Taco Bell Celebrates Its 50th Aniversary This Week; 5 Ways the Bell Helped Mexican Food Become Better in the U.S.

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Taco Bell's original mascot...

Taco Bell, the Mexican fast-food giant everyone loves to hate, celebrates its 50th anniversary this week and...yeah. Heaven knows it's an easy whipping boy for everything wrong with Mexican food in this country: the bastardized meals, the incessant appropriation (this week: I finally reveal the name of the restaurant whose taco recipe Glen Bell took for himself and subsequently became a millionaire while leaving the family behind), the bad food, the many bizarre crimes committed at its premises. They'll play a big role in my book on Mexican food in the United States (out April 10), and not always a positive one

But that's the easy part. Fact  is, the Bell also immeasurably helped out the progress of Mexican food in this country. Yes, Virginia: there are nice things to say about Taco Bell--great things, actually, for without it, we'd be at a much-worse spot for Mexican food. So next time you want to slam the Doritos Loco taco...don't. At least for this week, out of respect for this taco titan.

1. Taco Bell Brought Mexican Restaurants to Places That Never Had One, Thereby Whetting Appetites for the Better Mexican to Come


Instead of me rehashing a point I've made before, check out my commentary above on the very subject for Marketplace in 2010, shortly after the death of Glen Bell.

2. Taco Bell Convinced Non-Mexicans that They, Too, Could Get Rich off Mexican Food

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Bell was a fast-food Johnny Appleseed, giving a start to the founders of Del Taco and Wienerschnitzel, and helping out Dick Naugles of Naugles fame--and these were just his personal friends. The early success of Bell with El Taco launched a taco revolution--between Taco Bell, Del Taco, Naugles, and their imitators--TacoTime, Taco Tico, Taco John's, Taco Bueno, and other chains started by gabacho men in the 1960s, the country was awash in fast-food empires. Such success, in turn, convinced entrepreneurs to join the Mexican game. And while Americans getting rich on Mexican food is nothing news (read my book for more details), Bell did this at a time when franchising was exploding and further drove the point for Americans that they didn't need Mexicans around to enjoy or cook Mexican food.

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16 comments
Gringo loco
Gringo loco

I came to California from Chicago as a white kid in the 1970s, and sadly, my introduction to so-called Mexican food came courtesy of my elementary school cafeteria – enchiladas, taquitos with the pasty green guac – I'd never seen the like, it was all too strange, and I usually swapped mine for a slice of pizza to be named later.

It was teenage hangouts like Taco Bell, Naugles, Pup & Taco and especially our local Green Burrito that served as my bridge to more authentic Mexican food, be it at some fancy sit-down joint or at some out-of-the-way taco truck that mi Spanish-speaking amigos would take me to.

EL CHAVO!
EL CHAVO!

"Taco Bell has shown innovative restaurateurs that consumers are always looking for something new." Man, you really stretched it just to say something good about corporate food. I hope your book isn't full of this kinda stuff cuz it already seems dated.

Btyson9
Btyson9

Taco Tico will never be beat! NEVER!

IQRAGE
IQRAGE

What has Taco Bell has done for Mexican food?! NOTHING!! Taco bell is NOT a mexican resturant! Come to San Antonio and ask for the Mexican Resturant TACO BELL!? My DOG wont eat that crap!

Jrurt
Jrurt

I was 20 before I ever ate at a taco bell and that was because I was not at home anymore and I had the munchies real bad.

TheRefriedMexican
TheRefriedMexican

I like how Gus goes with the big fancy words (atavistic, proselytizing) even when writing an article about tacos & burritos. LMAO!

BillE
BillE

Oh...and don't forget, other than cocaine, no better way has ever been found to ease a wicked hangover than four Advil, two Taco Bell bean burritos and a large pepsi

BillE
BillE

I grew up in the 60's on the real deal cooked by the Mexican woman who managed my grandfather's migrant hotel in Le Grand, Ca in the Great Central Valley. My first reaction to my first Taco Bell visit at about age 12 was "This ain't Mexican food but,  it sure is good!"

Joe
Joe

Another one might be that Taco Bell was the first place that many people ever tried at least a facsimile of a Mexican-style "hot sauce."

Christian Z.
Christian Z.

The Taco Bell people I met at the Doritos Locos Taco ("biggest Dorito chip ever") launch party were all very nice and one even asked me to recommend good Mexican restaurants to them. This shattered my belief that they weren't aware that Mexican food, however fake or authentic, existed outside of Taco Bell.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Um, date that point to when Taco Bell was spreading around, not the present day--must it be spelled out for you?

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

You know that's what the rest of the country says about SanAnto Mex food, right?

909Jeff
909Jeff

I was more amused at his delivery... A lot like Christina Gonzalez from Fox 11 news... Speaks perfect English and then over enunciates the Spanish words.  

909Jeff
909Jeff

Your voice on the recording! 

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