The Controversial History of Taco Bowls

BY: 
Catherine A. Jones
 | January 23, 2024

A giant fried tortilla shaped like a bowl.

Lettuce. Tomatoes. Shredded cheese. Chicken or beef. 

All the necessary ingredients that make up a taco. But deconstructed.

They’re taco bowls, or taco salad, or taco tostada salads. And they take the average “Taco Tuesday” to another level.

But how did this creation – a tasty twist on the classic TexMex dish, the taco – come about?

Its origin story takes us to Disneyland, circa 1955.

The Vintage Origins of the Taco Salad

“The earliest record of taco salad dates back to the 1960’s, with its predecessor being the small teacup-sized Tacup:  Ground beef, beans, sour cream and cheese served in a small bowl made entirely of Fritos,” the book “Taco USA, How Mexican Food Conquered America” writes.

The tacups were the brainchild of Fritos founder and CEO Charles Elmer Doolin, who chartered the Frito Company in Texas in 1932.

“During the Depression in the 1930s, Doolin had a confectionery in San Antonio ….” NPR writes. “At a gas station, Doolin found a Mexican man making an extruded corn chip out of masa, frying it and selling little bags of the fried corn chips. They were fritos, ‘little fried things’ — the beach food of Mexico.”

The Mexican man, Gustavo Olguin, sold his fritos recipe to Doolin for $100, and the snack food eventually became a hit, with its own restaurant and mascot, the Frito Kid, at one of the happiest places on earth.

“Doolin was an early investor in Disneyland, which opened in 1955, and built Casa de Fritos Restaurant in the amusement park,” the Texas State Historical Association explains. “Casa de Fritos was first located across from the steamboat ride in ‘Main Street’ and later moved to a larger lot across from the exit to the jungle ride in Frontierland.”

The menu at Casa de Fritos, as shown here, included traditional Mexican and TexMex dishes like enchiladas, chili, and tamales. One new item that stood out was the “Tacup,” the original taco bowl.

“This second incarnation of Casa de Fritos restaurant had been in operation for about two-and-a-half decades (from June of 1957 until October 1, 1982), when it was renamed The Casa Mexicana,” DisneyHistory101.com writes.

The Casa Mexicana, hosted by Lawry’s Foods, changed its predecessor’s “tacup” menu item to the “taco salad,” described as “a deep fried flour tortilla with choice of beef or chicken with beans, lettuce, cheese and tomatoes served with guacamole & sour cream.”

The current restaurant in the historic Disneyland Frontierland location, Rancho del Zocalo, next to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, still sells the tacup, aka taco salad. But it’s come a long way since it’s “a la carte” days.

Today, the tacup has been replaced once again with two updated menu items: the Tostada Salad with Chicken, for $12.79 and the Tostada Salad with Beef, $13.49.

Taco Bowl Controversy of 2016

In an odd twist, the taco bowl went viral and had the world abuzz when then United States Presidential Candidate Donald Trump posed with what he called a “taco bowl” on Cinco de Mayo, in 2016. It was an attempt to appeal to Hispanic voters, the media reported at the time.

On his Twitter social media account, Trump wrote:

“Happy #CincoDeMayo! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!”

The controversy?

Well, many argued that the dish, a taco bowl, itself wasn’t Hispanic at all. 

At the time, Gustavo Arellano, Author of the Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, and a self-described “child of immigrants from Zacatecas,” says Murguia was wrong and found himself explaining the history of the taco bowl to media and others who simply didn’t read his 2012 book.

“ … Mexicans played in the development of the taco salad—with a special assist from Disneyland,” Arellano wrote in an opinion piece for OC Weekly.

Arellano – a nationally syndicated columnist and bestselling author of “¡Ask a Mexican!” – explained that the Disneyland restaurant Casa de Fritos was headed by the Morales family of Anaheim, “already famous in Southern California for their XLNT tamale brand.”

According to Arellano and others, the Morales family and Casa de Fritos invented another popular food, not often associated with a true Mexican origin story: Doritos.

Baja Fish Taco Bowls


Served over a bed of quinoa and drizzled with yogurt crema, this new Baja Fish Taco Bowls lets you switch up average “Taco Tuesday” nights by swapping out tortillas and shells for quick-cooking, protein-packed quinoa mixed with nutrient-dense kale.

It’s packed with protein, all nine essential amino acids and is a good source of fiber, making it a perfect solution for busy moments whether your loved ones eat vegan, vegetarian or a mix of everything.

Baja Fish Taco Bowls

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

2 bags Success Tri-Color Quinoa

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 white-fleshed fish fillets (5-6 ounces each)

1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon lime zest

1 teaspoon lime juice

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

4 cups packed baby kale

1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and thinly sliced

Directions:

Prepare quinoa according to package directions.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat oil. Season fish with Cajun seasoning and salt. Cook 2-3 minutes per side, or until the fish is lightly browned and starts to flake. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir yogurt, lime zest, lime juice and cumin.

In a medium bowl, toss quinoa with kale. Divide between four bowls. Top each with fish, sliced avocado and dollop of yogurt and lime crema.

Substitutions: You can use taco seasoning or chili powder in place of Cajun seasoning. Use arugula or baby spinach instead of kale.


Visit SuccessRice.com to find more recipe solutions for busy weeknights.

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