About 6 weeks ago, So Good was offered the chance to travel to the Taco Bell Headquarters in Orange County, CA for a look inside the Taco Bell test kitchens and to learn more about their new Volcano menu.  I remember wanting to try the Volcano Taco when it came out last year, since I love anything spicy. However, I was deterred from trying it because other than a heavily drug fueled nine month Chalupa rampage in college, I’ve generally found Taco Bell to be pretty gross. Regardless, I figured I had to take advantage of this opportunity and take one for the team (So Good readers).

Taco Bell HQ Far

All the other bloggers that went with me were quick to post pictures and reviews of their trip in late May or early June. I did not, because, A) I’ve been busy as all hell, and B) my camera decided to start sucking that day.  By waiting a while, I’m able to *cheat* by incorporating photos from other bloggers into my write-up that aren’t the blurry, hideous ones I took. Thanks folks. Sorry my camera started sucking.

True to blogger stereotypes, we were a Motley Crew of hideously unattractive fatties, most of whom were dressed in their pajamas and clearly lived in their parent’s basement (except for one guy, who admitted his parents house was only one story, so he lived in the garage). I missed the dinner party the night before, but I did arrive in time to throw back a few beers at the hotel bar with John from Epic Portions while fending off a drunken, wannabe MILF, Ohio State fan.  I finally met up with the larger group the next morning, contributing my usual charm, engaging personality and stunningly handsome good looks to the group. Rather than start at the beginning, let’s start at the middle of the experience, when John from Epic Portions snapped this photo of me, on the line of the Taco Bell test kitchen, discovering the joys of squirting sour cream out of a caulking gun.

Jon at Taco Bell

Of course to get into the test kitchen, we had to actually walk into the Taco Bell HQ first, as the below picture illustrates.  I’m the only one with a backpack, because I had to make a quick escape up to L.A. after the tour.  Scott Roberts is the only one with jean shorts, I assume because he had to continue being awesome after the tour concluded.

Jon Taco Bell behind

So where were we? Oh yes, test kitchen. We went in there and found a Taco Bell line similar to the set-up in all Taco Bell locations:

Taco Bell Test Kitchen

The purpose of the trip, at least from Taco Bell’s perspective, was to tell us all about the new Volcano menu, featuring spicy items designed to appeal to its core demographic of 25-44 year old big-eating males.

Volcano Taco Burrito HiRes

Click below for more details and photos.

The genesis of the Volcano menu is actually quite interesting. Noting the increase in popularity of spicy fast food items, Taco Bell set out to develop a product that was hot enough to satisfy spicy food lovers, but still palatable for the masses. What they came up with was the Volcano Taco, which was released last year. The star of the Volcano Taco is  “Lava Sauce,” a spicy, cheesy sauce that clocks in at 800 Scoville Units (50% hotter than Fire Sauce packets). This was the first thing Taco Bell let us taste, just straight up Lava Sauce in a cup:

Volcano Sauce

This was actually my first time trying the Lava Sauce in any form, and I have to say, yum! The sauce is a great balance of spicy and cheesy, with a long, slow burn.  Even when they started putting actual food in front of us, I kept dabbing my spork (yes, they gave us sporks) into the cup of Lava Sauce over and over.  Good stuff.  The popularity of the Volcano taco led them to create additional Volcano menu items.  They let us try both of the two main components of the new Volcano Box, the Volcano Taco and the Volcano Burrito.

Volcano Box

The Volcano Taco was meh. It tasted fine, but I realized the other ingredients were hiding the wonderful spicy taste of the Lava Sauce. For those of you curious, the red taco shell tastes the same as a regular one, it’s just colored red to convey that sense of spicy excitement.  My other complaint about the Volcano Taco is the same I have about all Taco Bell tacos: the cheese is UNMELTED. Why, Taco Bell, do you insist on putting the meat on the bottom, piling veggies on top, then sprinkling cold, shredded cheese on top of all of that? Why wouldn’t you just put the cheese either directly under, or directly on top of the warm meat so that it melts? Ridiculous.

The Volcano Burrito was superior to the taco. The Lava Sauce really shined in this one, as it was perfectly dispersed throughout the burrito, and unlike in the taco, cheese was nice and melty. I’m pretty sure I left half my taco but CRUSHED an entire burrito (this is at 11:30 am, right after a big hotel buffet breakfast mind you).  I would definitely get the Volcano Burrito if I ever step foot in a Taco Bell again.

After trying the two Volcano items, the Taco Bell PR team announced it was time for us to “go behind the line and make something.”  Food Beast, in its coverage of this portion of the visit, snapped this photo of me and added the following commentary:

Stand-up comic and food writer John from So Good stood confused, stating that he was unclear about the creativity portion of our visit. He covered himself mentioning that he found pleasure in wrapping the taco, regardless of its simplicity.

Jon holding taco

Ok, for starters, I was the FIRST one to go down the line, and we were given no direction, so I was thinking, “what the F?” I thought they wanted me to attempt to make something from their actual menu.  Having just crushed a whole burrito, and knowing I wasn’t that hungry, I just started making the double decker taco to see if I could make it right. It was only when people started lining up behind me and making crazy shit that I realized, dammit, I could have made whatever crazy creation I wanted.  Also, if you are thinking that Food Beast’s line of,  “he found pleasure in wrapping the taco” sounds like thinly veiled sexual inneundo, I would say you probably aren’t alone in thinking that.  Do I wish I had made something crazy? Sure. But at that point I was full and wasn’t really eating anything else, just shoveling down the Lava Sauce by the sporkful.

All in all, an interesting trip, which culminated with this adorable group photo. Grub Grade and Scott Roberts went for the “hold a prop from the kitchen” look, while I went with the, “hands-in-the-pocket-because-that-PR-girl-is-hot-and-I’m-too-cool-for-school” look.

Taco Bell Blogger Pic

To read more about the Taco Bell experience and see other photos, check out Grub Grade, Endless Simmer, Pleasure Palate, Fast Food News, Epic Portions, Scott Roberts and Food Beast. Thanks to all the other terrific bloggers who were a pleasure to experience the trip with and who took rocking photos that made this post possible.

Big thanks to Taco Bell for having us out to Cali, hosting us, and letting us see things behind the scenes. They were professional, well organized and accomodating.  I’m definitely all about the Lava Sauce, so I’d love to see them start selling it in stores at some point. Whether I get the courage to venture into a Taco Bell anytime soon, I can’t say, but who knows, intoxication can make me do interesting things.

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8 Responses

  1. bearsilber@gmail.com'
    Bear Silber

    “….but who knows, intoxication can make me do interesting things.” – Haha. I’m still insanely f-ing jealous of you guys. That is seriously a dream of mine. Nice write-up. You should’ve asked if you could get a card or something that entitled you to free Lava sauce for life :P

    Reply
  2. matteson.ross@gmail.com'
    rossitron

    crunchwrap supreme ftw! i’d try to make that, but i’d probably fail. that thing is a work of art–taco bell’s sistine chapel, in my opinion.

    Reply
  3. brian7905@aol.com'
    Brian

    I’m with you, Eick. Taco Bell disgusts me, but I don’t think I would turn down an invitation to their headquarters to check things out.

    I hope you had an extra pair of underwear in that backpack. All that Taco Bell must have destroyed your stomach.

    Reply

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