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A&E >  Food

Taco Bell’s Mexican pizza is back, and fans are fired up

Mexican pizza from Taco Bell has returned to the menu.  (Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post)
Mexican pizza from Taco Bell has returned to the menu. (Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post)
By Emily Heil Washington Post

Nafisaria Mathews’ weekend plans were set – and they revolved around discs of tortilla stacked with refried beans, ground beef and cheese. At the end of May, Taco Bell brought back its Mexican pizza after two years’ absence from its menu, and Mathews, a hairstylist and singer in Portland, Oregon, was ready.

She and a friend were going to pick up the goods at their local Taco Bell and then head home to enjoy them with margaritas and her friend’s homemade tortilla soup. “I told her we have to do it at her house because I have five kids, and I don’t want to share it with them,” she says.

Lauren Newton, a real estate marketing director in Panama City Beach, Fla., also had the day accounted for. On May 26, the day that the pizzas appeared on Taco Bell’s regular menu (they were available earlier to members of the chain’s app-based reward program), it would be a “cheat day” on the diet she’s been on for three months. “I can usually eat one, but my boyfriend can do like three or four,” she says.

The chain has been orchestrating plenty of hype around the return – it enlisted Dolly Parton and Doja Cat for a TikTok musical titled “Mexican Pizza: The Musical,” which debuted May 26 – and has been teasing the return for weeks on social media.

But much of the excitement seems driven by fans’ genuine appreciation for the cult-favorite item, which was much lamented when Taco Bell took it off its menu in 2020 in a move to streamline its offerings. The move hit particularly hard as people relied on takeout amid lockdowns, quarantines and closed restaurant dining rooms.

Now, its reemergence is being lauded with the kind of fervor reserved for the drop of a new BTS album – though the chatter is laced with a kind of tongue-in-cheek humor. In a world darkened by war, a global pandemic and mass shootings, could a humble mashup of two beloved staples be a faintly glimmering, fire-sauce-doused beacon? According to its fans, why not?

Sample tweets: “The Mexican pizza is back today at @tacobell. Proof there is still hope for the world,” and “One step closer to the world being right again. #mexicanpizza”

Newton appreciates the shared cultural moment. She recently used the Mexican pizza revival in a Facebook post advertising a real estate listing for a three-bedroom, two-bath home near the beach – and other amenities. “We are droooooling over this property & the fact that Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza can be found only a few blocks away … Both COMING SOON!” it read, punctuated by a pair of pizza slice emojis.

She came up with the idea at her team’s weekly meeting to discuss listings. Her boss, who’s also a Taco Bell fan, mentioned the proximity of the home to Taco Bell as a joke. “And I said, ‘I’m going to use that!’ ” she said. “It’s just a little silly fun thing.”

Taco Bell says its decision to bring back the Mexican pizza was driven by such fandom. The company credits a petition by superfan Krish Jagirdar that was signed by 171,717 people urging the chain not to drop it. Jagirdar cited the Mexican pizza’s popularity with South Asian people in the U.S. In its past incarnation, the pizza could be ordered without meat, making it vegetarian-friendly. Now, Taco Bell is making a meatless version a standard item.

Sean Tresvant, Taco Bell’s global chief brand officer, insists that the boomerang wasn’t a preplanned marketing stunt. When the company dropped it in 2020, “We were surprised by the little bit of backlash – it was tough to take off the menu,” he said in an interview. “The silver lining is being able to bring it back.”

And he suggested that the Mexican pizza might not be the only once-discontinued item that will get a revival. The company’s history of doing limited-time releases means there are plenty of menu items that people remember fondly. For Tresvant, it’s a caramel empanada he recalls from childhood visits to his future employer. “There are a lot of fan favorites and cult favorites – so it’s a question of how do we bring some of those back?”

OK, but does the Mexican pizza actually live up to the hype? To see if the revival was more about nostalgia or merit, I bought a bunch, both regular and meatless, and brought them into the office to share with colleagues.

First, we have to acknowledge that the Mexican pizza is neither distinctly Mexican nor pizza (as the old “Saturday Night Live” sketch goes: “Discuss!”). Two colleagues suggested the format resembled a tlayuda, an Oaxacan round tortilla covered with refried beans and other toppings, and another a huarache, a disc of masa also crowned with beans, stretched into the shape of the sandal for which it’s named.

But a colleague more accurately summed up the Mexican pizza’s taxonomy – and flavor profile – with another Taco Bell reference: “It’s like a burrito supreme in pizza form.”

And it’s true, the dish has the beans, beef, cheese and sauce of its rolled-up brethren. But I get the appeal of the Mexican pizza – the tortilla (particularly the upper one) survived the commute and still remained somewhat crispy, offering a textural counterpart to the bean and beef fillings, which melded together nicely into a creamy, salty base.

So, the diced tomatoes might be a wan pink instead of ripe red, but they didn’t offend amid the still-gooey three-cheese topping. And the promised “Mexican pizza sauce” seemed more like a hint of the chain’s usual chile-tinted spread found elsewhere on the menu.

A generous dollop of Fire sauce, with its pleasantly vinegary edge, elevated it. While I liked the extra heat that the chain’s Diablo sauce packed, I thought its overly smoky notes complicated what should be a straightforward affair.

Does it merit all the overheated countdowns? (“2 more days until the Mexican Pizza is back and all my problems go away,” wrote one fan.) Maybe not, but given everything going on in the world, I’m not about to “meh” anyone else’s yum. And, hey, anything that sparks just a little joy seems like it’s worth celebrating.

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