Taco De Carlos: Carl's Jr.'s Fast Food Sibling That Didn't Survive The '80s

Carl's Jr. is known more these days for its charbroiled burgers and the confusion of whether it is the same or different as Hardee's. While those two companies indeed merged in the 1990s, it wasn't the first time Carl's Jr. looked at expanding its portfolio. Back in the 1970s, the burger chain sought to garner an audience in the realm of Mexican fast food. Unfortunately, Carl's Jr.'s spin-off restaurant Taco de Carlos was short-lived. 

While Mexican food has been popular in the United States since the 1920s, especially in Southwestern towns, popularity bloomed in the 1970s. These restaurants and fast-food chains became known as Tex-Mex for their Americanized take on traditional Mexican dishes. Fast food chains like Taco Bell, founded in 1962, helped pave the way for this growing interest in the food. Carl Karcher Enterprises decided to jump on the bandwagon in 1972, hoping customers would flock to its Taco de Carlos locations. 

Specialties at Taco de Carlos included the green chili California Burrito as well as the Machaca Burrito and Crispiritos, a chimichange-esque creation. It also served standard Carl's Jr. burgers as well as burgers with a fiery, green chile twist. Initially, Taco de Carlos appeared to gain traction and following, proving popular enough for Carl Karcher Enterprises to roll out 17 locations by the end of the decade. However, the restaurant chain ultimately failed to drum up long-term appeal.

Out with a whimper

While the 1970s may have kicked off Carl's Jr.'s venture into the Tex-Mex space, the 1980s wasn't kind to the establishment. In fact, Carl's Jr. ended up selling its Taco de Carlos locations to one of its biggest competitors in the space — Del Taco. Like the chicken sandwich wars today, companies in that era competed to be the go-to Mexican fast food restaurant. With larger fish in the pond like Del Taco and Taco Bell, Taco de Carlos couldn't compete. So, it appears that the establishment ended up a victim of the franchise wars. 

This may be speculation, but it was also possible that consumers were confused by the brand. Taco de Carlos locations were often positioned near Carl's Jr. locations. Since both restaurant chains also sold burgers, it may be a case of self-cannibalization and Taco de Carlos not proving to be a distinct enough brand. Whatever the case, Taco de Carlos ended up being a bit of a failure for Carl's Jr. However, it wouldn't be the last time that the company tried to set down roots in the Tex-Mex space. 

In 1988, Carl's Jr. partnered with Green Burrito. A few short years later, Carl's Jr. opened its first dual-brand restaurant, which sold both Carl's Jr. and Green Burrito products. Carl Karcher Enterprises ended up buying Green Burrito in 2002. The restaurant chain rehauled its menu in 2016, so we have to at least give Carl's Jr. an A for effort.