Why Hard Shell Tacos Are A No-Go At Traditional Mexican Restaurants

Hard shell tacos do have a connection to Mexico, and while their exact origins are hard to pin down, it’s generally accepted that they were probably popularized by Mexican immigrants within the U.S. Specifically, an immigrant-owned San Bernardino restaurant called Mitla Cafe is credited as the first place to serve the Americanized hard shell taco in the 1930s. Owners Lucia and Salvador Rodriguez called the tacos “dorados,” and filled them with what are now considered the go-to hard shell fillings, such as ground beef and cheese, because those are the ingredients the restaurant owners had access to. Tacos dorados are also found in northern Mexico, although they’re quite different in form: They’re made with soft tortillas, which are rolled up and fried, with ingredients that lean more towards traditional Mexican cuisine compared to what many consider the standard hard taco fillings.


The reason hard shell tacos became so popular is because Glen Bell — founder of Taco Bell — visited Mitla Cafe and took the idea to serve in a restaurant he later opened, called Taco Tia. He later expanded this concept by founding Taco Bell, where the idea really took off, and Bell has sometimes (erroneously) been credited with inventing hard shell tacos.

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