The Ghosts of Taco Bells Past Live on, Way South of the Border

The last few years of Taco Bell’s existence have been defined by deprivation, as the chain has purged its menu of beloved items only to add them back and purge them once more. If you are a vegetarian, you might know that this week marks two years since Taco Bell killed the 7 Layer Burrito. I had planned to observe the grim milestone in quiet contemplation, but that changed a few days ago, when I came upon a Taco Bell in Santiago, Chile, and discovered that some of the fast-food chain’s discontinued items still exist — provided you know where to look.

My long romance with the 7 Layer Burrito started during high school in Nashville in the first year we were allowed off campus to forage for lunch. While the cool kids hung out at San Antonio Taco Company (“Satco”) with the margarita-swilling college students, my friends and I were being dorky droogs at Taco Bell, ordering complimentary waters and filling the cups with fountain soda. On the way back, we would “sauce” passing cars by twisting hot-sauce packets to bursting point and hurling them at hubcaps.

But why the 7LB? For one, it was filling and cheap — just 99 cents when it debuted, according to the original television commercials, which showed desert drifters beholden by a “vision” of the “cosmic” number 7. But that was only part of the appeal. Instead, the 7LB re-created a very specific Tex-Mex experience: the moment when you’re eating fajitas but you’ve run out of steak strips, so you spoon the remaining guac, sour cream, tomatoes, rice, and beans onto the last tortilla to make a consolation taco.

We all know New York City has better Mexican food, but when I moved there to eke out a living in book publishing, I continued to lunch at Taco Bell, and many years later when I moved to the suburbs, I could order a 7 Layer Burrito at Penn Station and, in the anonymous scrum of commuters, shamelessly stuff it in my face while racing to make the train.

When Taco Bell announced in July 2020 that the 7 Layer would make a run for the celestial border along with ten other menu items in order to “create a more efficient Taco Bell experience,” it was yet another layer of suck squirted into a year that was already overstuffed with it. (A Taco Bell spokesperson says the decision was due to “restaurant challenges that we were facing here in the U.S. during the pandemic.”) After petitions and message-board pleas proved unsuccessful and the final day came, I responded as any sane person would: by hitting the drive-through of the nearest Taco Bell and purchasing several 7 Layer Burritos — seven of them, to be exact — for the purpose of historic preservation. They stayed in my freezer for just over a year along with some extant bottles of Zima. (It’s so hard to say good-bye to yesterday.) After many months, I tried microwaving one — against my better judgment — and it tasted nothing like the ’rito I had known and loved. I might as well have buried it in a pet cemetery. A Brazilian friend told me that the Portuguese language has a word for the specific pangs of unfulfilled nostalgia I was feeling: saudade.

Almost two years after the Mexican Pizza was axed in November 2020, it made a triumphant return amid fanfare led by Doja Cat, Dolly Parton, and the Indian American vegetarians who successfully lit some fire sauce under Taco Bell’s ass. But for now, us 7 Layer loons have no choice but to use copycat recipes and “hacks” of existing menu items. I can tell you from experience that these bore-ritos are about as close to an authentic 7 Layer as the original 7 Layer was to authentic Mexican food.

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