Taco Bell has never been a stranger to remixing existing ideas and ingredients into new product offerings. It's the natural consequence of having only five basic fillings to work with: Sometimes, you've gotta get inventive. The latest launch, however, marks the first time that Taco Bell has cross-pollinated across both its own menu and the menu from other chains.
Meet the "Quesarito," a quesadilla-wrapped burrito previously available only as a so-called "secret menu" item at Chipotle, provided you could hit the chain during an off enough hour that someone behind the counter wouldn't throw you right out the door for messing up their system.
The Pitch: "The NEW Quesarito is the best of a quesadilla and burrito rolled into one! It's filled with seasoned beef, premium Latin rice, Chipotle sauce, reduced-fat sour cream, and then wrapped up in a grilled quesadilla loaded with melted cheeses."
As we've described in these very pages, Taco Bell has been unstoppable lately, issuing one successful new product after another in a nonstop avalanche of beef and bean designed to drive the dining public straight into the open arms of a Rascal scooter with reinforced suspension. The "Doritos Locos" line has been an unqualified hit for the chain, and Taco Bell's biggest gamble, the newly launched breakfast menu, has also been warmly received by the fast food dining public. The Quesarito promises to be no different; in fact, the new menu item has tested more highly than almost any other new menu item by the restaurant to date, according to chief marketing officer Chris Brandt.
The first thing you notice about the Quesarito is that it's got some heft. Unlike other items on the Taco Bell menu, which carry all of the mealtime satisfaction of a breath of bean-scented air, Taco Bell seems determined to pack the Quesarito with a serious amount of substantial ingredients.
There's the "Latin rice," a crossover from the chain's Cantina Bell line of "premium" ingredients designed by chef Lorena Garcia. It carries strong flavors of cilantro and garlic, and provides a solid foundation for the other ingredients: a spicy, smoky chipotle sauce covering a stunningly salty smear of seasoned ground 88 percent beef, 12 percent cellulose and sugar mixture, and the chain's signature caulking gun-squirt of reduced-fat sour cream. Because clearly, you care about your figure.
The real story here, though, is in that hot cheese layer nestled between two layers of chewy flour tortilla diaper, that melted layer of fatty processed cheese food that oozes and melts in a heavenly golden halo of righteousness that encircles not just your burrito but your heart, and tells you that for just a few moments more, just a few stolen seconds of satisfaction sitting in the hard plastic booth of a Taco Bell in Van Nuys before you have to go back to your drywalling job, life is going to be worth living. Is that unconventionally placed layer of melted cheese going to make the whole thing worth it?
The answer is yes.
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Listen, you're going to respond to news of the Quesarito with one of two reactions. You'll either make the wholly original, never-been-heard-before, fast-food-is-poison/Los-Angeles-has-real-Mexican-food argument one more time, or you'll admit to eating at least a few of the 2 BILLION tacos the chain sells each year.
If you're in this second group, if you've made your peace with Taco Bell's continued gloppy-sloppy-guilty role in your life and acknowledged that sometimes, once in a while, laboratory-perfected nacho cheese - filled fast food atrocities with no nutritional value and highly questionable beef content can also be delicious, you'll find a lot to love in the Quesarito.
Malcolm Bedell blogs about cooking and food weirdness at From Away and Spork & Barrel, and is the co-author of "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road." Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.