Taco Bell’s Mexican pizza is back and fans are thrilled

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Nafisaria Mathews’ weekend plans are set — and they revolve around tortilla discs stacked with refried beans, ground beef and cheese.

This week, Taco Bell is bringing back its Mexican pizza after two years off its menu, and Mathews, a hairstylist and singer in Portland, Oregon, is ready. She and a friend pick up the goods at their local Taco Bell on Saturday, then head home to enjoy them with margaritas and her friend’s homemade tortilla soup.

“I told her we had 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, director of real estate marketing in Panama City Beach, Florida, also factored into the day. Thursday, the day the pizzas appear on Taco Bell’s regular menu (they’re available starting today for members of the chain’s app-based rewards program) will be a “cheat day” on the diet she’s been on for three months.

“I can usually eat one, but my boyfriend can eat three or four,” she says.

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The channel orchestrated a lot of hype around the comeback – it enlisted Dolly Parton and Doja Cat for a TikTok musical, titled “Mexican Pizza: The Musical”, including Prime Ministers on May 26 – and has been tease the return for weeks on social media.

But much of the excitement seems driven by genuine fan appreciation for the cult item, which was much lamented when Taco Bell removed it from its menu in 2020 in a bid to streamline its offerings. This decision was particularly difficult because people relied on takeout amid shutdowns, quarantines and closed restaurant dining rooms.

Now, his re-emergence is being greeted with the kind of fervor reserved for the release of a new BTS album – though the chatter is mixed with a kind of tongue-in-cheek humor. In a world darkened by war, a global pandemic, and mass shootings, could a humble blend of two beloved staples be a lightly glimmering beacon drizzled with fire sauce? According to his fans, why not?

Examples of tweets: “Mexican pizza is back today at @tacobell. Proof there is still hope for the world” and “One step closer to making the world right again. #Mexican Pizza

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-bathroom home near the beach — and other amenities. “We’re droooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo[…]it read, punctuated by a pair of pizza slice emoji.

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

Taco Bell says its decision to bring back Mexican pizza was driven by such fandom. Company credits a Change.org petition from superfan Krish Jagirdar which was signed by 171,717 people urging the channel not to let it down. Jagirdar cited the popularity of Mexican pizza with South Asians in the United States. In its past incarnation, the pizza could be ordered without meat, making it vegetarian. Now Taco Bell is making a meatless version a standard item.

Sean Tresvant, global brand manager for Taco Bell, insists the boomerang was not a pre-planned marketing stunt. When the company discontinued it in 2020, “we were surprised at how little backlash there was – it was difficult to pull the menu back,” he said in an interview. “The silver lining is being able to bring it back.”

And he suggested Mexican pizza might not be the only once-discontinued item that will see a revival. The company’s history of limited-time releases means there are plenty of menu items that people remember fondly. For Tresvant, it’s a caramel empanada he remembers 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 back?”

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Okay, but is Mexican pizza really up to the hype? To see if the revival was more about nostalgia or merit, I bought a bunch of them, both regular and meatless, and brought them to the office to share with co-workers.

First, we have to recognize that Mexican pizza is neither typically Mexican nor pizza (as the old “Saturday Night Live” skit goes): “Discuss!”). Two colleagues suggested the format resembled a tlayuda, a round tortilla from Oaxaca covered in refried beans and other toppings, and another a huarache, a disc of masa also topped with beans, stretched into the shape of a sandal to which it bears the name.

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

And that’s right, the dish has the beans, beef, cheese and gravy of its rolled up brethren. But I get the Mexican pizza appeal – the tortilla (especially the top one) survived the ride and remained somewhat crispy, providing a textural counterpart to the bean and beef toppings, which blend well into a base creamy and salty. So the diced tomatoes might be a pale pink instead of a ripe red, but they didn’t offend amid the still gooey three-cheese filling. And the promised “Mexican pizza sauce” was more like a hint of the chain’s usual chili-tinged spread found elsewhere on the menu.

A generous dollop of Fire Sauce, with its pleasantly vinegary edge, lifted it. (While I liked the extra heat the chain’s Diablo Sauce contained, I thought its overly smoky notes complicated what should be a simple affair.)

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

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