Update November 2016: I discovered that they had soft tacos and the soft tacos are great. Also, the waiting time is considerably shorter. Although I still am not a fan of the hot sauce in a mini container that they offer, the guacamole is not bad.
Since moving to Brazil I have had to face the fact that Mexican or Tex-Mex food is difficult or near impossible to find. This is not Brazil’s fault, Mexicans just tend to migrate North and not South. And although the last few years have seen a surge in Mexican themed restaurants, they are mostly not that spicy and not that great. An exception to this rule is the exceptional La Buena Onda and La Buena Station restaurant and food truck. The Mexican chef has been living in Brazil for over a decade and received pope like reverence on my part.
But as I mentioned, there was a surge in Tex-Mex which culminated with the news this year that Taco Bell was finally going to open its doors in São Paulo, Brazil. This got me very excited, not because Taco Bell was or ever will be quality Mexican food, but because of how much Taco Bell meant to me as comfort food as a teenager and young poor college student in the States – in these turbulent times in Brazil, I figured it could bring back a little smile to my face.
So with all these heavy emotions and a tinge of nostalgia, I decided to show up for the September 23rd inauguration day for Taco Bell Brasil. And here is my review, not just of the food, but of the event.
First, I had to erase the fact that Taco Bell was my “I have no money” food back home. The restaurant opened in one of the more expensive spots in the city (Brascan Open Mall), and was there to attract its upper middle class to high class clientele – and they did. There were throngs of people dressed up as if to go to a fancy night out. This is the Brazilian style though, so I just chuckle a little and get on with life.
I arrived early, so the line wasn’t so terrible, but eventually it extended nearly out into the street. The mood from the employees was festive. They offered free nachos and danced. They also took pictures, rang bells and even had Taco Bell tattoos on hand. To their credit, the Paulistanos weren’t as over the top excited in the long lines as the wait staff wanted them to be.
Thirty minutes (and a beer with a buddy who showed up) later I was inside. The prices were what one would expect in Brazil – above the 20 Reais threshold for a full meal or no different than most of the other fast food joints that in America you spend a few bucks at.
I asked for an extra spicy box meal. It came with Nachos, a Quesadilla, a Hard Taco, and a Burrito. I figured I’d try a little bit of everything and get it done with. It came out to 34 Reais, but I payed an extra 2 Reais for the sauce.
So let’s get to the meal. I had two criteria that Taco Bell Brasil had to meet.
One: How close was it to the original Taco Bell? Obviously restaurants change to fit the tastes of wherever they end up, but how many warm feelings could this bring to my heart?
Two: Understanding that the quality would not be spectacular (this is Taco Bell), how passable while not being spectacular would it be?
My first reaction when I got the box was, “Where’s the dipping sauce I ordered?” It looked so big in the picture but it was, as a friend pointed out, “2 bucks for a quarter of a tomato and some onions chopped up.” It was supposed to have been very spicy but I dipped my finger in and it tasted like a regular vinaigrette. Don’t order this.
Another qualm is that they do not have the hot sauce packs! Taco Bell food doesn’t taste great, but it’s those damn packs that cover it up and make you go against your better sense and eat two bean burritos. Without the hot sauce packs and with whatever the travesty was that they called their dipping sauce, I was left with tasting the food for what it was.
I went for the hard taco first. I actually was never much of a fan of the hard taco even States-side. My mainstay was the three soft tacos supreme. But since they had no soft tacos, I went for the hard ones. It was missing some obvious spice, and thus flavor. I ate it quickly because there was nothing special about it. I would not order it again.
Next came the quesadilla. It was also nothing special. I decided to put that little pee cup’s worth of “hot sauce” into the quesadilla to give it a little bit of life. It helped, but again, I would not order it again.
Finally came the beef burrito. By this point I would have been stuffed had I been in an American Taco Bell, but the portion sizes are much smaller in Brazil, so I looked at it with a real desire for it to be good and kill my hunger. I was pleasantly surprised. Of the three it was the only one that matched both of my criteria. It was reminiscent of the American version, although again, with much less spice and flavour. And although it was not great quality it was passable – junk food for when I am in a rush.
My final conclusion about Taco Bell Brasil is that the wait was better than the final product. McDonald’s and Burger King actually have better tasting burgers here than in America, perhaps for trying to please their more upscale demand and the lighter less grease loving Brazilian tastes buds, however this becomes a detriment for Taco Bell. These tacos didn’t make me feel like I was going to die from a heart attack after I ate them, nor did they leave my mouth burning while munching down – and without those two elements it simply isn’t Taco Bell.
Taco Bell isn’t made to be enjoyed, but devoured in desperation. But without this cultural element the Brazilian Taco Bell loses out to some of the Tex-Mex restaurants popping up around the city, which for about the same price will pack a bigger punch. One in fact, Er Messicano, in Morumbi, is exactly what Taco Bell should have been – and is actually better quality. It’s cheap by Brazilian restaurant standards (around 20 Reais for a burrito and a drink), it’s tasty without being gourmet quality, and the hot sauce will have you crying if you don’t watch yourself.
I can’t say I won’t eat at Taco Bell Brasil again, but it is definitely not on my hit list – unless they come to their senses and start offering some hot sauce spice packets. I mean for goodness sake, I am writing this at 9 am the next day and I have yet to visit the toilet!
Final Verdict – 2 out of 5 stars.
Taco Bell Brasil – Rua Joaquim Floriano
466 – Itaim Bibi
São Paulo – SP, 04534-002
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