The Love, Power and Complexity Behind the Taco Salad


It isn’t a taco. It isn’t a salad. It is a most holy marriage between them.

Its history is pretty simple: it is 100% bona fide Tex-Mex – the simple product of the blending of two cultures’ cuisines that produces oddly loveable dishes that continue to evolve over time.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, it became a favorite meal at home. As with dishes made at home, families began customizing their taco salads, recording their signature recipes on paper that gained endearing stains over the years.

At Wendy’s®, our first foray into the taco salad tradition was in the 1980s. We looked around in our kitchen and figured we had all the fresh ingredients to produce a great-tasting salad that isn’t a salad…or, taco that isn’t a taco. And Wendy’s fans loved it.

Over time, our menu changes, as all menus do, and our first taco salad chapter came to a close. But, there are a few menu items that our customers have asked about repeatedly since they’ve been gone (we will remember the good times, spicy chicken nuggets) and taco salads are one of them. Though sometimes unwise (see elementary school romances), there is a time and a place for revisiting old loves.

Our current recipe is pretty simple: fresh romaine lettuce, shredded cheddar cheese, diced tomatoes, fire-y salsa, sour cream, yellow corn tortilla chips made with stone ground masa, and – the jewel in the crown – our signature chili.

Customers Customize As They Like

To learn more about this delicious salad that isn‘t a salad, we asked the Wendy‘s Culinary Innovation team what makes this taco salad, tick. Jenna Maly and Emily Kessler are two of the brains behind this beloved comeback.

“Wendy’s Taco Salad is truly a blast from the past!” said Jenna. “This throwback recipe has stayed tried and true to the original salad, but with an important twist — an ingredient that makes it Wendy’s: our Signature Chili. We also love that you can customize it too — mix up the ingredients however you like to make the salad your own.” 

And what about our signature quality? “Quality is still at the center of the salad, too,” said Emily. “The taco chips are made from whole grain corn. The signature salsa is made with roasted tomatoes, jalapeno, and ancho peppers. And it’s all served on the side, giving customers the option to top or dip their salad as they choose,” said Emily.

So, we get it – quality ingredients, some classic moves like the chili – delicious. Fun. Unique.

But what’s the deal with this dish, really? Why the cult following? Why the deep love? We have studied, at great length, a number of intricate theories behind this enigmatic quandary, including the following:


1.    It is a taco putting on a show as a salad, and people love good entertainment.

2.    It delivers a crunch that surpasses all salad crunches.

3.    It is spicy. Spicy is fun. Salads are not usually fun, so this is a surprise. Surprises bring a bit of light into the world.

 Such complex theorizing study made us weary.

So we did a little research to see what fans had to say.

We chose a few of your responses and brought them to life with a little graphic design. Check it out!


Have a different reason? We’d love to hear it. Share your taco salad love with us.  

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