Let me explain to you what the Hella-Peño burger is. The Hella-Peño burger from Jack in the Box is the new, severe-heartburn-timeframe-only available (9 p.m. to 5 a.m.) burger that is topped with jalapeños, other jalapeños with cheese in them and a liquid cheese "taco sauce." In this press photo, the burger is barely visible and hiding in shame beneath a continent of jalapeños. So, Jack in the Box is really slapping us hard on the shoulder with their "Munchie Meal" message: Listen guys, we've got this stoner food thing covered.
Their summer menu items so aggressively embrace the "late night munchies"/hangover image that Jack in the Box cultivates (each Munchie Meal comes with fries, onion rings and two tacos) that it's starting to feel like Jack in the Box is Steve Martin's character in Parenthood, trying desperately to maintain the image of youth. The website says in neon font: "The party starts at 9 p.m."
That said, it was hard not to laugh out loud saying "I'll have the Hella-Peño" at the drive through window.
So, three bites into this thing I knew it would ruin my night and following morning. You can just see it when you slice the burger in half: Cheese and taco sauce lavaed out around the stuffed jalapeño pods. In the cross-section of the burger, the stuffed jalapeños looked like pained eyes and the burger was a mouth whispering, "Please, nooo."
It didn't ruin my night in the way you'd expect. The Hella-Peño burger elicited something else. Something deeper and scarier. You know that feeling when you're binge-watching a great TV show, you realize it's 12:30 a.m., you say "just one more episode" and suddenly it's 4 a.m. and you know you've screwed your entire next day? This burger tasted like that. It was like an extra property of taste kicked in beyond umami: warning.
The spice was good, less than that Fiery Doritos Taco that kicked my ass recently, and there are fewer jalapeños than they make it look. The jalapeños actually give it some acid with that weirdly thick cheese sauce. The stuffed jalapeño breading was still crunchy, which also helped. Currently, I still feel like there is a rapidly growing rock-polishing business in my stomach.
The whole idea of the Munchie Meal just seems like it's overcomplicating a good drunk burger thesis. Do we really need grilled cheese as buns or mozzarella sticks on top of chicken? It feels like Jack in the Box should rename the Hella-Peño the Whatever, I Don't Know Anymore Burger. A better version is the Whataburger Jalapeño Cheddar Biscuit. It seems to know what it's about. It's simple and confident drunk food.