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Taco Bell to unleash mash-up tacos under U.S. Taco brand

Taco Bell’s foray into the $6.3 billion fresh-Mex industry launches Monday with the debut of U.S. Taco Co., an upscale taco mash-up eatery targeting consumers who will never cross over to fast food, officials said.

The funky Day of the Dead-themed taco hut, which displays no ties to its Taco Bell parent, is a pilot concept that the Irvine-based chain hopes to expand.

“Our audience is people who love food,” said U.S. Taco creator Jeff Jenkins. “We’re trying to create food-truck food you don’t have to chase.”

Taco Bell is joining a food segment dominated by Chipotle Mexican Grill, the fast-growing chain whose $3.1 billion in annual revenue represents nearly 50 percent of total category sales. In place of Chipotle-style big burritos, U.S. Taco is offering large mash-up tacos inspired by classic American dishes.

The one-page menu features 10 tacos, shakes, craft sodas and wedge fries. No burritos. No refried beans or rice. No chips.

Each six-inch taco is a twist on a favorite sandwich or blue plate special – from gravy-slathered fried chicken to pulled pork. One taco, the most expensive on the menu at $9.99, is a riff on a New England-style lobster roll.

During a sneak preview of the downtown Huntington Beach restaurant, Jenkins said Taco Bell is aiming for a demographic that enjoys higher quality made-to-order foods. 

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