We Got an Inside Look at Taco Bell’s Top Secret Test Kitchen

And it was even dreamier than you could imagine. Although, admittedly, it was a little weird starting the evening rather than finishing it there.

First things first. Taco Bell announced earlier this year that it would be releasing 32 reservation spots via Open Table on Cinco de Mayo. For everyone who has asked HOW we got a seat at the dinner: simple, we set up Twitter alerts for every TB tweet on May 5, immediately clicked their reservation link, and there we were. This was the first time Taco Bell had opened up the test kitchen to the public, and this will be the first in a series of test kitchen dinners it will be hosting around the country. So stay tuned for future opportunities to get in on all the cheesy-crunchy-stuffed-top secret goodness.

Walking into to the dining room of the test kitchen, you’d assume you had just walked into a chef’s table at any number of high end restaurants around the country. Instead we just happened to be inside the Taco Bell corporate headquarters (which also has a spa, a gym, a full service taco bell, and many other jealous-making amenities) in Irvine, CA.

The tasting dinners were done in two groups of 16, one early seating at 530 (which is where we were), and one late seating at 8. It’s a good thing we were in the early seating because it gave us some time to lie down and digest before hitting the town.

After our Baja Blast Mimosa apertif, we were greeted with the choice of three Taco Bell-inspired cocktails: a spicy paloma, a berry margarita with lava salt rim, or a vodka freeze. We went with the spicy paloma, as seen here with the menu for the night.

After a few of Taco Bell’s culinary geniuses explained to us how the evening would work, we dove right into to the guac and queso (possibly coming soon to a menu near you???).

The chips were perfectly crisp tortillas, with a secret blend of spices on top. The queso was accompanies by some berry flavored pop rocks, which actually worked perfectly. We ended up scooping them onto other dishes throughout the night.

First course was the Dynamite Rolled Tacos with slow cooked chicken, stone ground crispy corn, “dynamite seasoning,” avocado crema, and molcajete salsa. These. Were. To. Die. For. Obviously this wouldn’t be the exact presentation once these guys hit stores, but if you had a few of these in a little fry container with that avocado crema and salsa on the side for dipping….hooo boy. First course was a home run. And it was after we had scraped the plate clean that they warned us to slow it down because we had a lot more food.

How many times have you had a palate cleanser at Taco Bell? This was my first time too. They called this the Fresa Colada Freeze, which was a sour berry flavor mixed with a hint of pina colado. Or like a mini Miami Vice, but better. It was perfect. We put some of the pop rocks on here to really cleanse ye olde palate.

Next course was the trio of tacos. And yes, these were full size tacos. Three of them. From left to right: (1) Flaky Barbacoa Taco: four chile shredded beef, pico de gallo, romaine, cotija. Think grandma’s buttery pie crust shell with incredible barbacoa and fresh veggies. (2) Fiery Naked Chicken Chalupa: fiery sauce, avocado ranch slaw, seasonal escabeche. For those of you #blessed enough to have one of the regular naked chicken chalupas during its limited run, this was essentially the same, but the chicken was much spicier. The added pickled veggies on top made it feel like a summer backyard picnic all in one hand held vehicle. (3) Poppin’ Jalapeno Quesalupa: seasoned beef, sour cream, lettuce tomato. This guy was by far our favorite. Instead of the normal quesalupa cheese filling, this shell was filled with Taco Bell’s proprietary jalapeno cream cheese, making it basically a normal beef taco in one giant jalapeno popper. Dangerous. It was at this point, we needed to lie down.

Without another palate cleanser (yet) we moved onto the next course of a Toasted Cheese and Skirt Steak Burrito with grilled prime skirt steak, toasted five-cheese blend, pice de gallo, savory mexican rice, lime sour cream, salsa quemada, and salsa verde. If you’re wondering where the toasted cheese comes in, it’s in the shell. Basically this is a regular flour tortilla with a full outside layer of shredded cheese that’s been griddled to crispy perfection. The steak to rice ratio inside was perfect. And we were glad to see this molcajete salsa for a second time.

PaLaTe cLeAnSeR TiMe!!!!11! This time we got a pina whip palate cleanser. If you’ve ever had the Dole Whip at Disneyworld, you’ll know what this tasted like. It was perfect. The TB culinary geniuses brought out some Tajin seasoning for us to sprinkle on top, which made the perfectly salty/sweet combo.

And after everyone had unbuttoned their pants, it was time for dessert. We got a Molten Mexican Chocolate Lava Cake with cafe ole and tres leches ice cream, spiced pepita brittle, and whipped cream. This whole dish was good, but the spiced pepita brittle may have been our favorite part. Perfect sweet and crisp with a hint of heat. A creative spin on plan ole peanut brittle. We took some of this for the road too.

And then we were sent back out the doors we came in. Back into the not so secret world without jalapeno popper quesalupas and Baja Blast mimosas. We hope to be able to return one day, or at least to another of their off-location test kitchen dinners later this year. Taco Bell, we will always love you.

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