Joseph Creech is a strong advocate of authenticity. Even the tortillas used at Hunger Street Tacos are made in-house with local corn imported from Mexico. But that doesn’t mean he shuns the Taco Bell.
“It’s a guilty pleasure, if I’m being honest,” says Creech, who was born in Mexico, where his American parents had started a church. They returned to the United States in 1985. “My parents never took me to Taco Bell, but I found my way there,” he laughs. “Many, many times.”
The bean burrito and crispy gordita are among his top picks, but he’d had a Mexican pizza or two before Taco Bell pulled it from the menu in 2020.
“I grew up eating something similar every time we were in the States,” he says. “There was this little hole-in-the-wall joint in Jackson, Mississippi, where my mom was from, that had a Mexican pizza with refried beans and cheddar cheese on top… And so, every time I would have the Taco Bell version, the fun was nostalgia based for me.
And that’s a powerful food draw, says Creech, who will be doing a Hunger Street version, along with several other local chefs, to mark the return of this Taco Bell classic on May 19.
Chef Eliot Hillis, whose Orlando Meats took part in a similar event last year when McDonald’s pulled its McRib sandwich from the safe, believes the phenomena of such resurgences began with Generation X and have exploded ever since.
“Our whole society started trivializing the memories of adult children a long time ago,” he said. “…riding the rails of whoever is between 30 and 40 at the time.”
Hunger Street’s offering leans Mexican — a birria pizza (two flour tortillas, brisket, Oaxaca cheese, guajillo-coffee salsa, pickled onion, queso cotija, cilantro, radish, served with birria broth). The Meatsian dish, named after Taco Bell founder Glen Bell Jr., goes the other way, with a pizza with a cheese-infused crust topped with red chicken, cheddar, jalapeños, tomato, lettuce and coriander cream.
Brandon Kaiser, executive chef of the Winter Park Collective, ate a lot of Taco Bell when he was younger. Since becoming a vegan five years ago, he’s been doing it even more.
“Probably three times a week,” he says. “I think when they launched their dairy-free FRESCO menu, it was marketed more to people who were watching calories. But when you take the vegetarian option and tell them “Make it FRESCO” it’s vegan.
The same goes for most dishes at the Winter Park Collective, including Pizza Nova, where the Neapolitan-style pies are all plant-based. Kaiser’s offering, the Terrestrial Taco Pizza, uses seasoned black bean puree instead of tomato sauce, with dollops of cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, cilantro cream and pickled red onions. It can be upgraded with Collective Jacked Up’s Impossible Vegan Picadillo.
Juliana Calloway of Black Rooster Taqueria enjoyed her share of Taco Bell in high school and college. The standards at her Mills 50 and Curry Ford restaurants are higher, but she’s still open to all iterations.
“People have very strong feelings about tacos – what’s in them, where they come from, who makes them – but things like [Taco Bell’s Mexican pizza] are a way for people to let loose, have some no frills fun, quickly and cheaply,” she said. “Plus, they have great marketing. It’s not just for us old folks who remember walking past 3 a.m. on our holiday days, but also for Gen Z. They’re doing a great job.
Indeed, rapper/songwriter/performer Doja Cat has been lamenting the loss of Mexican pizza for some time. Sometimes in song. She and Dolly Parton have now paired up for “Mexican Pizza: The Musical,” which will be released shortly after pizza returns to the Bell.
Mexican pizza is the only thing Pizza Slut’s Kayleigh Gardner ever entertained growing up. “My twin sister loved Taco Bell, but I was only about the pizza. It’s its own entity – crispy and indulgent – it really hits when you feel like it.
“Mexican Pizza: The Musical” premieres May 26 on Taco Bell’s official TikTok page. The Pizza Slut will make an appearance between May 19 with their Let’s Taco ‘Bout It tribute.
Black Rooster’s tlayuda looks like an OG Mexican pizza, Calloway says. Hailing from Oaxaca, theirs includes organic corn batter, refried pinto beans, Oaxacan cheese, smoked beef brisket, habanero crema fresca, pico de gallo, and cotija cheese.
Chef Ryan Manning has other junk food favorites, but understands where the love for Taco Bell comes from.
“I sometimes crave Sirloin Stockade,” he says. “That’s where I used to go with my grandparents when I was little and buy soft serve ice cream. It’s never about the quality of places like this. It’s about memories. Their parents took them there, they went to college and ate Taco Bell late at night. Now they’ll take their kids out for Taco Bell pizza and pass on the tradition.
Manning’s pizza spin is a virtual look-alike for the 1988 original, but customers can enjoy the beef birria topping for a little extra.
Creech likes the idea of revisiting a fast food classic.
“You can take your food very seriously, probably to a degree that’s not beneficial because people need to be able to relate to it,” he said. “A different take on Mexican pizza that still honors what Taco Bell does? Guests will probably appreciate it.
Moreover, it emphasizes community rather than competition.
“We all work hard here,” he says. “Sometimes we have to take a break and do something fun.”
You’ll find Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza everywhere on May 19th. Here’s where to go, and when, for local tributes.
- Black Cock Taqueria: 3097 Curry Ford Road in Orlando; 407-286-0508 or blackroostertaqueria.com. The Taco Bell-inspired tlayuda ($5.25) will be available May 19-22. Available at the Curry Ford branch only.
- Hunger Street Tacos: 2103 W. Fairbanks Ave. in Winter Park; 321-444-6270 and inside Plant Street Market at 426 W. Plant St. in Winter Garden; www.hungerstreettacos.com. The Birria Pizza ($16.99) will be available May 19-22. Both locations.
- This is the Pizza Slut: Let’s Taco ‘Bout It Pizza, $18, will be available in several upcoming pop-ups. facebook.com/itsthepizzaslut/; instagram.com/itsthepizzaslut/
- 6-10 p.m. May 19 at Thornton Park District Vintage Market, in front of Aku Aku Tiki Bar, 431 E. Central Blvd. in Orlando
- 6-10 p.m. May 20 at GB’s Bottle Shop, 531 Virginia Drive in Orlando
- 4-10 p.m. May 21 at Thornton Park District 407 Flea Market, outside Aku Aku Tiki Bar, 431 E. Central Blvd. in Orlando
- Mx Taco: 207 N. Bumby Ave. in Orlando; 407-730-5241; facebook.com/mxtacorestaurant. Mx Bell Taco available May 19 through month end, $7.95. Upgrade to beef birria for an extra $1. A special pop-up with It’s The Pizza Slut on May 25 will feature both versions, along with two other Mexican-inspired offerings from Gardner. 6 p.m. sold out.
- Orlando Meats: 728 Virginia Drive in Orlando; 407-598-0700 or orlandomeats.com. Glen Bell’s Pizza ($14) will be available May 19 “until we get bored,” says chef Eliot Hillis.
- Pizza Nova: Located at the Winter Park Collective, 959 W. Fairbanks Ave. in Winter Park; instagram.com/pizzanovafl/; facebook.com/PizzaNovaFL. The Terrestrial Taco Pizza ($15) will be available May 19-22; $18 with the addition of Jacked Up Herbal Picadillo.
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