Taco Bowls: Authentic Or Not?

8 September 2016
 Categories: Food & Cooking, Articles


Donald Trump is known for making headlines, but one recent headline has sparked a debate about a popular dish. Ever since the Republican presidential nominee's infamous Cinco de Mayo tweet made headlines, many people have been wondering if the infamous taco bowl showcased in the tweet can be called authentic Mexican food. The following takes a close look at the origins of the taco bowl. Be warned—some of the facts you'll find here could surprise you.

Not Invented Here (in Mexico)

As it turns out, the taco bowl (more commonly known as a taco salad) doesn't have any origins south of the border. Instead, it has more in common with Tex-Mex cuisine than it does with authentic Mexican dishes. Although some of the ingredients used in the typical taco bowl can be found in authentic Mexican dishes, other ingredients like shredded iceberg lettuce and sour cream are more at home with other Tex-Mex foods.

So where did the taco bowl really come from? The true origins of the taco bowl can be traced back to a small Mexican-style restaurant that once operated in the Disneyland theme park in Southern California.

The True Origin of the Taco Bowl

If you want to know who came up with the idea of the taco bowl, you have none other than Elmer Doolin to thank. If you haven't heard of Doolin before, then you've probably heard about "Fritos," the famous brand of corn chips he helped create.

In 1955, shortly after Disneyland's grand opening, Doolin's company opened a small restaurant catering to park-goers in search of "authentic" Mexican cuisine. The restaurant, known then as "Casa de Fritos," served an early version of the taco bowl known as the "tacup." Consisting of a simple mix of cheese, ground beef, and other ingredients, the tacup started out much smaller than a modern taco bowl. However, the dish proved so popular among patrons that it steadily grew in size as time passed.

As an aside, the Casa de Fritos was also home to another highly popular snack-food staple. In an effort to cut back on waste, workers at the restaurant began cutting up and frying leftover tortillas in the style of traditional Mexican totopos. The end result became "Doritos," a snack chip that eventually saw nationwide release in 1966 and has had strong popularity ever since.

From Novelty Dish to Fast Food Staple

From its origins at Casa de Fritos, the taco bowl became a favorite mainstay of high-school lunch menus and Mexican chain restaurants throughout the United States. However, it wasn't until the fast-food giant Taco Bell added the taco bowl to its menu in 1984 that the taco bowl truly cemented itself in America's culinary memory. It was a move that made plenty of sense. After all, the founder of the fast-food chain, Glenn Bell, was instrumental in creating the hard-shell taco.

Since then, the taco bowl has remained a popular fast-food item throughout the country. It's also quite popular among people who want to make their own version of the Tex-Mex dish from scratch, using a wide variety of ingredients according to their own unique tastes. There are even paleo and vegan taco bowl recipes for those who want to watch their figure without sacrificing their favorite dishes. Some recipes even ditch the classic tortilla bowl in favor of healthier and less-fattening tortilla strips or chips.

So the taco bowl isn't exactly what you'd call "authentic Mexican" cuisine. Nevertheless, it's loved all the same by many food aficionados who enjoy a great dish when they see it. That is something that even The Donald can agree on. 

To find a restaurant with a taco bowl or with authentic Mexican dishes, visit the sites of Mexican restaurants in your area.