Wednesday is National Taco Day, and for the second year in a row, Taco Bell has really gone all-out. The twist here is that they’ve gone all-out for an exceedingly small number of people, and those lucky few will get a chance to taste some of the best, most high-quality food the restaurant chain has ever put out on Wednesday.
Last month, Taco Bell put out a hyper-exclusive call for fans (because this was really an offer for Taco Bell FANS, let’s be honest here) to make a reservation on OpenTable, and a scant 32 diners will get a chance to take in a one-of-a-kind, five-course taco-inspired menu at Taco Bell’s corporate headquarters in Irvine, California. There will be two seatings of 16 diners each, and they’re going to get their socks knocked off by what’s in store for them.
I was lucky enough to try just a few of the items on this gargantuan menu, and I — along with two other news outlets — will comprise the entirety of the 35 non-Taco Bell employees who will ever lay a taste bud on any part of this one-time-only meal. Frankly, the thought is enough to make me weep.
I weep for myself, and for you, dear reader, for you have no idea the wonders I have beheld.
The appetizers and amuse-bouche that I was able to sample were absolutely phenomenal, and things kind of ramped up from there. There was a bowl of tortilla chips and cheese crisps, served with guacamole and a quintet of salsas, all inspired by existing Taco Bell sauce packets (and the dear, departed salsa verde … gone, but not forgotten). The Dos XX Diablo salsa infused with tequila packed quite a punch, and the “Hatch Hot” boosted by hatch peppers was robust and satisfying. The cheese crisps, by the way, absolutely need to be added to the Taco Bell menu nationwide posthaste.
Toasted cheese that resembles the glorious end of the fondue pot and can be dipped into a receptacle of guacamole? A thousand times, yes.
As for the amuse-bouche, the chef offered margarita shooters paired with miniature tacos, served atop a tiny platform of an entire lime. The tacos were light and the perfect mix of flavorful ingredients, as poached, shredded chicken was paired with a dollop of guac and corn. The chicken was moist and provided a satisfying chew behind the crunch of the perfectly-cooked hard shell.
But the real star of the show was a trio of inventions listed as “A World of Tacos” on the menu.
Inspired by the local cuisines of Korea, Japan, and India, these three tacos offered unique tastes … and were some of the largest tacos I’ve ever consumed.
The Japan taco was served in a shell of seasoned, fried ramen noodles, and actual Wagyu beef was the centerpiece, accentuated by wasabi sour cream, cabbage slaw, picked cucumbers, and topped with nori. It was, to sum up in one word, stunning. The first bite legitimately had me taken aback, and I wished my experience of eating this taco could have lasted forever.
The Korean taco was every bit as good, with a distinctly Taco Bell spin on bulgogi: marinated with Baja Blast, as opposed to the standard lemon-lime soda that is featured in many bulgogi recipes. Depending upon how you feel about Baja Blast, that may sound horrid to you, but it certainly tasted like some of the finest bulgogi I’ve ever had, as though the preparation had dialed up the taste, or made it louder. The shell for this bulgogi taco was actual Taco Bell rice, formed, toasted, and fried (and seasoned, of course). An extremely mild Ssäm sour cream, kimchi-inspired slaw (not, it should be noted, kimchi slaw) and toasted sesame seeds all came together splendidly, and it was easy to see why this was the highlight for the chef who prepared this meal.
The India-inspired taco was by default the weak link — by sheer dint of being “extremely good” rather than “transcendent.” Our old Taco Bell friend the chicken chalupa served as the shell, but a healthy dose of curry spice rubbed on the chicken, along with tikka masala on the inside helping to bind the ingredients, really made this sing. The mango pico de gallo on top was a lovely touch.
The final item I was able to enjoy was every bit as good as the taco trio, but in a completely different way. “Elements of a Taco Supreme” deconstructed the classic Taco Bell taco supreme, and as a result was an entree that would stand on its own in any posh Los Angeles eatery — particularly any Angeleno establishment that offers “deconstructed” anything.
Sous vide filet mignon, sour cream caviar, charred romaine, and compressed tomatoes — served with a jus from cooked taco meat — was served atop and alongside a masa cake croquette stuffed with shredded, Taco Bell-seasoned beef. The hunks of filet were beyond tender, the shredded beef exceedingly flavorful, and all of the elements together were just heavenly. It was somewhere between a perfect taco and a perfect salad, and no part of it felt weighty or unnecessary.
In fact, as I think back over the meal, I continue to be struck by how substantial, yet how light everything felt. There was at least one element in each dish that was refreshing, and made me eager to move on to the next item. Sadly, that’s where my tasting ended.
As I mentioned, this was just a portion of the full five-course meal that those lucky 32 diners will get to enjoy. You can see the full menu below.
Naturally, the nation’s Taco Bell restaurants are doing SOMETHING for the general populace for National Taco Day on Wednesday. There will be a limited edition four-pack of tacos that you can pick up for just $5.
For the taco lover who has everything, there is really only one gift sure to be on everyone’s list for National Taco Day. Taco Bell will be offering a National Taco Day Gift Set in participating restaurants on October 4th only, equipped with customers’ four classic Taco Bell tacos for five dollars: Nacho Cheese, Cool Ranch, and Fiery Doritos Locos Tacos and, of course, the iconic Crunchy Taco, all “gift wrapped” in a limited edition wrapper and specially boxed.
Four tacos for $5 isn’t anything to sneeze at, but it’s a far cry from that one-of-a-kind meal that those lucky few will be enjoying this week. Just keep your fingers crossed that any version of any of the items I got to taste ever makes its way to the national menu. Because you didn’t know it until just now — and neither did I — but you desperately need some of this in your life. Especially those cheese crisps.