We know this about Taco Bell: They try stuff. The brand has a very active R&D team, a smart marketing crew, and they’re able to rush products to market in a way that feels urgent. This is partly because the company’s chefs mostly riff on a few core ingredients, but also because they keenly understand how to make chain food work these days. Invent something weird, hope it catches on, benefit from free media coverage (which reminds people “Oh yeah, let’s go to Taco Bell”), scrub the failures, build off the successes, rinse and repeat.
Add a little stunt PR now and again and you have a pretty solid recipe for success. It’s a great model but not a difficult one to figure out. It’s actually pretty shocking that other brands haven’t solved this little non-riddle. By contrast, fellow YUM Brands chain KFC is notoriously slow to innovation and seemed to let the fried chicken sandwich moment that dominated fast food in 2016 mostly pass them by when they should have crushed it.
Yesterday, I went to Taco Bell’s Test Kitchen in Irvine CA to taste a few dishes that the chain is testing across the country. There were some embargoed items that I can’t talk about yet (they’re experimenting with more non-tortilla shells), but here’s what I thought about the dishes I can write about:
Doritos Quesalupa Crunch — Testing in Cincinnati, OH
This is a quesadilla wrapped around a Doritos Locos taco, glued together with cheese. Taco Bell’s R&D team said when presenting it, “You’ll note that there’s a lot of cheese in the product.” Truer words have never been spoken.
So how does this one taste? Well, duh. It tastes amazing. It’s cheese and a taco and more cheese and Doritos dust. This isn’t rocket science (though the number of employees in lab coats told a different story). When another food writer saw that I’d finished it, rather than taking a bite and jotting notes, she scoffed “rookie,” which made me want to throw a chalupa at her. You’re tasting tacos, lady, not judging Top Chef — truthfully, I could have put away a few more of these.
If I had to complain, I’d say the breading ratio is a little off. Can we spray the Doritos dust straight on the inside of the flour tortilla and then use the extra space to add more meat? There was already plenty of crunch. Still, with a slight tweak (or even without), this is an obvious win because it combines a bunch of stuff Taco Bell fans already love.