When it comes to understanding corporate America, we're used to reading between the lines. Companies lie. They write inscrutable mission statements to obscure their true intentions. They distract us with flashy PR projects. They communicate in a doublespeak so thick that they rob words of their meaning.
So it's always refreshing when a company bureaucrat talks straight with us commoners. Take Taco Bell's CEO Brian Niccol, who did a marvelous, must-read interview with Grub Street where he shared the company's theory behind its increasingly stonerrific menu:
"The reality is: I think millennials have really become more like foodies, and what they are looking for are foodie experiences in fast food. Now, some people may think a foodie experience is some fancy ingredient you can't pronounce. The millennials think that putting Cap'n Crunch into a new form is a foodie experience. Serving a Sriracha Quesarito is a foodie experience."
Stop what you're doing and read the full interview. It's 1,200 words of totally gonzo yet strangely forthright corporate communications.
Done? Okay, let's talk about Taco Bell. You can make fun of a hard-shell taco wrapped in a quesadilla, but if David Chang sold such a thing, people would line up for hours to try it. And when I came into the Serious Eats office with a shopping bag full of Taco Bell food, I had to fight off hungry, handsy coworkers who just couldn't help but sneak away some Crunchwrap Supreme. At 10 a.m.
It's strange, though, how a fast food menu that's inspired parody videos about endlessly recursive foodstuffs and redrawn mealtime taxonomies has never ventured into serving something as simple as a torta. Perhaps sandwiches aren't enough of a foodie experience for Mr. Niccol, or he's worried about venturing too far into McDonald's territory.
But we deserve some Taco Bell sandwiches to call our own. Fortunately, with a quick supply run to the grocery store, you can make that happen with the chain's very own menu.
Meet the Taco Bell Cemita.
The Basic Model
For the standard issue Taco Bell cemita, you'll need three soft tacos, a side of refried beans, a side of guacamole, and a side of their salsa. Then buy or bake some cemita buns, stringy quesillo Oaxaca, a tomato, some papalo or cilantro, and a can of chipotles in adobo.*
Can't find proper cemita buns or Oaxacan cheese? You're making a Taco Bell sandwich; it's okay to improvise with burger buns and string cheese, 'kay?
Scrape out the beef, cheese, and lettuce filling from the tacos and mix it all together. Then follow our standard cemita instructions and assemble like so:
You know what? It's pretty damn good! Once you add the bun, cheese, chipotle, and vegetables, that beefy filling starts tasting a little less like Midwestern taco night and more like LA taco truck. I'll take it.
The Breakfast Version
Taco Bell's been pushing their breakfast menu pretty hard, which includes the number you see above: a hash brown, eggs, and steak wrapped inside a flour tortilla. But this does not a breakfast sandwich make. However, if you follow the same procedure as above, swapping out the soft tacos for a whole breakfast Crunchwrap, you get this number:
But all that's child's play. You don't go to Taco Bell to f*ck around and eat "healthy" or "sane" or "in a remotely appropriate manner."
So above you'll find a Crunchwrap Supreme (a tostada shell, ground beef, cheese sauce, sour cream* lettuce, and tomato wrapped in a flour tortilla) and two Gorditas (hard-shell beef tacos wrapped inside cheese-filled flatbread). Make sure to get the Dorito's version because you only have one life to live.
Taco Bell is quick to point out the sour cream is reduced-fat.
Then carefully—carefully—arrange those gorditas back-to-back on top of your Crunchwrap, and stack your cemita as high as it will go. You'll be rewarded with this beauty:
Namely, from the bottom up: bun-beans-tortilla-beef-cheese-tostada-sour-cream-lettuce-tomato-tortilla-flatbread-cheese-taco-shell-beef-cheese-taco-shell-cheese-flatbread-tomato-guacamole-salsa-chipotle-herbs-cheese-bun.
That diagram photo doesn't do this cemita justice. We really need to see it to scale.
Now that's what I call a sandwich. So what's stopping you from making one of your own?