Donald Trump's "Best Taco Bowl": An Origin Story
Invented by the founder of Frito, co-opted into a caloric bombshell by Taco Bell, the bowl a la Donald isn't even on the Trump Tower Grill menu at all.
It was a virtual feeding frenzy when Donald Trump declared the “taco bowl” his Cinco de Mayo ode to Mexican culture last week. Backlash over where he was eating (Trump Tower Grill) to what he was eating on (a Marla Maples magazine article from 1987) to his kicker (“I love Hispanics!”) inundated Twitter for days.
But what do we know about the “taco bowl” itself?
For one, it’s not really a Mexican dish at all. Let alone a “hispanic” one. That’s just the tip of the iceberg lettuce.
Comprised of taco fillings like ground beef or other meat, shredded cheese, tomatoes, sour cream and other fixings, most of the country knows the dish as a taco salad (save for a few cities around the Great Lakes, where it’s called a tostada salad). Everything’s thrown in a bowl, usually an edible one made out of a deep-fried tortilla.
The taco salad has been a high school cafeteria staple since at least the 1970s, and is a mainstay at cheesy Mexican-ish chain restaurants where neon cheese and fishbowl margaritas reign supreme. Not the kind of thing Trump’s marquee restaurant would serve at Trump Tower, right? In fact, it’s not served there at all. Apparently another restaurant in the building, Trump Tower Cafe, has something called a “Taco Fiesta!” on its menu. But that’s as close to Trump’s “best” taco bowl as it gets.
Taco Bell, originators of the hard-shell taco, first introduced the taco salad in 1984. It wasn’t meant to be a healthy option. Today the Fiesta Taco Salad is one of the biggest caloric bombshells, hovering somewhere between 750 and 800 calories. That “salad” is worse for you than a Big Mac.
But the California-based chain wasn’t the first to marry taco fixings with lettuce in a bowl. Often thought of as a hallmark of Tex-Mex cuisine, the taco salad’s direct descendent, the Tacup, was created in Dallas by Fritos founder Elmer Doolin. According to Gustavo Arellano, author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, Doolin put ground beef, beans, cheese and sour cream in a small bowl made entirely of Fritos. Soon, in 1955, the Tacup was introduced to Disneyland crowds at Casa de Fritos. Eventually, it got bigger, more things were added, and it became the taco salad.
Google “taco salad recipe” today, and you’ll get more than 2 million results, with versions ranging from classic to vegan to paleo. It’s taken so many twists and turns over the years — Farro! Seitan! Quinoa! — there’s hardly anything Tex or Mex about it any more. To keep it healthy, many lose the tortilla bowl altogether, and instead mix crunchy tortilla strips or chips into the salad itself.
But that’s not a Trump taco salad. He only eats taco salads with big walls around them.