Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY
Taco Bell has figured out yet another weird way to make a taco: squish it in a waffle.
For several weeks, the nation's largest Mexican fast-food chain has been testing a so-called Waffle Taco at a handful of locations in southern California. No, it's not made with beef, beans and lettuce; but with a scrambled egg, a sausage patty and syrup - plopped inside a waffle folded and served to look like a taco. It sells for 89 cents.
The move comes at a time when breakfast is one of the few growth categories in all of fast-food and not much more than a year after Taco Bell's new-product gurus shifted into overdrive with the roll out of its wildly popular Doritos Locos Taco.
Until now, Taco Bell has been absolutely mum on the Waffle Taco. But it's generating a powerful social media life that started with a single Instagram posting. If the current test is a hit, "we'll roll it out to all of our restaurants that serve breakfast," spokesman Rob Poetsch wrote to USA TODAY in an email.
While the Waffle Taco will initially raise eyebrows, it may ultimately be a dud, predicts Andrew Smith, a culinary historian and author of Fast Food Junk Food: An Encyclopedia of What We Love to Eat.
"It's really just breakfast with a taco name," he says. "What's so taco-ish about that?"
On top of which, it may not be entirely original. While there's no Waffle Taco at any major chain, several are selling or have sold various versions of waffle sandwiches including McGriddles at McDonalds, waffle breakfast sandwiches at Dunkin' Donuts and southern California-based Jack in the Box, which launched its waffle breakfast sandwich last summer.
The Jack in the Box version is made with a fried egg, American cheese and a sausage patty and was introduced as a limited-time offer, says spokesman Brian Luscomb. "But it proved to be so popular among our guests that we added it to our permanent menu," he says.
Chains rarely do this with limited time products unless they are instant hits. At the same time, Jack in the Box sells its waffle sandwich all day and night -- not just at breakfast.
Behind Taco Bell's Waffle Taco test is attempt to make a mark in the competitive breakfast arena, where it is slowly trying to expand nationally. The ultimate aim is to put out enough creative items that it can compete against breakfast kingpin McDonald's.
If nothing else, the Waffle Taco could move the needle in the southern California market, suggests Smith, the food historian. "In California, anything named 'taco' would probably sell better at breakfast than anything not named 'taco.'"
Poetsch says that the Waffle Taco is just one of many innovations that Taco Bell is exploring at breakfast. "We're pleased with the initial reaction from our customers," he says.
Meanwhile, the folks at Jack in the Box are all smiles. "We're not sure what inspired them to 'ideate' their new taco," says Luscomb, "unless they tried our waffle breakfast sandwich."