It was noon on Tuesday at the Mighty Taco on Sheridan Drive in Tonawanda. Ken Swain was sitting down to a well-earned lunch -- a three-cheese burrito, no sour cream, and two hard-shell tacos, just beef. He is a Mighty Taco fan.
But Swain, director of facilities at the Scofield Residence, can only dream of being the mightiest Mighty Taco fan. That honor goes to a friend of his, Joe Terian, who moved years ago to Phoenix, Ariz. When Terian got married, he begged his Buffalo buddies to bring him one thing: Mighty Taco.
"All of us filled a cooler. Whatever we could fit, we brought to the wedding," Swain said.
Mighty Taco is one of those things that bind Western New Yorkers together. It is wrapped around us like a tortilla.
A single Mighty Taco, opened in North Buffalo in 1973, has mushroomed into 24 Mighty Tacos, from Buffalo to Rochester. The chain is still owned by one of its original founders, Dan Scepkowski.
Plus, there's that cheesy humor. Radio ads over the years, with that voice booming: "Mighty Taco! Mighty Taco!" Zany commercials. Cartoon placemats. The one we saw Tuesday showed Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both marveling at giant, caped Mighty Taco.
Topping this big burrito of local pride is the menu itself. It includes unique treats like the Roastito, the Buffito, and the Mighty Bowlito.
"When someone asks me to recommend something, I don't know what to say," said Deb LoVallo, taking orders at the counter. "What do I not recommend?"
Luckily, most people know what they want.
"Some of the customers have been here as long as we have," she said. "They say, 'Don't ask me any questions, I want this, this, and this."
And sure enough.
"Can I have No. 1?" asks one burly Buffalonian. "Guacamole, no tomatoes, cheese. Iced tea."
"Three Super Mightys, an order of nachos, coffee and cream."
LoVallo, like her colleagues, kept up a cheerful patter.
"Super Mighty, Super Fajita, half the cheese," she sang out.
To another customer: "Welcome back! I haven't seen you in a while."
Meanwhile a stream of cars, steady as the Rio Grande, rolled through the drive-through.
"Hello, how are you today?" chirped Robyn Bondarenko, taking orders. "No. 2, sure. White or wheat? Mild, medium or hot? Sour cream, guacamole? Rice? Sure. And what would you like to drink? Sure! So it'll be No. 2 combo over rice. Chips, cheese. It'll be $7.61."
The drivers all beamed as they collected their orders. I smiled, too, biting into a chicken and bean taco. Wheat, soft, medium. See, I speak Mighty.
Trying to shed holiday pounds, I had said no to guacamole, cheese and sour cream. And still, this thing was yummy. I thought, as I often think on our 100 Things adventures: Why don't I do this more often?
Here in Western New York, we have that privilege. Not everyone is as lucky. I was reminded of that when I called Joe Terian, the Mighty Taco fan in Arizona.
"Just talking about Mighty Taco my mouth is watering," he said.
"Every time I come back to Buffalo, one of my friends picks me up at the airport. We go directly to Mighty Taco. This is over a 20-year period. I bring a large rolling cooler and buy hundreds of dollars of Mighty Taco."
How does that work? Terian luxuriated in the question.
"I say, 'I'm going to take 70 beef and cheese burritos.' There's a pause. I say, 'I'm not going to take them now -- I'll go ahead and pay for them, if you'd be kind enough to freeze them.' Later, I take the whole box of frozen burritos out to my rolling cooler. There were times when my cooler was overweight. I always duct tape the cooler closed."
He paused. You could imagine his eyes watering, and not just from too much hot sauce.
"Most people in Arizona are not from here," he said. "So the conversation starter is, 'Where are you from?'
If someone says, 'Buffalo,' I'll say, 'Mighty Taco?'
"They say, 'Heck, yeah.'"
Story topics: 100 things