BANGKOK — For almost three hours, Junior stood eagerly waiting in line. After the 27 people before him were served, he would be sinking his teeth into a greasy taco like he did during his teen years in the American midwest.
The last time Nitiwit “Junior” Jongphiphitaporn, 18, ate Taco Bell was two years ago, when he would down burritos after school as an exchange student in Grand Haven, Michigan. Thursday morning, he was the 28th customer to queue up for the official opening this morning at Thailand’s first branch of the Tex-Mex fast food chain at The Mercury Ville shopping mall on Chit Lom Road. Other Thai customers in line echoed Junior’s sentiments – they were waiting out of nostalgia for time they lived in the United States.
Little did Junior know that he would bond with No. 32 and 33 in line, Aleksey Stanishevskiy, 21 and Stuart Holden, 23.
“We’re like, top 30!” Stanishevsky said, laughing with his new bro-friends. “We just met him in line now. I brought Stuart here.”
For Briton Holden, it was his first time at Taco Bell – but he said he had found a new source of comfort food.
“It’s great. All I order here is pizza, McDonald’s, so this is a great alternative,” Holden said. “This would totally be a great drunk food, man!”
Stanishevskiy ordered almost everything off the menu to share with both Holding and his new buddy Junior.
“I’ve been waiting for this place to open for two years. They announced it way earlier, but in the past year it’s been hyped a lot,” he said, demolishing a hard taco.
Stanishevskiy, an ethnic Russian from New York’s Brighton Beach neighborhood, said he was glad there’s now a cheap alternative to Mexican food in Bangkok, even if he did enjoy other restaurants which have sprung up.
“Sunrise Tacos is overpriced. It’s such a ripoff,” Stanishevskiy said, echoing a popular sentiment. “My favorite place is Tacos and Salsa in On Nut, but that’s for premium-quality food.”
Stanishevskiy said he compared the prices in Bangkok with those back in the states and was satisfied. A review of the menu found some items roughly a third more expensive than their American equivalents. “Double Tacos” are 158 baht (USD$5), while US restaurants sell them for the equivalent of 106 baht. However, other dishes like a Crunchwrap Supreme (114 baht) are about the same.
The difference is in the servings: There are no XXL Grilled Stuft burritos; the non-XXL Thai version is 139 baht.
Most who have counted Taco Bell a guilty pleasure would admit Taco Bell is about face-stuffing quantity rather than quality that can leave one with a lingering sense of regret.
The chicken taco filling – no beef served yet, the chain says – tastes like the meat layer scraped off of a cafeteria lasagna, and Thai palates will beg for some lime to cut through the creamy greasiness of a chicken quesadilla.
The overall aftertaste is one that leaves the impulse to “make a run to the border” both satisfied yet also staved off for some time. At least until the next drunken stop for sustenance between night clubs, or morning-after hangover remedy.
Like Holden said, it’s great drunk food – so long as one’s inebriated between 10am and 10pm.
Expect long queues – as is the case for many foreign chain imports – for the next few weeks.
Taco Bell hopes to expand to 40 branches across Thailand by 2022.
Taco Bell is open 10am to 10pm daily on the ground floor of The Mercury Ville Chidlom shopping mall, which can be reached on foot via skywalk from BTS Chit Lom.