It is not always easy to determine if an ethnic restaurant represents the kind of food it offers in an authentic way. This should be the case; any restaurant selling a certain type of food is obligated to be true to that food’s genuine flavors and dishes. The Taco Bell chain is a strong example of both the public’s concerns about authenticity and the responsibility to make and market food that is Mexican. As the following will support, Taco Bell, with minor exceptions going to the need to satisfy American tastes, largely delivers on its presence as an authentic Mexican restaurant, and provides real Mexican food at reasonable prices.
Taco Bell is an international chain of restaurants, and usually seen as a part of the fast food industry. As the name suggests, it is all about Mexican cuisine, and this sets it apart from the other major fast food operations. The stores are usually designed in a Southwestern style, with pale colors and adobe on the exteriors, and motifs of Mexican culture as decoration. The interiors are less “Mexican,” going for a clean, simple look and feel. The “bell” is the common artifact or logo. It is not Mexican in itself, of course, but the colors, borders, and style all go to emphasizing the Southwestern style. The bell also suggests the Alamo in Texas, which then combines American and Mexican cultures. All of this goes to reinforce the food itself. Featuring tacos, burritos, nachos, gorditas, and chalupas, the restaurant is focused of offering Mexican items at very low prices. There are variations on this, as Taco Bell sells more typically American breakfast items and salads, but even these are presented with Mexican elements; as in the breakfast burrito.
Taco Bell as Authentic Mexican
When the menu of any Taco Bell is examined, it is clear that Mexican food is the main focus. All of the restaurants feature trademark foods based on the most popular Mexican dishes. As Mexican cuisine is very much a “street” style, usually created to be eaten casually and in no formal settings, the food then perfectly fits the concept of fast food delivery. This is no facsimile of a cuisine, but the genuine product. For example, tacos and burritos are like sandwiches, and the customer can eat them with no utensils. More importantly, these foods are prepared in ways going to Mexican flavors, ingredients, and spices. In keeping with authentic Mexican food, soft tacos are available. Then, flour tortillas, beans, onions, peppers, ground beef, chicken, chipotle sauces, and other staples of Mexican cuisine feature heavily on the menu. Quesadillas are also sold, and customers may order these, as with the tacos and burritos, with different combinations of fillings. Mexican food is a basic, hearty cuisine, usually spicy, and Taco Bell exists to provide exactly this kind of food.
Because Taco Bell is a fast food corporation, and one operating in a variety of nations, it is not surprising that it also offers items not completely Mexican. The company began in the U.S. and it caters to international tastes, so some foods are more generic in nature. For example, Taco Bell offers multiple breakfast items featuring eggs and sausage, which are traditionally American breakfast foods. The restaurant all provides mixed salads, which also do not particularly represent Mexican cuisine. Certainly, the soft drinks sold are found in most other fast food restaurants. At the same time, however, Taco Bell sees to it that a Mexican flavor is attached to virtually all of its products, soft drinks excepted. Scrambled eggs and cheese are served in a taco, for example, and the salad with chicken is served in a tortilla bowl. While there is then some catering to American tastes, Taco Bell still relies on authentic Mexican style.
Lastly, Taco Bell offers its Mexican food in a way affordable to many and in keeping with low, fast food pricing. This also reflects fidelity to authentic Mexican food, as the cuisine is famously associated with the working classes and creative ways to prepare inexpensive items. The vast majority of Taco Bell’s items sell for less than four dollars, with the breakfast items going more to less; the waffle taco with bacon, for example, is two dollars. There is an entire Cravings menu with items for only one dollar, such as the bean and rice burrito. Other items are deals with drinks and tortilla chips included in the price. This is then authentic Mexican food sold at prices more than reasonable for virtually all customers.
As has been seen, then, Taco Bell offers excellent value while providing a unique experience within the fast food industry: authentic Mexican food. It may be argued that the restaurant is not truly authentic, simply because it is a high-volume chain. Real Mexican food, it is felt, cannot be created and sold in this way. The larger reality, however, is that limitations do not lessen the authenticity of Taco Bell. The restaurant still offers genuine Mexican food, and processes do not change that flour tortillas, bean, chicken, and rice dishes are truly Mexican as prepared and flavored by the restaurant. More to the point, it is important to reinforce that no other fast food company so successfully presents the cuisine of a specific culture.
If people today are concerned with authenticity in restaurant food, and particularly in regard to fast food, it is understandable. The world today is suspicious of tropes as replacing integrity, and pretense as replacing the genuine. Then, the industry exists to sell food as cheaply and quickly as possible, so it would seem unlikely that any such company could provide authentic cuisine of one culture. Taco Bell achieves this, however, mainly because authentic Mexican food itself is inexpensive and uncomplicated. The restaurant then offers a wide variety of Mexican staples, and it maintains the cultural flavor even as it offers more traditionally American items. Moreover, prices are low and more people can enjoy this unique cuisine. Ultimately, Taco Bell, with minimal variations going to the need to satisfy American tastes, delivers on its presence as an authentic Mexican restaurant, and it offers the “real deal” in Mexican food at reasonable prices.