Offering comfort — and perhaps the hangover cure — the nation needs right now, Taco Bell launched Thursday two new menu items with queso.
For the first time, the Irvine, Calif.-based quick-service chain is offering a green chili queso with two new limited-time dishes:
• The Steakhouse Burrito, with a double portion of grilled marinated steak, includes sour cream, bacon, potato bites, and a three-cheese blend. It is served with chips and a ramekin of green chile queso, for a recommended $5.99.
• The Steakhouse Queso Nachos includes a double portion of steak, along with seasoned beans, three-cheese blend, and green chile queso, all served over nacho chips and topped with guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo, for a recommended $5.99.
And, because just about anything is improved by a dip in queso, the mildly spicy, liquidy cheese can also be requested as a side to any dish, or alone with chips.
The move takes a shot at fast-casual competitor Qdoba Mexican Eats, which has cultivated a rabid following for its queso, which is available in various flavors.
Rene Pisciotti, Taco Bell manager of product development, said the addition of queso was a personal mission, since he’s from New Mexico. It was also important to Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol, who is originally from Texas.
Both states take queso very seriously, whether made from the classic recipe involving melted Velveeta and Ro-Tel tomatoes, or more refined ingredients, Pisciotti said.
Taco Bell’s version, which took six months and more than 20 iterations to perfect, is made with processed cheese that has been spiked with garlic, onion and jalapeno, as well as tomatillos and cayenne. The flavor is rounded out with the addition of roasted chiles from the Hatch Valley of New Mexico — not Hatch chiles, though, which must come from the city of Hatch.
There was much internal debate about how spicy to make the queso, Pisciotti said.
Where Taco Bell customers once didn’t seem to want strongly spiced dishes, those sentiments are rapidly changing.
“The consumer palate is always changing,” Pisciotti said. “I don’t know if what counts for spicy today is what consumers considered spicy five years ago.”
Taco Bell’s Diablo hot sauce, for example, the hottest available, was originally on the menu as a limited-time offer, but customers demanded that it become a permanent part of the hot sauce lineup.
Pisciotti hopes that will also be true for his queso.
He envisions a future where queso, if made permanent, could creep across the menu, including breakfast dishes.
“One thing we know about our customers is that they love cheese,” he said. “That’s definitely what they want from Taco Bell.”