I remember my first visit to Taco Bell, circa 1976. What an experience for a seven year old! Stucco walls! Red brick floors and a patio/plaza surrounded by a low wall. It was another country!
Everything was new and strange. The people working the counter took your order by noting your choices with a grease pencil on a wipe board bolted above the arched ordering alcove. As you ordered each item, you specified “spicy” or “mild” (this was before the little square tubs of hot sauce and long before the current flat packets). How considerate.
But they were very helpful – above the coutner was a colourful menu, complete with large pictures and pronunciation guides – (TAH-coh), (burr-REE-toe). There were only about nine or so items available. Help me try to recollect the original Taco Bell menu of the mid-1970s:
Burrito: Bean, Beef, or Combo
Frijoles (now known as pintos and cheese)
Bell Beefer (a Mexican sloppy-joe burger!)
Is that all? Can anyone recall the whole menu?
There were no soft tacos, not chalupas, no gorditas (I don’t even know what chalupas and gorditas are), no fajitas, no double decked anything, no supreme anything, no special sauces. No chicken. Just beans, beef, cheese, lettuce, and that heavenly red sauce.
I remember when they were first starting a big nationwide push in the late '80s – at least that’s when they started rising to prominence in South Florida, where I’m from. They had several TV commercials with the likes of Willie Nelson and Little Richard singing about Taco Bell, and the majority of their items were on three separate menus, priced at 59, 79, and 99 cents. Those were the days!
I think the tortilla chips and cheesy sauce had to be among the first additions to the menu, no?
Taco Bell’s burrito supreme was how I first got the courage to try sour cream. I had a student teacher in my third grade class who took me to lunch there one day, circa 1978. She ordered one and of course I wanted to be just like her so I bravely asked for the same, even though the sour cream we had at home had always seemed gross. I mean, we throw milk away when it sours, what’s up with purposefully sour cream?
It was the best burrito of my entire life, and the rest is history.
I’ll go one better than the menu. Does anybody remember the old Taco Bell commercials that ran sometime in the late 60’s and early 70’s? They were animated and featured a dragon (or maybe it was a dinosaur) and a Taco Bell employee extolling the goodness of whatever specific Taco Bell menu item the particular ad was promoting. At the end of each ad, after the announcer told you where your closest local Taco Bell was, you’d see the dragon (or dinosaur) eat a Taco Bell restaurant building.
I think liquid cheese was a pretty late addition to the ingredients list, probaly with that first 59-79-99 national advertising push.
From my perspective, this is when Taco Bell started going down hill. I think this is when they started using microwave ovens to heat the tortillas – since then the tortillas have been stretchy and gummy instead of like real tortillas.
I worked at Taco Bell (very very briefly, I wasn’t fast enough) in 1976 in Los Alamos NM.
Yeah, the Bellbeefer was called a Bellburger. The Enchiritos had black olives on top as well as sour cream back then (and they were bigger). The tostadas were also bigger, btw.
There was a green sauce as well as the mainstream red sauce for the burritos but customers had to ask for it. It was actually around on into the 80s but I assume it’s long gone, since they never advertised its existence.
The “Pintos and Cheese” was called a Frijole (as if you were getting a single solitary bean). Oh, and it was bigger (deeper container).
Bean items sold for 40¢; tacos were 45¢; I’ve forgotten how much beef and combo burritos and enchiritos were, but a notch above the other prices.
Our own Taco Bell, independent of any decision made by the chain, stocked up on Morton’s hot sauce and gave it out as a substitute for Taco Bell hot sauce to people who wanted something hotter.
There was a green sauce as well as the mainstream red sauce for the burritos but customers had to ask for it. It was actually around on into the 80s but I assume it’s long gone, since they never advertised its existence./QUOTE]
I’ve seen the green sauce at some of the restaurants as recently as 2004. I used to live across the street from a Taco Bell and ate there far too regularly.
You can still get the green sauce, at least in Colorado - order your burrito “spicy”. For 15 (or maybe it’s 25 now) cents you can get a little tub of the stuff, looks like about 2 tablespoons, to pour on your nachos.