Mark Dery wonders how Taco Bell continues to survive in a country whose citizens have access to real Mexican food. We posit that it has something to do with Pizza Hut surviving in a country that has real pizza. [Salon]

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  1. cnc1019 says:

    cheap and quick. problem solved

  2. gatopeligroso says:

    Correction: Taco Bell should technically not be considered Mexican Food. It should be “Tex-Mex”.

  3. Steel_Pelican says:

    Americans associate Taco Bell with “authentic Mexican food” as much as we associate KFC with “authentic Southern cuisine.”

  4. roche says:

    @gatopeligroso: If you think Taco Bell is Tex Mex then you have never had real Tex Mex.

  5. Buran says:

    What’s the problem here? Sometimes it’s what people want. People who eat at places like that don’t ALWAYS eat there.

    I still like Pizza Hut’s taste even though I sometimes have pizza from other local places. Their breadsticks are good too.

  6. Galls says:

    A New Yorker never touches chain pizza, unless we are out of the state. Because the other 49 have no understanding of what good pizza is.

  7. Bulldog9908 says:

    @cnc1019: You’ve solved in 5 words what some dimwhit at Salon couldn’t figure out in 2259 words.

  8. MercuryPDX says:

    Sigh…. Are Mexican restaurants open 24 hours? Can you get a full meal at a Mexican restaurant for under $5? Can you order at a Mexican restaurant and get your food in under 5 minutes?

    Cheap and convenient, just like most other fast food places.

  9. MercuryPDX says:

    @Galls: SECONDED! I can count the number of places in the Portland Metro area that serve NY style pizza on one hand.

  10. killavanilla says:

    Taco Bell was the first readily available, fast food mexican style eatery in the country.
    Meals are cheap, hot, freshly prepared, and you can get them anywhere.
    Wonder all you want, but Taco Bell gives customers what they expect at every location. Try eating a taco at your local mexican restaurant. Drive an hour away and try another mexican restaurants tacos. One will suck. The other will be good.
    Not to be too much of a clown, but do people really get paid to write articles about why Taco Bell does well when America is full of independantly owned, always different authentic mexican restaurants?
    Wow. I need to get that job.
    Keep an eye out for the next article:
    Why is McDonalds so popular when Americans can find restaurants that sell authentic burgers?
    Followed by a story about why Clowns earn money doing birthday parties when there are real circus’ and an expose on how it is that Japan can make cars so popular when there are plenty of America cars.
    genius.

  11. MeOhMy says:

    Also: It tastes good.

    Sure, I know where good taquerias are near me (And while it will probably take longer than 5 min, they are pretty much open 24 hrs and you can get a huge burrito for $5).

    That doesn’t mean I don’t crave Taco Bell now and again. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

    Same thing with Pizza Hut (or in my case Papa John’s). Sometimes I want “good” pizza. Sometimes (usually when I’m drunk) I want greasy chain pizza.

  12. mac-phisto says:

    it’s the crack. swear to god, sometimes i wake up in a cold sweat at 1:30am shaking for my fix. i don’t eat taco bell very often, but every once in awhile when that gong goes off somewhere in the grey matter of my brain, i gotta make a run.

    someone could write a book on why taco bell thrives in the restaurant marketplace. differentiated menu (compared to other fast foods), open late (weren’t they the first to offer late night drive-thru), & almost their entire menu is under $1. you can feed a carload of people for $10 & your food will before your change.

    but they also succeed on the business end. they are rumored to be one of the best franchise investments around & are also one of the cheapest to start up. they run incredible ad campaigns. they regularly offer new items to “spice up” your eating experience.

    what amazes me most is that despite their inability to complete an order correctly (EVERY time i’ve been there, there’s always SOMETHING wrong) & despite the “run to el baño” approximately 15 minutes after i “run to the border”, i still go back.

  13. RAREBREED says:

    Because in America, people are subjected to billions of dollars of advertising from various corporate conglomerates which heavily influence most peoples’ consumer habits.

    Why does Panda Express exist in San Francisco – a City with a CHINATOWN and tons of Chinese restaurants? Olive Garden – when we have North Beach, where you can find some of the best Italian food in California? Fresh Choice, when lettuce and spinach are cheap and readily available at grocery stores?

    Humans are creatures of habit, and many times it’s hard to break free of habitual constraints to venture out into authentic eateries. Some Americans are so accustomed to believing Taco Bell is Mexican, Panda Express is Chinese, and Olive Garden is Italian, that the real thing just stops appealing to them.

    What a depressing question…

  14. HeartBurnKid says:

    Simple; Taco Bell is cheap, fast, and easy, and while it’s about as far from authentic as you can get, it still doesn’t taste half bad.

    I consider myself somewhat of a foodie, and yet I still eat fast food (Taco Bell and others) far more than I should, for just those reasons. I avoid McDonald’s like the plague, though; no matter how “cheap, fast, and easy” it is, those hockey-pucks they call burgers gross me out.

  15. AlisonAshleigh says:

    “…as much as we associate KFC with “authentic Southern cuisine.”
    …or “authentic chicken”.

  16. RAREBREED says:

    @MercuryPDX: I’m guessing there aren’t any taquerias near you?

  17. vitonfluorcarbon says:

    I’ve eaten all over the US – 35 states in all. I’ve eaten Mexican and I’ve eaten Italian. Not one of the “mexican” restaurants (no matter how authentic) match real Mexican cuisine, and no matter how great one says Pizza is in New York, it does not hold a candle to the Pizza you get in Italy.

    Do I still enjoy eating Mexican and Italian in the US? Yes. Is the the same as the real thing? Heck no, but good enough and better than “American” crap that Applebee’s, TGIF, Outback, etc. serve.

    Taco Bell has its place and always will, even if its not even close to Mexican cuisine.

  18. BStu says:

    I admit that I feel sad for people who think Digiorno tastes like delivery. It reminds me that not everyone in this country enjoys great pizza and can really think of freezer pizza being as good as what they can get delivered from an actual pizza joint.

    Nevertheless, I still buy Digiorno myself. And I intermitantly crave Pizza Hut in spite of myself. Not Domino’s, though, which I have found to be uniformly inedible. Because in the end it isn’t a fight to find the best Pizza and eat only that. Pizza Hut is its own beast, but it also has its own pleasures. I don’t doubt that Taco Bell is much the same. I hope it can co-exist with real Mexican food. Its a shame that there are so few Indie or even Indie-chain burger joints left, but the pizza market does show a peaceful coexistence is possible.

  19. HeartBurnKid says:

    @RAREBREED: I think you’re quite wrong there; nobody really believes Taco Bell is Mexican anymore. Heck, I’ve seen actual Mexican people eating there, practically fresh across the border.

    My area has plenty of great Mexican places (as any place in a border state should), and it also has Taco Bells. It all depends on what you’re in the mood for; if you’re looking for a place with a decent atmosphere and good food, you go to an actual restaurant. If you want cheap and fast, you go to Taco Bell.

  20. suburbancowboy says:

    I always wondered how Pizza Hut and Domino’s, and now Papa John’s can stay in business in New York and Long Island. Every town on Long Island has a dozen Pizzerias. The worst of them are still generally better than Domino’s.

  21. zolielo says:

    I thought all restaurants will become Taco Bell as like others state they are low cost, quick, fairly tasty, and have strong corporate backing.

  22. raybury says:

    1) Drive
    2) Thru

    The fact that it is cheap and likely to be cleaner than the scores of authentic Mexican restaurants near me helps a lot as well. As to sit-down meals, I’ve been to a Denny’s nearby probably 8 to 10 times, and have never set foot in the “family owned and operated” place next door that guarantees “food prepared every day”; boasting about that implies too low a standard.

  23. TechnoDestructo says:

    @roche:

    Yeah, Taco Bell is closer to California Mexican food than Tex-Mex. (And even then it’s its own thing)

    When a real taqueria has something as tasty as Taco Bell for a dollar twenty-five, I’ll stop going to Taco Bell. If I feel like paying five bucks for a burrito, I’ll go get a real burrito (and I pity everyone east of Arizona…for most of you can’t get any closer to this than Chipotle), but most of the time, Taco Bell will do.

  24. gatopeligroso says:

    @roche: My comment should have read: [Correction: Taco Bell should technically not be considered Mexican Food. It should be considered a poor excuse for “Tex-Mex”.]

  25. STrRedWolf says:

    Simple. It’s *cheap*.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t taste that good anyway, but when you have a few bucks, do you get a cheezeburger and small drink or a couple small tacos and a medium drink?

  26. Arlahna says:

    For the same reason we go to McDonald’s in the country that invented the burger. Cheap and lazy.

  27. cde says:

    @MercuryPDX: No, but then again, Taco Bells are not 24hours either. And yes, in mexico, you can get a full meal for 5 usd (Even though a full meal at Taco Bell is over 5usd). And yes, if they started precooking their meat and chicken.

  28. FreakyStyley says:

    @Galls: Chicago would beg to differ.

  29. mcdonnr says:

    Did I miss something? When did Taco Bell become an enemy? And why?!

    I know there are healthier things in the world, but the same can be said about any restaurant. I simply like the taste of the Spicy Chicken Burrito (minus Fiesta, as I’m not a fan of veggies), and appreciate the fact that it’s only a dollar-thirty-something. The food is tasty, I can feed myself and my wife for five dollars or so… what’s not to love?!

  30. HeartBurnKid says:

    @cde: Yes, Taco Bells are open 24 hours (most are anyway, and even the ones that aren’t are open ’till midnight and have a 24-hour drive-thru).

    And yes, in Mexico you can get a full meal for $5USD, but I’m not in Mexico, and even though I’m in SoCal, Mexico is a 6-hour drive away at least. For Mercury, who’s in Oregon, make that 12 hours. Meanwhile, Taco Bell is about 1/2 mile away from my home, and 3 blocks from my work.

    Like I said, cheap, fast, and easy. That’s why there are Taco Bells when there’s real Mexican food around, and that’s really why neither cuts into the other’s market share all that much. They’re catering to two completely different needs.

  31. enm4r says:

    Maybe they just want fourth meal?

    @Galls: If I wanted pizza on a piece of cardboard I agree, fortunately I live in Chicago. I kid, I enjoy thin crust on occasion, but only deep dish is worthy of being called a meal.

  32. RAREBREED says:

    @HeartBurnKid: “nobody really believes Taco Bell is Mexican anymore.” I think you’d be surprised how many not Latin people I know refer to Taco Bell as “Mexican Food.” (Then again, those are usually the same people who think if someone speaks Spanish fluently, they must be Mexican.)

    In HS, we used to eat at Taco Bell all the time because it was close to school. One day, a friend of ours got a job there, told us how food was “prepared” and not cooked there, and that was a wrap – no more Taco Bell for me.

  33. enm4r says:

    @RAREBREED: I think you’d be surprised how many not Latin people I know refer to Taco Bell as “Mexican Food.”

    And you’d be surprised at how many people (latin or not) would refer to the Honduran food I make as “Mexican food.” I mean, can you believe it? The nerve of these people.

    I don’t think anyone with any sense claims to call Taco Bell authentic Mexican food. Does it fit in the Mexican food genre? Sure, why not. Is a McDonalds burger still a burger? Of course. It might be a shite burger that is in no way authentic, but I don’t really think many people are claiming that, even if they’re calling it Mexican food.

  34. timmus says:

    Who eats based on nationalistic merits of the cuisine? When I’m hungry, I simply try to figure out what kind of spices, texture, and taste appeal to me. What kind of restaurant it is is secondary. I don’t go to our local Italian restaurant because of the Italian food; I go there because I’m craving pasta and garlic.

  35. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @MercuryPDX: Are Mexican restaurants open 24 hours? Can you get a full meal at a Mexican restaurant for under $5? Can you order at a Mexican restaurant and get your food in under 5 minutes?

    Damn straight. There are at least six 24-hour taquerias within a mile from where I’m sitting in an uptown office building.

    I can order a full meal for under $4 at three of them, and under $3.50 at one of them, and still eat like a pig.

    That one $3.49 meal, by the way, is “huevos rancheros,” Mexican eggs covered with a chopped tomato, onion, and pepper sauce, which comes with Mexican rice, refried beans, homemade tortillas, and the obligatory table chips and salsa.

    And food in under 5 minutes? If it takes any longer than that after I order, then something is wrong.

  36. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Oh. We also have Taco Bell around here. Most of them also double as Pizza Hut Expresses and God alone knows what. I never eat there. I frequently see work trucks full of Latino day laborers there in the morning though, which really makes me go Hmmmmm….

  37. Anitra says:

    Most people who live up north don’t know what “real Mexican” food is like. I love Taco Bell food (it’s like crack), but I don’t tell people I “love Mexican” anymore. Why? Because some friends in Arizona have shown me what real Mexican (or even Tex-Mex) food is like; it’s very different than what I am used to.

    The other reasons have already been mentioned: speed, price, uniformity, availability.

  38. markwm says:

    I think Killavanilla and Timmus got it right. It’s not about “authentic Mexican cuisine.” It’s about what appeals to a person’s taste buds. I like going to our local you’ll-only-hear-Spanish-from-the-workers-in-the-kitchen-and-broken-English-from-the-waiters Mexican places, but I also enjoy a baja beef chalupa from Taco Bell on occasion. Forget just TB vs. Mexican, McD’s vs. real hamburgers; this argument can be had about any chain restaurant versus it’s ‘authentic’ versions. Of course, it can also be had about a lot of ‘authentic’ restaurants in comparison to the native country the food came from. Does that mean the food is any less good?

  39. Scuba Steve says:

    @roche: It’s more Tex-mex than it is “Mexican cuisine” that’s for sure.

  40. Egakino says:

    Summary:

    My (insert geographic location) has the best (insert food) hands down. No one can match (insert location again)’s (insert food again). I went to (insert location you hate and is a polar opposite) and their (insert food) was so horrible it made me (insert bodily function).

    Really comparing a fast food joint to a high quality, more expensive, slower place is comparing apples to oranges. Not the same thing, never will be, and they don’t want to be.

    On a side note, New York pizza is good but highly overrated, chains can be good as well for a particular purpose. Hell the people in St. Louis love their pizza but it just made me (insert bodily function). Just order the food you like and we can get over ourselves, nuff said.

  41. Egakino says:

    (Sorry for the double post but just thought of something else)

    What they need to do an article on is how all the things we love and endear us to our local greasy spoons/mom and pop fast food joints are the exact same complaints we have and loathe about massive chain places. Its the greasy, fast and oh so bad for us food that we have such fond memories of, but only if it is local. Guess it makes us feel special that we get to horde it for ourselves.

  42. Major-General says:

    Because if you knew the ingredients in “real” mexican food, you wouldn’t eat it either.

  43. pegr says:

    I’m Mexican, and I’m really getting a kick out of these replies…

  44. I know it’s become a cliché by now, but everyone really should read Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation if you haven’t already. Anitrasmith mentions “speed, price, uniformity, availability” as being the reasons that Taco Bell succeeds, and Schlosser would argue that that’s the reason why fast food, in general, is so popular. (He also adds “presentation” to that list.) The book is well written and fascinating; although Schlosser can be a bit arrogant, that’s part of the fun.

    It’s a great book, and the chapter on french fries always makes me crave french fries NOW.

  45. brendanm14 says:

    chicago, new york, dc, we are all very fortunate to live in big, diverse cities that have a big mexican population and therefore think taco bell is not mexican. go to small towns/areas of the country and taco bell is the closest thing to mexican for 30 miles.

  46. markwm says:

    @pegr:
    Heh, growing up, I had a Mexican friend who made fun of the “white man’s Mexican food” available at the local Mexican restaurants. The one Mexican restaurant he did like and said was ‘really authentic’ was, to me, the blandest thing I had ever had.
    Just shows how different people like different things, I guess.

  47. Galls says:

    @FreakyStyley:

    Been there done that. Nothing special.

    Pizza is NY. We are just closer to italy, don’t blame yourself for that towns failures.

  48. markwm says:

    @brendanm14:
    “chicago, new york, dc, we are all very fortunate to live in big, diverse cities that have a big mexican population and therefore think taco bell is not mexican. go to small towns/areas of the country and taco bell is the closest thing to mexican for 30 miles.”
    Actually, I’m in a very rural part of the country, with the largest town within 1.5 hours being a little over 100,000 people. Most towns around are less than 10,000. We may just be an anomaly, but we have tons of Mexican restaurants (as well as ever-increasing numbers of Mexican residents.) Even 10 years ago when this was not the case, I don’t know of anyone who actually thought of Taco Bell as Mexican, except in the general sense of that’s its basis, and I grew up around absolute rednecks.

  49. drjayphd says:

    @Galls: Sounds like somebody’s never been to New Haven…

  50. Youthier says:

    Taco Bell is a delicious bastardized version of Mexican food.

    @markwm: Ditto. It depends on the community. I live in an agriculture heavy area and we have lots of authentic Mexican restaurants that are fantastic (and constantly packed). Actually, the “Mexican” restaurant that was endangered here wasn’t Taco Bell, it was Hacienda.

  51. Sonnymooks says:

    Pizza Hut delivers, so that I can understand, also for a massive chain, they are pretty creative, and do come up with new ideas and gimmicks, but the bottom line is they deliver.

    Now Taco Bell, and how they survive, I have no clue, yea, they have drive through, but alot of places have basic pick up, and they do not deliver, so I do not understand how they manage.

  52. CoffeeAddict says:

    Taco Bell is fast food, plain and simple. It’s not mexican food but it fills the void. If you want real food of any kind don’t go to a fast food joint. Sitting down at a real restaurant is the only real way to experience food from any region/country.

  53. HungryGrrl says:

    I live in a Taco Bell free area. Not happy about it. They closed the ones at the malls down over some Pepsi vs Coke vendor dispute or something (though last time I was at one of the malls I noticed the Chesterfield Fried Chicken offers both fountain Pepsi and frozen Coca-Cola slushies!)

    I’ve always appreciated ‘real’ Mexican food, and there are some excellent burrito joints in this New England college town (Bueno y Sano especially!), but when I’m at the mall, I always get bummed that there’s no more Taco Bell, because it was the best cheapest food court food around. Now I’m forced to eat Jr Bacon Cheezburgers from Wendys!

  54. MercuryPDX says:

    @RAREBREED: I’m guessing there aren’t any taquerias near you?

    Aren’t those just a “mom and pop” version of Taco Bell? The local paper that gets stuck in my mailbox once a week publishes the scores of all the restaurant health inspections the previous week. The closest two taquerias failed inspections too many times to even consider eating there. I think the lowest I’ve seen the closest Taco Bell scored is 87 (out of 100).

    @cde: No, but then again, Taco Bells are not 24hours either. And yes, in mexico, you can get a full meal for 5 usd (Even though a full meal at Taco Bell is over 5usd).

    By me the Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, Jack in the Box and even Del Taco are all open 24 hours. Wouldn’t a drive/flight to Mexico during my lunch hour seem a bit more costly and time consuming than just going down the street?

  55. acambras says:

    Since my boyfriend is Mexican, I consider him enough of an authority on Mexican food. He loves the food that his Mama and his Tias cook at their homes in Mexico. But he also loves Taco Bell. Because it’s tasty, not because it’s some sort of substitute for real Mexican food.

  56. HomoLaw says:

    Would be nice if either the copy editor or the author could have distinguished “palette” from “palate.” Isn’t “Salon” supposed to be literate?

  57. cde says:

    @speedwell: Over here, Pizza Hut Express joined forces with the Colonel, not the taco bell dog :D

    @MercuryPDX:

    @HeartBurnKid:

    Most taco bells from Jersey to Florida are not 24 hours. Not even the ones on 95. I’d kill for a 24hour, even drive thru or Friday/Saturday only Tacobell. All I have around me is white castle and a 24hour drivethru McyShits. And Dinners, lots and lots of dinners (the joy of real food at 3/4 am, so we don’t need no stinking 24hour jack in the box. :P)

    I’m figuring the 24hour fast food places to be a california thing only then.

  58. thepounder says:

    @HomoLaw: I thought the whole exercise of the Salon article was just to see how many words it could be stretched out to, but the first poster here “solved the mystery” in a whopping 5 words. Maybe Salon should be paying CNC1019 instead.

    “Palette” vs “palate”… funny stuff. That movie Idiocracy isn’t really fiction.

    on-topic, I loves me some Taco Hell late-night when I feel like staying up for hours on end playing Smackdown vs. RAW on the PS2… it seems no other food helps me to whoop so much computer-animated ass as Taco Bell… with extra sour cream. Now I’m hungry… damn.

  59. mac-phisto says:

    @cde: All I have around me is white castle…

    damn you!

    i love white castle. closest one to me is 1-1/2 hr. road trip.

  60. Hexum2600 says:

    Because of how horrible Mexican food is.

    Horrible to say, but compared to the dog food manufactured and served in Mexico and by Mexican immigrant and their like, Taco Bell is actually superior food. THat doesn’t make it good, just better than anything from that hellhole.

    WHich surprisingly is EXACTLY THE SAME REASON people eat Pizza Hut when compared to authentic “italian” pizza, or for that matter Olive Garden compared to authentic Italian food… because unless you actually ARE a greasy no good guido, you don’t WANT Italian food, and would only ever visit Italy to remember what cities like Rome once were and to weep, oh weep untill the tears won’t flow anymore at what has happened to take the Italian people from such a lofty and high pillar of civilizatio into the sub human dog people they are today.

    *sigh*

  61. kerry says:

    I did a quick tally, and within 6 blocks of my house there are 8 taquerias (probably more, if you count streets I don’t travel on frequently), 2 of which are open 24 hours, and no Taco Bells. There was a Taco Bell a couple miles away, but now it’s a Yale Insurance office. When I was in college in Massachusetts there were no real Mexican restaurants, so we had Taco Bell.
    I wonder if Hexum2600 realizes how many kitchens are staffed almost entirely with Mexican immigrants, at least in areas with a large Mexican immigrant population. If I was as racist as he is, I’d never be able to eat anywhere, for fear a *gasp* Mexican might have prepared my food. Also, Pizza Hut is disgusting.
    I’d rather get a good taco al pastor with fresh cilantro, lime and onions at Garcia’s around the corner than get some nasty beef’n’bean slop from Taco Bell.

  62. acambras says:

    @Hexum2600:

    And the award for IGNORANT JERK WHO CAN DISS 2 CULTURAL GROUPS IN ONE COMMENT goes to Hexum2600.

  63. MercuryPDX says:

    @cde: And Dinners, lots and lots of dinners (the joy of real food at 3/4 am, so we don’t need no stinking 24hour jack in the box.

    I have ONE decent one down the road from me (Fat Daves), and another clear across town. I’ll gladly trade you two or three 24 hr Taco Bells for a good, menu the size of a small phone book, 24 hour diner.

    P.S. Keep the White Castle… that’s one place I don’t miss.