Seven months after we first reported it was coming, it’s here. Thailand’s first Taco Bell is officially open.
The Chitlom BTS Station was buzzing today as hundreds of hungry metropolitans lined up outside Mercury Ville to be the first to get a taste of America’s favorite “Mexican” fast food chain.
“I’m excited because it’s the very first location in Thailand. I’ve never had Taco Bell before — or any Mexican food for that matter. I’m very curious to try,” said a Thai man (46th in line by our count) who was about to have his concept of Mexican food skewed forever.
That curiosity seemed to be the dominant theme among locals Coconuts Bangkok interviewed in line. While many said they’d never had Mexican food (or even “Mexican” food) before, others said they’d had limited exposure here and there.
“I’m here because I’m a foodie and I’ve tried Sunrise Taco once and thought it was pretty good, so I want to try another brand [of Mexican food],” said a 29-year-old who’d been standing in line since 7am.
To kick things off with a bang, Taco Bell offered the first 100 customers limited edition merchandise as well as a chance to win free tacos for the whole year. They didn’t, however, specify how many prizes they would be, leading to some mild frustration starting around customer 101.
If you were naive enough to believe you’d have a shot at the grand prize by arriving at 9am (like a certain editor) you’d be sorely mistaken. The first person in line — Indiana native John Cameron — arrived at 10pm yesterday.
“Yeah we all stayed here overnight. We didn’t sleep. I got a chair yesterday just for this so I could sit down,” he said.
Yep, the dude stood (well, sat) in line for 12 hours. He wasn’t the only expat with the same idea.
The second and third people in line, Minnesota natives, arrived at 2AM.
All three Midwesterners were rewarded for their perseverance with free tacos for the entire year.
When the doors finally swung open at 10am, a cheer went up from the throng. But would they actually like it? The Americans, of course, new precisely what they were in for, though they noticed some small differences.
“It’s a little different here. It’s actually a lot spicier. The sauce is different, I guess it doesn’t have as much vinegar. It’s really good,” said the Minnesota natives.
“It’s really, really good,” agreed Cameron. “It was absolutely worth the wait.”
A pair of Thais who had traveled abroad — and been in line since 6am — echoed the enthusiasm.
“It’s fantastic. It’s so good that we actually bought a bunch to-go. It tastes like in America,” said one.
“Yeah it’s up to the American standard,” agreed the other.
“I think it could be successful in Thailand because expats like it and Thai people who’ve lived in America will come. I’m not sure if the average Thai person would like it though,” said another Thai customer enjoying his meal.
Of course, that’s the big question. Will the “average Thai person” like it?
Locals we spoke to who hadn’t tried Taco Bell before weren’t quite as enthusiastic.
“It’s pretty good, but it’s a little weird. I think I like it, but I don’t feel full. But the prices are good and I think the spiciness could appeal to local customers. I think kids will like it more than adults,” said one man in his 70s, who in all fairness is likely not the target demo.
One university student we spoke with said she liked it, but didn’t think it was worth the wait.
“They should have gotten more [free taco] prizes for people. I don’t think Thai people will like the taste, but Thais who like Mexican food may like it,” she said.
Though comparisons are inevitable, Taco Bell Thailand hopes to be more than just an American transplant. The restaurant’s Asia Pacific managing director, Ankush Tuli, said they’ve even tailored the menu and added items they believe will be more fitting for a Southeast Asian palate.
“We have three products that are exclusively for Bangkok and available only in this restaurant. There’s Kickin’ Chicken Taco and two freezes — Mango Madness and Berry Blue,” Tuli said.
“We have our iconic products here too, of course. And our culinary experts came here, tasted the flavors of Thailand, interacted with the consumers, and adapted the menu,” he added. “You will find that the spice level is amped up, including our signature sauces, which are ‘hot’ and ‘fire.’ It’s much spicier than the US.”
First opened in 1962 in Downey, California, Taco Bell now has about 7,000 franchises across the world. It first entered the Asia market by launching in China in 2003.
While the jury’s still out on whether the chain will take off in Thailand, judging by the crowd stretching down Sukhumvit road, it is fair to say that opening day was a success.
Taco Bell Thailand
540 Phloen Chit Rd, Khwaeng Lumphini,
Khet Pathum Wan, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10330