Sun. Dec 10th, 2023

    I put Taco Bell’s wacky menu experiments to the test. Some meals should return to the lab, while crazy-good items like breakfast tater tots should go national.

    Nancy Luna, Business Insider food correspondent, tries Taco Bell’s test items.

    Taco Bell has tested more than a dozen items across the US this year. I’ve tasted a handful, including the new Breakfast Tater Tots that launched November 16 in Chicago.Some items should return to the test lab, but others should go national.

    Taco Bell is widely known for testing wacky experimental menu items in various cities nationwide to gauge interest in a possible nationwide release.

    So far this year, the Mexican-inspired fast food chain has tested-marketed about 15 items, including a Triple Crunch Mexican Pizza in Nebraska and Street Chalupas in Indianapolis.

    “Like all innovation, a lot of work goes into bringing a new menu item to life,” Taco Bell told Business Insider. “We work through countless iterations, test through numerous options and gather fan feedback all before items make it to restaurants.”

    The chain also gives the media a shot at trying some of the foods before they go to market. I’ve tried a handful of these fast-food experiments.

    Some items should go national, while others need more work in the test lab. Let’s take a closer look.

    1. Holy moly. Taco Bell is testing Breakfast Tater Tots in the Midwest.
    Starting November 16, 2023, Taco Bell is testing Breakfast Tater Tots in Chicago.

    The Breakfast Tater Tots debuted last week in Chicago. I love the boldness of releasing this dish in the backyard of McDonald’s, a dominant player at breakfast since the mid-1970s.

    These tots are a breakfast version of nachos, with tater tots replacing chips. The plate of hot crispy tater tots is topped with scrambled eggs, bacon, or sausage, and loads of melted cheese.

    This is not the first time Taco Bell has tried tater tots. In the mid-1990s, the chain served Mexi-Nuggets, crispy tots with Mexican seasonings.

    “They were a regional offering introduced in the mid ’90s and exited menus in the early 2000s to allow room for us to create even more craveable creations for fans,” the chain told Business Insider.

    I tossed aside Taco Bell’s boring new breakfast taco to attack these tots during a sneak peek event.
    I tossed aside Taco Bell’s new breakfast taco once I saw these tater tots.

    Taco Bell is trying to step up its breakfast game. The chain missed the mark with the recent debut of Toasted Breakfast Tacos. They are so boring.

    But, the Breakfast Tater Tots should be a slam-dunk winner. The tots arrived November 16 at 136 Taco Bell restaurants in Chicago.

    The meal is a savory flavor bomb with all your favorite breakfast items piled on top. Instead of using one cheese flavor on the tots, Taco Bell goes all in with a blend of melted mozzarella, pepper jack, and cheddar cheeses. The tots are slathered in the chain’s Chipotle sauce, the best creamy and spicy sauce on the menu.

    It’s everything a Taco Bell fan could ask for in a breakfast dish.

    Once consumers take a few bites, they will know “Taco Bell is where to go for breakfast,” a Taco Bell marketing rep said of the tots.
    The tater tops are topped with a three-cheese blend of melted cheese.

    Last year, Taco Bell’s outgoing CEO Mark King said the chain needed to be more competitive at breakfast. The Breakfast Tater Tots are a step in the right direction. I’d much prefer this than a breakfast combo meal at McDonald’s.

    I devoured the tots during a sneak peek test held in late September at Taco Bell’s headquarters in Irvine, California. I usually don’t eat everything at these tastings, but I couldn’t restrain myself. It was a crazy good, hearty meal.

    Verdict: Go national now. Don’t make Taco Bell fans wait.

    2. Taco Bell put Crispy Chicken Nuggets to the test in Minneapolis starting in mid-October.
    Taco Bell began testing Crispy Chicken Nuggets in October.

    I tried the nuggets during the Taco Bell test kitchen event in late September.

    Taco Bell reps made it clear that their nuggets are meant to disrupt a “snoozy” category led by McDonald’s.

    “This is real chicken,” Taco Bell Chef Brett Pluskalowski said, throwing some clear shade at McDonald’s McNuggets.

    This was a fairly big test for Taco Bell. The nuggets were available at 83 Taco Bells in Minneapolis.

    The Taco Bell nuggets are marinated in jalapeño buttermilk, offering a flavor kick that is better than McNuggets.
    You know exactly what it is in, one Taco Bell chef said of its nuggets.

    I’m not a fan of boneless nuggets. It’s boring kid food.

    These nuggets are definitely geared for kids who don’t like tacos. That said, I liked the spicy flavor but I’m not sure a child wants a bit of heat in their food.

    Taco Bell brings some zest to the nuggets by pairing them with a new sweet and tangy mustard dipping sauce. It definitely elevated the nuggets, which is a much better product than McNuggets.

    The nugget test is now over, Taco Bell said.

    “While we can’t go into details about feedback, we can share that we saw a positive consumer response to the Cheesy Street Chalupas and Crispy Chicken Nuggets. Consumers were especially excited to see the choice of two new signature sauces, Bell Sauce and Jalapeño Honey Mustard, for our Crispy Chicken Nuggets,” Taco Bell said when I asked them about the feedback on nuggets and the Street Chalupas.

    Verdict: The nuggets might help attract new fast food eaters to Taco Bell. Not everyone likes tacos and burritos, so they could be a gateway food item for the brand if they go national.

    3. Street Chalupas debuted in Indianapolis in mid-October.
    Taco Bell is testing Street Chalupas.

    The Street Chalupas are Taco Bell’s twist on a classic Mexican street taco.

    Taco Bell takes its chewy fried chalupa shell and stuffs it with street taco ingredients – chopped onions, steak, and cilantro. It also came with a choice of chicken.

    The chalupa shell also has a layer of cheese, which is baked onto the flatbread before frying.

    The most innovative part of this taco has nothing to do with its flavor.
    Taco Bell’s Street Chalupas come in an innovative taco holder.

    There’s no innovation with this taco except for the cool holster packaging. It allows for one-handed eating.

    Taco Bell veered off course with this one. The melted cheese and the chewy bread overpower the flavors of all the other ingredients. I could barely taste the steak. It’s also a very greasy meal.

    The chalupas are no longer being tested.

    Verdict: It’s best that they’re gone. Go back to the drawing board with this one, Taco Bell.

    4. Over the summer, Taco Bell debuted its take on gelato using MTN Dew Baja Blast as its muse.
    The MTN Dew Baja Blast gelato tastes more like Italian ice.

    With the exception of Cinnabon Delights, Taco Bell is not known for its desserts. So, I was super excited when I heard the chain was testing a MTN Dew Baja Blast gelato.

    I considered this a micro-test, as the gelato was only available for two weeks at one store in Irvine, California. Irvine is near my home, so I gave it a try.

    The gelato was tinier than it looked in the photo, weighing about 3.6 fluid ounces. Gelato should be creamy and smooth. This gelato had the crunchy icy texture of Italian ice.

    The gelato didn’t transport me to Rome. But it did deliver on its flavor. It was a frozen version of Baja Blast. I could taste the tropical lime flavor of the popular beverage.

    Still, the gelato doesn’t seem like a good fit for Taco Bell. I think it would sell better at a convenience store.
    Taco Bell’s gelato test lasted only two weeks at one store.

    The gelato comes in a tiny carton with a little purple spoon. I liked it but I didn’t love it.

    If I’m going to buy a frozen treat at Taco Bell, I’d buy the Baja Blast Freeze over the gelato.

    Verdict: This is a no-go. I don’t think this gelato would sell well at Taco Bell restaurants. It feels more like an item you’d buy at 7-Eleven or a gas station food mart.

    Have you tried any Taco Bell test items? I’d love to know what you thought of them. Send emails and tips to

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