The Truth About Taco Bell's Chili Cheese Burrito

Taco Bell is undoubtedly one of the favorites in the competitive American fast-food market. Since it opened in 1962, this popular Tex-Mex chain has been winning people by serving affordable, flavor-packed dishes. 

The Mexican-inspired specials at Taco Bell have gained a large following in the United States, earning almost a cult-like status. The love for the franchise was most evident when it was announced that the original Taco Bell in Downey, where the founder Glen Bell started his journey, would be demolished. Several historical preservation groups swiftly reacted, eventually influencing the company to save the store by moving it to the company's head office in Irvine (via Los Angeles Magazine).

Taco Bell restaurants are permanent fixtures around the U.S., but the company has long ago surpassed the North American borders, operating in more than 30 countries around the world, including Australia, the United Kingdom, and Japan (per Taco Bell). Even so, since 2010, the company has been continually increasing the number of establishments, and reported an increase of 364 newly opened restaurants in 2021.

The burrito has been part of the secret menu at Taco Bell

What is less known is that Taco Bell, like many other fast food joints, occasionally features a secret menu with several food items that are not publicly displayed or readily available at its restaurants. The list of these secretive options usually includes some discontinued Taco Bell items or novel and creative combinations that might be too risky for the standard menu. 

As the whole point is secrecy, the secret Taco Bell menu is not officially available. However, die-hard Taco Bell fans across the country relentlessly investigate and report on the creative options you can ask for to improve and upgrade your standard order. The info is arranged into online lists (via #HackTheMenu) that include various food items, such as simple and elaborate tortilla-wrapped specials, specialty sauces, and even a tie-dye-inspired freeze.

Among these items is the legendary Chili Cheese Burrito — a delicious and somewhat mysterious creation that was once part of the standard menu in the 1990s.

The Chili Cheese Burrito was removed from many Taco Bell menus

Despite its popularity, the Chili Cheese Burrito was removed from Taco Bell's menus in the mid-1990s. Or so it was believed. The truth is that the Chili Cheese Burrito was never fully discontinued from Taco Bell.

Officially, the Chili Cheese Burrito was removed from the menus, but it was not publicly announced that the offer was simply limited to several locations in the United States. According to the Thrillist, it remained on the menus in Ohio, Minnesota's Twin Cities, and St. Louis.

Since it was discontinued from most Taco Bell menus, Chili Cheese Burrito earned an almost mythical status. This limited availability caused year-long pleads and petitions to bring back the popular item, which eventually influenced Taco Bell to put the burrito back on the menu (without much fanfare).

The biggest chili cheese burrito fans worked long and hard to find all the locations that now serve chili cheese burritos. The comprehensive list is a joint effort based on the online info available at Taco Bell ordering sites.

Is Taco Bell's Chili Cheese Burrito the original?

Although the Chili Cheese Burrito built its name as a cult Taco Bell item, its true origin is associated with Zantigo -– the fast-food chain specializing in Mexican fare. According to The Growler Magazine, Zantigo, most likely first known as Zapata, was founded in 1969 by Marno McDermott, a familiar name also related to the now forgotten Chi-Chi's. As the Zantigo legend goes, the first restaurants opened in the Midwest and featured outstanding service, fair prices, and high-quality ingredients.

In 1986, the Courier-Journal reported (via Newspapers) that Zantigo became a part of Taco Bell's operations. As Taco Bell was a stronger, national brand, it soon completely took over all Zantigo's locations. Despite the brand change, Taco Bell did keep some of the original items on the menu, including the Chili Cheese Burrito, which was still known under its original name –- the Chilito. According to several personal stories shared on WCPO, the Chilito was most likely one of the most beloved items at Zantigo, so it was probably reasonable to include it on the Taco Bell menu.

The Chili Cheese Burrito used to go by another name

Although it is now mostly referenced as the Chili Cheese Burrito, this Taco Bell special was initially called the Chilito. It is not clear why Taco Bell decided to drop the original version and go with a longer, more descriptive name, but it might be because of the unfortunate colloquial use of the word. Apparently, in Spanish, the word chilito is sometimes used as a slang word for a particular part of male genitalia.

It is not surprising if this is why Taco Bell went on with the name change, as naming in the food industry can sometimes influence consumers' perception of a particular brand or a food item, eventually determining the overall sales and its success. While some long-overdue name changes have a serious background and have been initiated by the need to stamp out institutionalized discrimination, best witnessed in the recent case with Uncle Ben's (via Wall Street Journal), on some occasions, the reasons are more light-hearted or simply a result of a failed campaign where the name did not catch on, as seen with The Snak, the forgotten original name of Subway's 6-inch sub.

How Taco Bell promoted the Chili Cheese Burrito

The secret to Taco Bell's popularity might be diversity and nationwide availability, but the company has never shied away from advertising and was often commended for its creativity and successful international marketing campaigns. The Good to go campaign promoting the Crunchwrap Supreme is one of the memorable TV moments for Taco Bell, but it does not even come close to the legendary advertisement featuring Gidget, the Taco Bell chihuahua. Gidget helped with the brand recognition, and the legendary slogan "¡Yo quiero Taco Bell!" ("I want Taco Bell!") became a common catchphrase in the late '90s.

In the early 1990s, when it was still known simply as the Chilito, the Chili Cheese Burrito was a star of several Taco Bell ads. It was featured in an upbeat commercial that ends with the claim: "nothing beats the Chilito –- zesty beef and tons of cheddar." Another Taco Bell video from 1992 promotes the Chilito as a part of Taco Bell Combo –- which was available for the fixed price of .79 cents. Both commercials accentuate the easy-going, fun-loving lifestyle and radiate the familiar Americana feel.

What is the Chili Cheese Burrito?

The Chili Cheese Burrito, sometimes called the "Chilito," was one of the simplest Taco Bell products. As evident from the name, the burrito combines chili and cheese, all neatly wrapped inside a flour tortilla. Taco Bell Fandom describes it as a burrito of standard size filled with three different items: beef, cheddar cheese, and a spicy chili sauce.

Seemingly simple, the Chili Cheese Burrito was a big hit when it first appeared in the 1990s, soon earning its name in the ever-changing world of fast food. As reported by the Thrillist, Taco Bell's chili cheese was modeled on standard Texan fare –- chili tucked inside a tortilla. However, Taco Bell should be praised for popularizing the combination and adding the extra kick in the form of shredded cheese.

Despite its simplicity, the Chili Cheese Burrito was a wholesome meal. The rich, spice-laden chili combined with partially melted cheese and a steamed tortilla was comforting but also convenient and very affordable. The item was a part of the .59, .79, .99 cent menu, and as seen from an old Taco Bell receipt from 1999 shared on Reddit, it came at a very reasonable price of .99 cents.

Is the Chili Cheese Burrito healthy?

This may come as a complete surprise, but according to Business Insider, Taco Bell is one of the healthiest fast-food options. Though there are still some controversial items on the Taco Bell menu, at least when it comes to the health perspective, the company has been working on improving its image by replacing some questionable ingredients with healthier alternative options. This includes using natural flavorings and ingredients and switching to cage-free eggs.

Taco Bell makes it relatively easy to search and find all the nutritional information for each Taco Bell item. The Chili Cheese Burrito has 380 calories, but you can customize your order and reduce calories by removing cheese (of course it's not exactly a Chili Cheese Burrito then, is it?). The chili used in the Chili Cheese Burrito is made with beef, and though Taco Bell was involved in not-so-pleasant legal trouble when a law firm sued them for not meeting the required federal standards of its beef, the lawsuit was eventually withdrawn, and Taco Bell disclosed that 88% of beef is used in its seasoned beef. 

Along with the chili, the other base ingredient is cheddar cheese, consisting of two elements: cheddar and an anti-caking agent. Based on the nutritional information, the Chili Cheese Burrito is not a bad option even for health-conscious Taco Bell lovers, but make sure you stick to a single portion.

How to order a Chili Cheese Burrito

If you are not fortunate enough to have the Chili Cheese Burrito on the published menu at your local Taco Bell, there is a way you can ask and hopefully receive your order.

Although it is not officially listed as an item at all Taco Bell locations, the chili cheese burrito is sometimes available on request as a part of the secret menu. If you wish to order it, #HackTheMenu suggests asking for chili and shredded cheese to be wrapped inside a soft tortilla. Hopefully, the Taco Bell staff will cater to your needs, and you might realize the appeal of this elusive fast food item.

Eating a Chili Cheese Burrito is a messy affair, but it is probably worth it, and if you are not lucky enough to get it nearby, look through the store locator because this dish possibly deserves a spontaneous trip to the closest Taco Bell that has it on the menu.

On the official menus (via Taco Bell), the Chili Cheese Burrito is available for $2.59.

Can you improve the Chili Cheese Burrito?

The appeal of the Chili Cheese Burrito is in its simplicity. It is difficult to imagine a better pairing than hot, spicy chili and mild cheese that melts in contact with the heat, but there might be a way to take this juicy combination to the next level.

Based on the location, you might have the privilege to have the Chili Cheese Burrito on the official online Taco Bell menu. The standard offer includes the base – chili and cheese – which can be modified by adding extra or no chili, but who would ever imagine committing the crime of removing chili from the item bearing its name. Of course, you can add extra cheese, and if you watch your calorie intake, there is also the lighter cheese option.

The adventurous kind might go one step further to add something from the extensive list of optional upgrades and add-ons that feature popular options such as jalapeños or sour cream, while the list of possible add-ons includes other meat options and standard Taco Bell fare such as beans and seasoned rice. The list also includes nine signature Taco Bell sauces.

Will these additions disrupt the perfect chili and cheese harmony? It's for you to decide. We are not here to judge.

The Chili Cheese Burrito's comeback could lay the groundwork for other discontinued items

Apart from the Chili Cheese Burrito, Taco Bell offers other off-the-menu items to reward their loyal customers and diversify the food options available. These dishes are not available at all locations, and some are more common than others. The list includes some discontinued classics that remain secret, despite public requests to reintroduce them to the standard menu.

The most recent hype was created with the Mexican Pizza. In May 2022, Taco Bell brought the bean and beef topped tortilla back to its standard menu. The reaction was overwhelming, and demand was so high that many Taco Bell restaurants soon ran out of Mexican Pizza.

Based on the amount of love Taco Bell fans share for Chili Cheese Burritos, the same thing could happen if they were to be introduced on a national scale. As a part of the secret menu, the Chili Cheese Burrito still retains this air of mystery that is certainly a part of its charm.

Taco Bell is not the only place where you can get the Chili Cheese Burrito

According to Entrepreneur, Taco Bell was the most successful North American franchise in 2022, and no other brands can compete with it, at least in the realm of Tex Mex cuisine. Even though the American market is now flooded with similar fast-food concepts and may feel oversaturated with Mexican-inspired restaurants that keep popping up across the States, Taco Bell has a special place for many Americans.

Despite its popularity, love, and nationwide availability, Taco Bell continually revamps its menu to stay relevant in the brutally competitive fast-food industry. As a result, some of the items get discontinued, which is what happened to the Chili Cheese Burrito. If this mouthwatering combination of chili and cheese is not even a part of the secret menu at your Taco Bell, there might be a way to get a hold of it to satisfy your craving.

Although it is not fair to list it as a copycat as it should be considered the original, Zantigo still serves the famous Chilito, and yes, it's available under its original name. Unsurprisingly, when the brand was reintroduced under the new management, the Chilitos were the main attraction on the menu. At Zantigo, you can currently choose between three Chilito options: hot, mild, or chorizo-based. However, this is a privilege only reserved for Minnesota residents, as there are currently just four Zantigo restaurants, all located in Minnesota.

Social media can show you how to make the Chili Cheese Burrito

If all else fails and the Chili Cheese Burrito remains nothing more than a nostalgic memory, there is no other option but to roll up your sleeves, do in-depth research, and make a comforting, homemade version of the Chili Cheese Burrito. A simple Google search will result in numerous, more or less successful recipes, replicating this iconic dish in a casual home setting.

When it comes to the original, TikTok can give you a glimpse of how the Chili Cheese Burrito is assembled at different Taco Bell restaurants. Video shows it being made with chili, nacho cheese, the mysterious red sauce, and a hefty amount of cheddar. However, another user shared a video that includes only chili and cheddar cheese, steamed and then rolled into a compact burrito, which is more in line with the ingredients that make a standard Chili Cheese Burrito.

If you embark on the home cooking adventure, you might want to explore some of the best chili recipes. Apart from making a burrito base, it may also become your go-to chili recipe for all future occasions.