Crappy Food Critic #04: Pico de Gallo Flavored Lay’s

If a new potato chip is sold within a five-mile radius of my job, you can bet your sweet bippy I’m going to notice it. These being an approximation of one of my favorite Tex-Mex condiments, I got doubly excited. So how do they stack up? Well, they’re not Pringles, so probably poorly. So how do they stack up figuratively?

Before we talk taste, let us observe the gold stamp that says Flavor Inspired by One of Our Employees, said employee identified as one Samuel Oliveros. All of my theories about what that could possibly mean or how it could be interpreted are deeply cynical, so I won’t pop the top on that can o’ worms. Instead, let’s see what Mr. Oliveros has to say about the creation he inspired:

The vagueness of “my part of the United States” throws up another red flag of cynicism; I’m going to assume it’s either California or the South and move on. Also, if chips and salsa are such a classic combination, why would you want to obviate the need for salsa? Less mess? The scientific “coulda, not shoulda” impulse? Chips and salsa aren’t broken, Sam; let’s not try to fix it.

I also sincerely hope Mr. Oliveros is not naive enough to believe that a mass-produced potato chip will approach anything remotely close to “authenticity”; however, I choose to believe he had good intentions. That’s why it’s so unfortunate that it only took me one bite to realize that this flavor was probably not chosen for its originality, creativity, brilliance, or even marketability. The first thought that entered my mind when I ate one—aside from “Easy on the lime juice, guys”—was this:

“This tastes familiar.”

It took about ten minutes of trying more chips and digging through shelves of memories Inside Out-style, but I finally figured out why they tasted familiar. With the exception of some additional “zhuzh”, these are more or less an unaltered rerelease of one of my least favorite Lay’s flavors ever: Garden Tomato & Basil. There have been, in my chip-eating experiences, few misfires as far off the mark as GT&B. I barely made it through my first bag before swearing them off for life.

Now, there are some differences that make these more tolerable. Eat enough of them and they leave a semi-lasting sensation somewhere between tang and heat, which admittedly is what the best pico accomplishes. You can ride that taste long enough to cover up most of the worst aspects of the GT&B dust, making this a surprisingly tolerable chip. Though, if “surprisingly tolerable” isn’t damning with faint praise, I don’t know what is.

As I post this, Lay’s has only just today entered the throes of its now-annual Do Us a Flavor contest. Pico de Gallo is actually not one of those flavors—it seems to have been exempted from the pressures of competition by dint of being “inspired” by a Frito-Lay employee. As such, I think it will quietly disappear in whatever kerfuffle the contest manages to kick up, which seems appropriate. Its taste resides at the very baseline minimum of “okay”, and other than the added cilantro, lime, and other spice factors, it’s a lazy re-rollout of an awful flavor. You can safely pass on these.

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