It's been called 'the taco that could save the US' - but how does it taste...?

Taco Bell sells so many of its latest snack, it's had to take on 15,000 staff to keep up. Tim Walker finds out what the fuss is about

There was a five-car queue for the drive-through window at Taco Bell in Santa Monica at lunchtime on Thursday.

Inside the restaurant, however, I didn’t have to wait long to sample the famous Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Taco. The modest snack was the biggest-selling item on the fast-food chain’s menu last year. Taco Bell patrons ate 375 million of the bright orange chilli-filled semi-circles in 2012: more than a million per day.

Thanks in large part to this single miraculous foodstuff, the company bucked the US economic trend, taking on 15,000 new staff to match its eight per cent annual same-store sales rise. Taco Bell grew faster last year than KFC, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s. Greg Creed, the chain’s chief executive, told The Daily Beast this week that the Doritos Locos Taco was “the biggest launch in Taco Bell history”. So I went to find out how it tasted.

It tasted just as you’d expect: like a giant crisp, stuffed with shredded iceberg lettuce, grated generic cheddar and a sprinkling of diced tomato. Hidden at its heart is a thick seam of beef chilli. It’s polished off in less than a minute, leaving nothing but a cardboard sleeve smeared with sour cream. And less than a minute after that, the flavours are all but forgotten.

To put the sales statistics in some perspective, it should be noted that one Taco Bell taco is too small for lunch – so I ordered another. On 7 March, the company launched its new Cool Ranch-flavoured Doritos taco with the largest marketing campaign in its history. Like its predecessor, the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco costs just $1.29 (85p) plus tax. Unlike the Nacho Cheese version, it will not coat your fingers in cheese-flavoured orange dust. It contains 200 calories, which is 100 fewer than a McDonald’s cheeseburger.

There are only three Taco Bells in the UK, and two of those are in Essex. It’s not a dining experience for which I’d recommend travelling long distances. But in the US, Taco Bell, which turns 51 this week, is a fast food institution to rank alongside its more global rivals. Glen Bell opened his very first pseudo-Mexican restaurant in March 1962 in Downey, a suburb of Greater Los Angeles. Sixteen years later, he sold the burgeoning Taco Bell chain to PepsiCo.

That brought Taco Bell and Doritos under the same corporate roof: the popular tortilla chips are manufactured by Frito-Lay North America, PepsiCo’s $13bn convenient foods arm. In 1997, however, the conglomerate spun off its restaurant business into what is now Yum! Brands, Inc. Based in Louisville, Kentucky, Yum! is one of the world’s biggest restaurant firms. As CEO, Creed oversees not only Taco Bell, but also KFC and Pizza Hut.

Though the company boasts more than 39,000 outlets in 125 countries, Taco Bell is primarily US-based, with only 280 branches outside its home country, most of which are in Canada.

Nevertheless, with almost 6,000 locations in the US its 150,000 staff still manage to sell more than two billion tacos and one billion burritos per year. “We believe we can add 2,000 new restaurants in the next 10 years, because what we have is proprietary and exclusive. Nobody else can make a Cool Ranch Doritos taco,” said Creed.

The average customer reportedly visits a Taco Bell once every 11 days. Shana Neal, 25, who was in the queue in Santa Monica with her daughter, said she normally cooks at home. “But my dentist is nearby, so I treat myself to a meal here whenever I visit the dentist. I know it’s not good for me, but it’s better than McDonald’s.” Her preferred menu items, she said, are the cheese quesadilla and the Mountain Dew Baja Blast Freeze slushie.

Taco Bell is at pains to persuade mature diners to partake, with its line of pricier, more sophisticated “Cantina Bell” products, such as the Cantina Bowl: “citrus-herb marinated chicken, flavourful black beans, a creamy cilantro dressing, and freshly prepared pico de gallo, all served on a bed of premium Latin rice.”

Taco Bell’s core customer, though, is young and active on social media. And Twitter suggests they are satisfied. “I have always liked the @tacobell #nachocheesedlt so I decided to try a #coolranchdlt,” a dutiful Josh Johns (@bootstx) tweeted on Thursday. “They’re both so good that I can’t pick a favorite!” Meanwhile, one Kristen Jenson (@kristen_jenson) wrote, “The boyfriend just bought me a #CoolRanchDLT so I guess I’ll keep him around.” Cheap date.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Arts and Entertainment
film

Marvel has released the first teaser trailer a week early after it leaked online

Extras
indybest
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
News
i100
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

History Teacher

£95 - £105 per day: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Plymouth i...

SQL Developer - Cardiff - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits and bonus: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer -...

SQL Developer - Cardiff - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits and bonus: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer ...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: The Job:TEACHERS REQUIREDWe are...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?