This story was updated on June 29.
I heard the chihuahua from the iconic commercials that aired in the '90s was buried under the Taco Bell on Broad Street and that his spirit "blesses every order that is made." It didn't take long for me to realize that I'd been caught up in a wacky inside joke that only Chattanoogans are privy to.
To preface this article, I'm an unabashed Taco Bell guy. I know this might make pompous foodies sick to their stomachs. I know this might diminish my credibility as a food writer. But I jumped for joy when I heard the cheesy fiesta potatoes were making their triumphant return, and I was in shambles when I went to Taco Bell on lunch break and saw that the Volcano Taco with the lava sauce was gone.
I know it's not "authentic Mexican." I know it was "invented" by an American named Glen Bell, who allegedly stole the recipe from Salvador Oquendo from Milta Cafe in San Bernardino, California. But just know, on any given Tuesday, I'll dump a few asada gorditas and an ice-cold guava Jarritos for a beefy five-layer burrito and a Baja Blast.
As a matter of fact, the last time I was in Atlanta — for my brother Daniel's bachelor getaway — instead of eating the shrimp a la plancha at The Optimist, I found myself in the parking lot of the Taco Bell on Ponce De Leon Avenue devouring a pair of chalupas. True story.
No one out Chattanoogas the Broad Street Taco Bell
The first Taco Bell in Chattanooga opened in September 1973 at 4921 Brainerd Road. Touchdown Wings currently occupies that building, but that vintage Taco Bell, mission-style architecture is unmistakable.
Nine years later, on Nov. 3, 1982, the Taco Bell at 3151 S. Broad St. celebrated its grand opening with a sweepstakes in which you could register to win a trip for two to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Later that year, the restaurant offered coupons for a free taco with the purchase of a burrito supreme, taco supreme, beefy tostada or Enchirito, a Taco Bell-trademark hybrid of a burrito and enchilada.
The following year the Broad Street Taco Bell held an "Octoberfiesta," a "peso-pinching weekend" that had all-you-can-eat tacos for 49 cents. By the summer of 1984, back when Steeve Creech was the manager, the Broad Street Taco Bell was chosen to debut the brand new taco salad, the Nachos Bellgrande and the "taco light" made with a "light-tasting, flakey, flour tortilla."
For the past 40 years, somehow, in some extremely weird way, the Taco Bell on Broad Street has wiggled itself securely into Chattanooga pop culture. It's simultaneously famous and infamous. There's a meme for it featuring the Andy Dwyer character from "Parks and Recreation" that says, "I don't know what the Taco Bell on Broad Street means, and at this point I'm afraid to ask."
There are 11 different Reddit pages dedicated to the Broad Street Taco Bell where I've read all types of absurdities. I've heard it was "ordained by God himself to bless the masses." That it's the "fourth-best meal in Chattanooga" and the "Mecca for Taco Bell lovers."
Another Broad Street Taco Bell admirer said that he'd drag his "man parts" through "a mile of broken glass to smell those tacos through a walkie-talkie"
Things got even weirder when I stumbled upon @broadstbacotell, an Instagram account with over 3,000 followers that's not officially sanctioned by Taco Bell, but a fan. The account is full of more random memes lambasting Chattanooga culture by poking fun at everybody from Sleepyhead Coffee to Skyzoo to the Red Wolves Football Club.
Is the Crunchwrap Supreme crunchier at the Taco Bell on Broad Street than the one on Shallowford Road? Absolutely not. Are the packets of Fire! Sauce from the Taco Bell on Broad Street more fiery than the packets at the Taco Bell on Rossville Boulevard? Absolutely not. Do the Broad Street Taco Bell employees come around and dust the crumbs from the nacho fries off your shirt for you? Absolutely not. Is the watermelon berry lemonade freeze currently unavailable? Maybe so. Are the Broad Street Taco Bell employees likely to mistakenly put a Mexican pizza in your Deluxe Craving Box instead of what you really ordered? Maybe so. Could you get better "authentic" Mexican food in Chattanooga? Absolutely!
All craziness aside, this is probably the most practical reason the Broad Street Taco Bell is so beloved. It's always there, kind of delicious and judging not. If my father, Uncle Lynol, Aunt Lashes or my sister Amina happen to visit me in Chattanooga one day, of course, we'll have breakfast at Aretha Frankensteins, karaage bento boxes for lunch at Two Ten Jack, and even if we go to Alleia for dinner, eventually we'll end at the Broad Street Taco Bell, yelling our orders through the intercom.