Written by Kon-Tiki Taco
It’s not just the Millennial generation that loves tacos in new, upscale versions. Now party and event planners and taco caterers alike make tacos an event centerpiece.
In food trends, the new things rarely start at the top. National chains such as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Applebee’s don’t invent new food trends as much as they pick up on what smaller chains and independent restaurants are succeeding with. While that suggests they are late to the party, larger chains have the ability to bring that party to more people. What might be an ethnic dish known only to a minority of Americans can sometimes become the food of choice for all Americans eventually. Consider how once a “pizza pie” was a rarity in the U.S., getting its biggest boost from returning World War II soldiers who had spent post-War time in Italy.
The action right now is in better, upscale tacos. Taco Bell, with its 6,500 restaurants in the U.S. alone, is pretty much known for its lower-price, mass-taste offerings. Then along came Chipotle Grill, serving a fresher, tastier product in decidedly hipper surroundings – siphoning off customers from Taco Bell as well as casual dining restaurants. Not to be outdone, Taco Bell’s parent company YUM Brands announced in April 2014 that they were testing a new restaurant concept they’re calling U.S. Taco. The new restaurant, located in Huntington Beach, California, is selling $4 premium tacos with ingredients that include fried chicken breast, lobster and red cabbage slaw.
The proliferation of Latin-themed food trucks in Southern California and the whole of the West Coast, as well as mobile taco catering carts at large corporate and fundraising events, further paints a picture of the “Great American Taco Takeover”.
Whether or not U.S. Taco goes beyond a test market remains to be seen. But the broad appeal of tacos in all forms – lower market, mid-price and gourmet – is now pretty much established. Tacos represent much of what diners are looking for, which is the sensory pleasure of a tortilla shell, hearty ingredients (including crunchy vegetables) and a piquant touch from citrus with hot spices. Regardless of ethnic background, these are tastes that appeal to a broad demographic spread among people of different backgrounds, nationalities, ages and food traditions.
There’s a convenience factor as well with tacos: They are largely a one-hand way to eat. While perhaps not advisable for eating while driving (or biking, as is sometimes the case), tacos allow the diner to keep the other hand free for holding a beverage, a cell phone or the leash of a pet. For event planners, tacos are an easy choice (those on-site catering carts make almost any venue food-friendly) because of the broad appeal of the item. Thirty years ago diners in Orange County might not have known how to hold a taco – today gourmet tacos are served at weddings and corporate events.