cold food, wrong orders, poor value for money and poor customer service across the previous listed platforms, I visited to find out for myself if the reviews added up.
Entering the restaurant on Swansea’s Oxford Street shortly before 2pm, it was clear to see the chain was a popular spot for lunch with only one table visibly available.
It was as you would expect a fast-food chain to be inside, very hustle and bustle as people queued to order their food at the electronic Kiosks.
The space inside is colourful and vibrant and what you would expect the fast food chain to opt for. Large signs sit near the entrance telling customers to “live mas”, meaning “live more” in Spanish, and similar bold slogans adorn the walls and tables.
Ordering the food was much the same experience as in most fast food restaurants. Three electronic kiosks showed the menu, which offered a wide variety of choice from combo deals, tacos, burritos, sides and the classics.
Three kiosks didn’t seem to match the demand as queues extended out to the entrance of the restaurant. But perhaps I played a part in the queues. Being a first-timer at the chain it took me a minute to decide what I wanted.
However customers seemed happy to wait a couple additional minutes until a kiosk was free, despite also being able to order at the front.
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When it comes to fast food, there are always concerns about how socially distanced people are. Especially with cases still increasing it’s always a thought when you’re put in a tight space.
With the kiosks being located towards the entrance alongside a big table in the middle, it was crowded quickly but still had sufficient space for waiting.
On the Covid front, sanitiser stations were present throughout the building and all employees were wearing masks correctly which you couldn’t fault them for, given how busy it was and they were constantly on the move.
When I think of Mexican, I always think of burritos, fajitas and nachos. They are my usual go-to options when preparing a night in the week.
I opted for a meal deal, to see how much value I could get for my money. Liking my spicy food, I decided to go for a ‘Volcano’ chicken burrito with all the fillings.
You have a fair selection to choose from and anything you didn’t want within the meal you could remove as an option.
For £5.39 I had a main, side and a drink. A reasonable price when compared to other fast food outlets.
I added a side of Nachos (£3.99) along with Churros (£1.49) to the order to see if the price matched quality.
In total I spent £10.87, a somewhat expensive price to pay for lunch but I was happy to spend on this occasion.
Upon ordering, I stood and waited alongside other customers until my number was called. Watching the staff dash around as they prepare orders, you can’t fault their work ethic, it was a busy period and I was one of half a dozen customers waiting.
After hearing my number called out, I collected my food and was greeted by the employee asking if I wanted any additional sauces.
With every table being occupied by customers and delivery drivers coming and going, I was optimistic. Surely a chain as busy as this would offer good quality food but the reviews said otherwise.
Sitting down to my meal is where I encountered my first problem. Waste left on tables from previous customers was common as the restaurant tried to turn over several tables at once.
Understandable in a fast food chain with a high turnover of customers and with how busy it was.
I moved some rubbish to another empty table to sit down and it was quickly cleared up a few moments later by the staff.
Opening the wrappers and boxes of food, the best word I could use to describe it would be sad.
It didn’t look very appealing and neither was it hot, one of the biggest complaints surrounding the food was it being cold, both on the delivery sites and TripAdvisor.
Everything on the table was lukewarm and underwhelming.
When it comes to Mexican food, I think of the words “fresh” and “packed full of flavour”. I didn’t think this was entirely the case with Taco Bell.
The Nachos had a sprinkle of beef, and the cheese looked like some sort of plastic – lacking any taste.
I’m not entirely sure they were worth the cost. I think paying just under £4 for a side, the quality should be there but it sadly wasn’t.
The Volcano burrito was a similar story, it was a sad-looking wrap that was again lukewarm, I can see why people who had their meals delivered complain their food was cold. If my food had gone on a journey it would most likely have been.
I was optimistic though, it is one of those foods that is difficult to get wrong, or so I had thought.
There was spicy heat down to the volcano sauce that seemed like it was an attempt at being a hot sauce for everyone, it wasn’t overwhelming but enjoyable all the same.
It wasn’t exactly generously filled either when you compare it to other Mexican venues, the recently closed Calaca Kitchen in Uplands was always the go-to for that reason and I’ve heard great things about El Mercado in Swansea Market.
None of it really felt fresh though, which I suppose wouldn’t be possible in a fast food restaurant but it isn’t something I associate with Mexican food either. I’m not convinced the two work.
The fries again were similarly lukewarm. It didn’t make any sense to me as I would have thought they would be easy to do straight from the fryer. Although they had a dabble of paprika which was a nice added bonus.
The churros were a welcome sweet treat at the end, layered sprinkles of cinnamon and caramel sauce for dip they were a good end to the meal.
Having finished the meal, I reflected on the criticisms facing the chain.
Was it good value for money?
I don’t necessarily think so. I think the nachos were the worst value for money. The meal option is a reasonable price when you compare it to other fast food alternatives.
You can get better quality food elsewhere for the same price. Swansea Market is an excellent example.
I can see why it is popular, being a fast option for some grab and go Mexican food but I really don’t think it does any justice to it.
I was left underwhelmed. I recall when the chain first opened it had all this hype around it and that seemingly has seemingly died down since.
I doubt I will return to the chain again. Maybe it was a one-off experience, but I think there are better and more reasonable choices, albeit perhaps not marketed as fast food.
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