Tacos With a Side of Trivia
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Live Más: 20 Spicy Secrets Behind Taco Bell's Success

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Tacos With a Side of Trivia
RiverNorthPhotography/istockphoto

Tacos With a Side of Trivia

What better time than National Taco Day to take a deep dive into the most ubiquitous Mexican food chain in the U.S.? Taco Bell has managed to amass an almost cult-like following among devotees for its ultra-cheap eats, often served up with a zany edge (Waffle Taco, we're looking at you). Impress your friends on that next late-night "Fourth Meal" run with some Taco Bell trivia.

Related: 30 Things You Didn’t Know About White Castle

The Founder Started Out Slinging Burgers
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The Founder Started Out Slinging Burgers

Glen Bell, Taco Bell's founder, was no stranger to the fast-food game when he founded Taco Bell in the early '60s. Inspired by the success of a fledgling chain you just might have heard of — McDonald's — he started a competing burger and hot-dog stand, getting the money for the venture by selling his sister's refrigerator. Bell only put tacos on the menu when the burger competition became too stiff, figuring he needed something to stand out. Bell reportedly found inspiration to serve hard shell tacos at Mitla Cafe, a Mexican restaurant across the street from one of his burger stands on Route 66 in San Bernardino, California, where he also may have picked up a few lessons in the kitchen. The decision to focus on tacos proved fortuitous, indeed, leading to a Mexican food stand called Taco Tia, and then the first Taco Bell.

Related: From Mongols to McDonald's: A History of the Humble Hamburger

It Has Always Been a Mecca For Cheap Eats
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It Has Always Been a Mecca For Cheap Eats

Taco Bell remains an easy choice for hungry customers looking to stretch their dollar. The first restaurant sold tacos, burritos, tostados, frijoles, and more for just 19 cents each. Adjust for inflation, and that's about $1.55 for a burrito or taco — not too far off today's prices for the more basic varieties. But that 10-cent small Coke was a smokin' deal. Adjusted for inflation, that's only 81 cents, and a far cry from the $1.69 you'll pay for a small fountain drink at Taco Bell today.

The First Taco Bell was Spared the Wrecking Ball
The First Taco Bell was Spared the Wrecking Ball by Brent Moore (CC BY-NC)
Burger Week Burger #6: Doritos Bell Beefer @TheOinkster
Burger Week Burger #6: Doritos Bell Beefer @TheOinkster by Rob (CC BY-NC-SA)

It Didn't Always Think Outside the Bun

Taco Bell customers in the '70s, '80s, and '90s could tuck into a long-discontinued burger called the Bell Beefer instead of a taco or burrito. Meant to compete with the likes of McDonald's and Burger King, the Bell Beefer was a bit like a sloppy Joe with some vaguely Mexican seasoning, cheese, lettuce, and tomato. A loyal group of about 4,500 fans are still demanding the return of the Bell Beefer in a Facebook group.

There's a Beachside Location, and it Serves Booze
There's a Beachside Location, and it Serves Booze by Adam Isserlis (CC BY)

There's a Beachside Location, and It Serves Booze

As if a Taco Bell that's literally on the sand with sweeping ocean views doesn't sound heavenly enough, the famously scenic location in Pacifica, California, has a walk-up window for beachgoers and "surfboard parking." Major bonus: It was recently renovated, morphing into a Taco Bell Cantina — that is, a Taco Bell with booze — in the process. That means you can cool off with wine, beer, sangria, and "Twisted Freezes," inspired by frozen margaritas, but in flavors like Mountain Dew Baja Blast.

Taco Bell Failed Miserably in Mexico
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Taco Bell Failed Miserably in Mexico

There are about 500 Taco Bells outside the U.S., spread across nearly 30 countries. One place where there is a conspicuous absence? Mexico. The chain's first attempt at establishing a foothold there, in the early '90s, was a total bust, confusing customers who thought they would be getting something resembling authentic Mexican food. More than a decade later, Taco Bell tried again, billing itself as everything but authentic Mexican, but the effort still wasn't well-received. As one critic said, "It's like Mexicans trying to come up and sell us hot dogs."

Related: 23 Traditional Hispanic Foods Most Americans Don't Know About (But Should)

The Doritos Locos Taco Was a Runaway Hit
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The Doritos Locos Taco Was a Runaway Hit

The Doritos Locos Taco debuted in 2012, and it was a hit. Actually, that's an understatement: Taco Bell sold a staggering 375 million of the tacos that year, or more than 1 million every day. The idea took a surprising amount of work to pull off, though, with teams from Taco Bell and Frito-Lay testing more than 40 recipes over two years and going through untold numbers of shell prototypes in order to get the crunch and seasoning just right.

Related: 30 Cheap, Delicious Ways to Fill Your Tacos

There Was a Seafood Salad in the '80s
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There Was a Seafood Salad in the '80s

If you think the Doritos Locos Taco is strange, buckle up. Some of Taco Bell's more eye-popping menu experiments have included the Waffle Taco, Cheetos Burrito, the Naked Chicken Chalupa (the "shell" was made entirely of chicken), and even a Kit Kat quesadilla — er, "chocoladilla." But you need to hop in the way-back machine for one of the chain's biggest flops. In the mid-'80s, Taco Bell put a seafood salad on the menu to compete with McDonald's Filet-O-Fish. A 1986 commercial touted "fresh vegetables, tender bay shrimp, and a delicious blend of white fish and snow crab, a refreshing change from anything on a bun." Of course, they left off the part about potential food poisoning.

You Can Get a Kimchi Quesadilla in Korea
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You Can Get a Kimchi Quesadilla in Korea

Like most chains with stores abroad, Taco Bell caters to local tastes by offering menu items you can't track down stateside. They include kimchi quesadillas in Korea, chicken tikka masala burritos in India, shrimp burritos with wasabi mayo in Japan, and a flat-bread gordita topped with tzatziki sauce and fries in Cyprus.

You Need Serious Cash to Become a Franchisee
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You Need Serious Cash to Become a Franchisee

Want to live mas and start raking in the cash with your own Taco Bell franchise? The good news is that the company is actively seeking franchisees as part of an expansion push; the bad news is that you need some serious coin to join up. You could be on the hook for anywhere from half a million dollars to close to $3 million in initial startup costs. But the investment could pay off quickly: Average sales per restaurant were $1.6 million in 2018.

It Has a Tradition of Zany Promotions
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It Has a Tradition of Zany Promotions

You have to hand it to the evil geniuses in charge of Taco Bell's marketing, who have a history of grabbing our attention in over-the-top ways. There was the time that Taco Bell promised free tacos to every American if the Russian space station Mir hit a floating target on its free fall back to Earth. And remember when Taco Bell pranked America on April Fool's Day, convincing newspaper readers in full-page ads that it had bought the historic Liberty Bell? It even airlifted a taco truck to a remote western Alaska town after a prankster had falsely convinced local residents they'd be getting their own Taco Bell.

It Proudly Serves 88% Beef
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It Proudly Serves 88% Beef

Is Taco Bell's beef … actually beef? A class-action lawsuit in 2011 alleged that there were too many oats and fillers in the beef for it to actually be called such. In response, Taco Bell ran "Thank you for suing us" ads that explained that the chain's recipe was 88% beef and 12% "secret recipe" ingredients like water, spices, oats, and cocoa powder. The lawsuit was eventually dropped.

Related: 30 Urban Legends About Popular Foods Debunked

The Taco Bell Chihuahua 'Lived Like a Queen'
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The Taco Bell Chihuahua 'Lived Like a Queen'

If you watched TV in the late '90s, you couldn't escape Taco Bell's ubiquitous big-eared chihuahua, famous for that unshakeable slogan, "Yo quiero Taco Bell." In real life, the chihuahua was named Gidget, and the commercials propelled her to a life of fame and pampering before her death in 2009. She opened the New York Stock Exchange, traveled in relative luxury, and even got a part in the "Legally Blonde" sequel.

Taco Bell Weddings are Totally a Thing
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Taco Bell Weddings are Totally a Thing

Getting married in Vegas? Yawn. Getting married at Taco Bell in Vegas? Now you've got our attention, no Elvis impersonator required. A Taco Bell Cantina on the Strip will host weddings for a happy couple and up to 25 guests in its very own chapel. Just $600 and as little as four hours' notice will get you an ordained officiant, private reception area, food, and even a bouquet made out of sauce packets.

There Was a Taco Bell Hotel — and it Sold Out
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There Was a Taco Bell Hotel — and It Sold Out

For four nights this August, the V Palm Springs hotel transformed into The Bell, a Taco Bell-themed pop-up hotel. Think chalupas from room service, sauce-packet rafts in the pool, and even a salon offering Taco Bell nail art and haircuts. If you're asking yourself who would fork over $169 or more per night to stay in a Taco Bell hotel, the answer is quite a few people — reservations sold out within two minutes.

You Can Get a Hot Sauce Bodysuit
tacobellshop.com

You Can Get a Hot Sauce Bodysuit

If you just have to proclaim your love of chalupas as visibly as possible, head on over to the Taco Shop to check out all the Taco Bell apparel on offer, including leggings, pajamas, and even swimsuits. As if that's not enough, in 2017, Taco Bell teamed up with Forever 21 to launch a clothing line that included sauce-packet bodysuits and cropped logo hoodies.

It Successfully Campaigned for a Taco Emoji
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It Successfully Campaigned for a Taco Emoji

It's sobering but true: Just a few short years ago, the world lacked a taco emoji. Ahead of a late 2015 update to the emoji system, Taco Bell organized a campaign railing against the inequality of emojis, which back then included a pizza and hamburger, but no taco. So Taco Bell began an online petition, cranked out "Taco Emoji" T-shirts, and ramped up the social media pressure. Later that year, its efforts bore fruit (well, tacos).

It Unsuccessfully Campaigned for More $2 Bills
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It Unsuccessfully Campaigned for More $2 Bills

As part of its launch of a $2 Meal Deal promotion in 2010, Taco Bell started a petition asking the Federal Reserve to boost production of the little-used $2 bill. (This is all the more interesting because of a widely circulated internet legend that a Taco Bell cashier rejected a customer's $2 bill, believing it was fake.) Sadly, the Fed was unmoved, and $2 bills remain rare precisely because people tend to collect them instead of spending them, dampening demand.

Taco Bell Rattlesnake Fries Burrito
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There Aren't Any Kids' Meals

Looking for a kiddie combo to satisfy a picky tot? Taco Bell actually axed its kids' meals back in 2013. And while the move was hailed as a step in the fight to combat childhood obesity, Taco Bell itself admitted that the decision was really a financial one, and that kids' meals — accounting for less than 1% of sales — just didn't make much money. (It might not be part of a kids' menu, but for our money, the underrated cheesy roll-up should satisfy all but the pickiest kids.)

Devotees Can't Go Long Without Their Fix
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Devotees Can't Go Long Without Their Fix

There must be something in the hot sauce, because about half the U.S. eats at Taco Bell at least once a month, company officials have said. And the average Taco Bell customer is much more devoted, stopping in once every 11 days.

Related: 27 Tasty Taco Places Across the Country