I don’t claim to be the queen of heat. I don’t have my picture on the wall of any wing restaurants, and when multiple Yelp! reviews of a ramen restaurant that was featured on Man Versus Food used the phrase “ruin your weekend” to describe their hottest soup, I order down a few levels. But I like heat, I sprinkle dried hot peppers into almost everything I make and I’ve been told by servers at Asian restaurants to specify I want non-white people spicy when I order stuff hot,” and I’ve got enough different hot sauces in my kitchen cabinet to make a legitimate run at the Democratic nomination.
For the last few decades of my life I have held the opinion that in fast food terms, the word “spicy” is effectively meaningless. Consistently every time a major chain promotes a bag of literal fire through the drive through window, they’re marketing it to people who usually don’t like spicy food. They talk a big game so the people who will have to Google what the Scoville Heat Scale is can pat themselves on the back and brag to their friends about how much heat they were able to handle. Angriest Whopper? Come on, the red bun is cute but aside from calling me a ‘libtard’ and demanding we build a wall along the Canadian border, the heat was minimal at best.
With all that in mind I was skeptical last year when Taco Bell started promoting a new spicier hot sauce, the ‘Diablo’ sauce, aiming to kick the heat up a little higher than their Fire sauce. Now, I understand there are plenty of people for whom the Hot sauce is too hot. I need you to understand that I’m someone who orders the Doritos Locos Taco with the Fiery shell, and subs lava sauce in for the sour cream. I’ve ordered food from Taco Bell before that has caused the person taking my order to ask “Are you sure?” So I was fully prepared for the Diablo sauce to just be another in a chain of chain food heat heartbreaks.
I know what you’re thinking, “Riley, maybe you should just consider never eating fast food and instead just go eat some delicious Thai food or Indian food, something that packs a way more serious heat index. Or cook for yourself at home using something like ghost peppers in the mix and controlling the heat levels to your own taste, as well as perhaps having a much healthier diet full of the nutrients your body needs.” Well, shut up.
From the very first time I bit into my Grilled Breakfast Burritos, with the smokey heat of the Diablo, mixing with the egg and cheese, I was hooked. It’s definitely spicier than the Fire sauce, but isn’t just the same flavor with the heat kicked up. The mix of aji panca, chipotle and chili peppers has a distinctly smokey taste of its own, which I really love, but what I especially love about it is that while the first few bites really give some heat, the sauce also has a solid numbing effect, meaning you don’t get that lingering, painful trace of heat that often happens when collective seasonings and sauce builds up around the edges of your mouth. It got to the point that I liked the sauce so much that it almost seemed a waste to use it on Taco Bell food. Since they’re never shy about giving away packets, I amassed a decent little collection and started putting on pizza, in soups, on better tacos. I never came to the point of just opening packets and pouring the sauce directly into my mouth, but I’m not saying it would take much convincing.
But then, all too suddenly, the Diablo was gone. I pulled into the drive thru on my way to work one morning, got my regular burrito, and when I asked for the D, I was told they didn’t have it anymore. This had to be a joke. I mean I’d just seen some yesterday and things were good. I’d never been told that this was just a casual, short term thing. I thought we had something special and now my sauce was just gone. I didn’t let go easily. I tweeted at Taco Bell begging for it to come back. I rationed off my squirreled away supply, slowly being more and more selective of what foods were Diablo worthy until finally even that wasn’t possible anymore. It was gone. I suppose that I could have done more, I could have tried harder, I could have gone to eBay. But I decided to accept the harsh reality. My sauce had left me. I had to learn to live in a world where I didn’t have it.
Things were okay, I suppose. I tried other hot sauces. I searched for some chipotle pepper sauces that had the distinct flavor I was looking for, and I had a short but ultimately empty affair with the KFC Nashville Hot Tenders. I made a pretty good little life for myself, all things considered.
But now my long, dark night of bland flavored tacos is over. Because as of last week, the Diablo sauce is back, and for good this time. Sure, I’m cautious. I know how I got burned before, and I’m not looking to jump right back into that again. I know sauces can be fickle, market trends and sales numbers can change. But for now, I’m happy, and we’re just gonna take this one breakfast burrito at a time.