Back in 2006, Taco Bell invented the Fourth Meal, sparking a long race to the bottom for fast food chains seeking to produce the cheesiest, greasiest, thriftiest late night grub—crunchwraps supreme, quesaritos, cheesy bacon pretzel dogs, and the like. These series of awkward, crunchy, cheesy portmanteaus appeal directly to the lizard brain of the modern American. The items, and the ad campaigns behind them, are designed to pick on those most helpless before the siren call of junk food: the stoner.

And yet, there was some minimal level of decorum. Everyone knew what was happening, and yet no one dared name it. Well, until Jack In the Box, which last year achieved a new level of brazenness with its Munchie Meals.

Before we go any further, allow me to introduce myself. Hi, I'm John Locanthi. You might remember me from such Willamette Week articles as my fair and impartial coverage of Oregon football or my award-winning expose on Rojo the Therapy Llama. Now I'm transitioning to the role I was born to play: fast food critic.

We here at WW take great pride in telling you which Portland restaurants are good and which are decidedly not good. For some silly reason, we've mostly ignored fast food. Until now. Join me every week as this column explores the greasy, gooey world of junk food—at great personal risk, might I add.


Back to the Munchies Meals. As stated in the ubiquitous, albeit clever commercials of Jack and a presumably stoned lackwit babbling nonsensically or otherwise goofing around, the Munchies Meals are for the late-night crowd, specifically from 9 pm to 5 am. (Although, they are actually available all day.) You get two tacos, a split of french fries and curly fries, a drink and a meat-flavored sandwich. For $6.

"What a steal!" you'd say... if it weren't Jack in the Box.

Actually, $6 seems fair.

I opted to go with the Loaded Nuggets over the new Hella-Peño Burger (Do the cool kids still say "hella" these days?) in my Munchie Meal for a variety of reasons.

1. If something is going to be covered in a large dollop of cheese-like goo, I'd rather have it served in a way that I can pick around the aforementioned glob.

2. There's just something about the name "Loaded Nuggets" that sounds so delightfully unappetizing. (Although, "Exploding Cheesy Chicken" comes close.)

3. At 1,592 Calories, the Loaded Nuggets Munchie Meal has the fewest calories of any Munchie Meal, and I'm watching my figure.

These chicken nuggets are covered in two kinds of cheese (read: a mound of 7-11-grade nacho "cheese" with a few sprinkles of cheddar on top), ranch dressing and bacon. It's a baked potato with chicken instead of a potato. Or nachos with chicken in lieu of chips. Either way, the best approach is dousing this mess with a generous dose of the house taco sauce. Or you can soldier through without the taco sauce—the creamy ranch and chicken do go well together—if that's how you choose to live your life.

The tacos, as always, are Jack in the Box tacos. Better than the sloppy mess of shell, beef and indeterminate cheese hastily tossed in a deep fryer that I annually receive on Free Taco Day, but still inferior to Taco Bell's. (Pink slime, notwithstanding.) Once again, taco sauce is the play here.

Curly fries are the true standout here. These are on par with those masters of the national chain curly fries game, Arby's. Juxtaposing them with regular french fries only makes them tastier. Waiting until the end of the meal to dip into the fries can be a dangerous proposition—there is naught worse than room temperature fries—but I always like to finish my meals on a high note.

Munchie Meals are not something you set out to get. They just happen. They happen when you're stumbling home from a bar at 2 am. They happen after you've smoked a few bowls and venture forth in search of something cheesy. At nearly 300 calories per dollar, they are a remarkable value. They just don't happen to be very good taste-wise, health-wise or for your self-esteem.