That's right. The taco chain is half-a-century old. On March 21, 1962, Glen Bell Jr. opened his first Taco Bell in Downey, California, and our nation's late-night love affair with processed Meximerican cuisine (and FourthMeal) began. A new biography of Bell titled Taco USA makes some pretty bold claims about the chain's role in indoctrinating America into Mexican cuisine, and even goes so far as to say, "Taco Bell and its spawn became a gateway for Americans to accept Mexicans." We admit that as much as we might poke fun at the place and wonder a bit about their beef, we will admit to having devoured a Seven-Layer Burrito or two over the years, both drunk and sober, though mostly drunk.
Here are a few interesting facts we picked up today (in addition to the revelation that Grub Street senior editor Alan Sytsma is an admitted fan of the Double-Decker Taco ("They're not without a certain charm at two in the morning"):
• Founder Glen Bell, who died in 2010 at age 86, was also the man behind Der Wienerschnitzel, the California- and southwestern-based premium hot-dog chain.
• The original Taco Bell locations, back in the sixties, served their tacos in fried-to-order shells, which were obviously a whole lot better than the mass-produced ones they started using as the chain expanded.
• At the 50th anniversary gala, about 800 invited guests were treated to mini versions of a beloved menu item that was discontinued in the eighties: the Bellbeefer, which was the chain's answer to the Sloppy Joe.
• Taco Bell's enduring mascot of the late nineties, Gidget the chihuahua, died in 2009 at the age of 15, but many believed she had died when those "¡Yo quiero Taco Bell!" ads stopped airing in 2001.
• The iconic Seven-Layer Burrito, beloved by vegetarians since its introduction (and an admitted teenage favorite of a couple of Grub Street editors), has its own Facebook fan page.
• Introduced as a promotional special in 2005 and added to the permanent menu in 2006, the Crunchwrap Supreme was the company's "most successful product introduction to date." It's an abomination by all accounts: a flattened crispy taco shell wrapped up in a flour tortilla (kind of like a weird crepe) with beef and beans and tomatoes and nacho cheese and sour cream. It's kind of hard not to like, actually.
Also, the Orange County Register has a nice slideshow of the Irvine-based chain through the years, and they reveal to us a new "off-menu craze" we hadn't caught wind of yet: It's one of the new Doritos tacos inside a gordita. We'll say no more.
Taco Bell Turns 50 [OC Register]
How Taco Bell, Now 50, Changed America [SFoodie]
Earlier: Taco Bell Will Unleash Their Doritos Tacos on America Next Month
Taco Bell Launches ‘First Meal’ (a.k.a. Breakfast)