Taco Bell Launches U.S. Taco Co., an Upmarket Competitor to Chipotle

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100 percent American, whatever that is. Photo: U.S. Taco Co.

This summer, the fast-food giant is putting away its gonzo fried-waffle tacos and growing up a little by opening the official-sounding U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Taproom in Huntington Beach, California. Much like Super Chix, the KFC spinoff that just launched in a strategic attempt to tap into Chick-fil-A's customer base, the test-market restaurant is Taco Bell's attempt to out-Chipotle Chipotle. To that end, the focus at U.S. Taco is "$4 premium tacos" that come in flavors like "Southern Squealer," which is kind of a sad way of saying pulled pork, and "Brotherly Love," the "cheesesteak-inspired" taco seen here, which one imagines a Philadelphian might leave on the doorstep of someone he does not like  it's got cotija on it instead of Whiz.

Here's more innovation: Taco Bell senior brand manager Jeff Jenkins tells Ad Age that one idea is that the eclectic menu  which may include 10 out of a backlist of 20 "developed" tacos at any given time  will lend itself to lots and lots of Instagram posts, while Nation's Restaurant News reports that customers "can also order their fries loaded with taco ingredients sans tortilla as a 'secret menu' option."

But isn't a secret menu item supposed to be a secret, especially at a time before the restaurant has served its very first customers? And is what happens in an "urban taproom" fundamentally different from what happens in a "suburban taproom"? Where have all the great suburban taprooms gone? And are fast-food rules, if they exist like the test-market restaurant's website says they do, really meant to be "broke," or just broken?

"Taco Bell is Mexican-inspired. U.S. Taco is American-inspired," is how Greg Creed, the chain's chief executive, explains what must have been the result of intense focus-group data-crunching and flavor profile-supercomputing. That also explains why the restaurant is serving a somewhat offensive-sounding boozy milkshake called the Mexican Car Bomb. In a Mason jar, no less.

Check It, Chipotle: Taco Bell Tests Fast-Casual Concept in California [Ad Age]
Taco Bell develops new fast-casual taco concept [NRN]