The Taco Variety That's Uncommon In Mexico

You would be hard-pressed to find a person who doesn't like tacos. (There's even a book entitled "Everyone Loves Tacos" and a holiday dedicated to the food in both the U.S. and Mexico, according to Sprout Social.) People living in the U.S. can be oddly defensive of the hard shell taco, which it may surprise you to hear is not very common in Mexico.

It's true that in much of Mexico, corn is the tortilla of choice. Corn masa is used to make a wide variety of shapes as vehicles for luscious toppings and fillings, such as sopes, huaraches, and tetales, to name a few. Then there are also tamales and tostadas. According to Mel Magazine, it's likely tacos dorado were the inspiration for the hard-shell taco, which are tacos that have been deep-fried. Though similar in appearance, they are not the same as the hard shell that so many Americans know and love.

The hard shell taco

So where did this hard-shelled style of taco originate? Surely our beloved crunchy shell is not the invention of a fast food chain. As is often the case, there's more than one story. Gustavo Arellano, author of "Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America," tells El Paso Inc. that in 1932, George N. Ashley founded the Texas-based Ashley's brand Mexican food and geared his canned Mexican foods and restaurant menu to Texans. He believed most of his consumers wouldn't be comfortable with the sanitation standards of local Mexican restaurants, some of which still had dirt floors. By the mid-1930s and over a decade before the first deep-fryer of patented, George created a device that could produce 600 hard shells an hour.

BBC Travel informs us that in 1937, Salvador and Lucia Rodriguez served hard shell tacos from their restaurant Milta Cafe in San Bernardino. Glen Bell had a burger joint across from Milta, where he had the epiphany of marketing tacos outside the Mexican community. He opened Taco Tia, El Taco, and then Taco Bell. Though Bell may not have been the first to make a hard-shell taco, it has become the place we most associate with the particularly American version of a taco. But don't get your hopes up if you're in Mexico and want a little taste of home because a hard-shell ground beef taco will be tough to find. Fortunately, there will be a few other options.