U.S. Taco Co.: Taco Bell Enters the Fast-Casual Scene

Down peach jalapeno BBQ sauce, posh slaws, pulled pork at the new Huntington Beach restaurant.

Slip into any restaurant convention nowadays and you're bound to hear one thing, repeated over and over (beyond the attendees commenting on the convention food): fast-casual.

The fast-casual concept, which hovers somewhere between fast food and full-on traditional sit-down service, has exceeded the grasps of buzzword greatness in recent years and now fully consumed an industry eager to fill in a profitable space. And people who eat out are eager to give this sector money, time, and patronage.

Meaning that even established stalwarts like Starbucks are exploring tonier tastes, longer meal times, and the world of upscale-easy eats (see: La Boulange, which debuted on La Brea Avenue in June).

Next up? Taco Bell. The powerhouse fast-foodery is launching U.S. Taco Co., a take on tacos that boasts a slightly foodier edge.

What's a "foodier edge"? Think "wild-caught seafood." Think hormone-free leche shakes. And picture tacos brimming with pulled pork, Polynesian sauce slaw, peach jalapeno BBQ sauce, and cotija, cheesing things up in its artful way.

But don't look for names that might be familiar at Taco Bell, like Quesarito and Gordita, to grace the short but punchy menu. Big Stud Spud, Not My First Rodeo, and Brotherly Love, a piquant take on the cheesesteak, are three of the quirkily monikered choices.

Prices? Like all fast-casual choices that have a fast food sibling, they come in a few dollars higher.

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Place? Huntington Beach has the first U.S. Taco Co., which made its debut on Monday, Aug. 11 a block from the pier.

Philosophy? U.S. Taco Co. has an "Our Soul" page on its website, where it reveals it is backing the Best Day Foundation, "an organization that helps kids with special needs build confidence and self-esteem through safe, fun-filled adventure activities, like surfing." Meaning that "a portion of our net profit goes to support this great cause."

So where will U.S. Taco Co. show next? With the continued ascendancy of fast-casual foodie love in the restaurant world, the answer could be literally down the street from where you live.

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