Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Taco de Carlos, History of

Taco de CarlosTaco de Carlos was a fast-food mexican restaurant chain, that spun off from Carl's Jr.

I remember eating there several times after our family moved to Santa Ana in 1978. My sister-in-law's husband worked there for awhile.

In 1972 Carl Karcher Enterprises decided to get in on the Mexican fast-food business because it was a new phenomemon that was proving successful with Taco Bell going public just a few years earlier.

Taco de Carlos offered menu items not found on Taco Bell, like the California Burrito, with the green chili, and the Machaca Burrito. It also served up the standard Carl's Jr. burgers. Some of the Taco de Carlos locations opened next door to a Carl's Jr. In fact, the Del Taco on the corner of Harbor and MacArthur in Santa Ana was a Taco de Carlos. The one my family visited most often was located on Bristol St, near the corner of Warner Ave, also in Santa Ana.

By the end of the 1970's Taco de Carlos had 17 locations, and that was about it. Carl Karcher Enterprises could never muster up enough business attention for Taco de Carlos, and the tiny taco chain found itself stuck in its own pot of refried beans. Meanwhile, the bigger names like Taco Bell, Del Taco, Naugles, and Pup-n-Taco were taking off like wildfire.

In the early 1980s Carl Karcher Enterprises sold off most of its Taco de Carlos locations to Del Taco, and the rest to other buyers.

In 1988, after strengthening the Carl's Jr. brand, they decided to try their luck again with fast-food Mexican fare, and struck up a co-branding deal with Green Burrito. And while the partnership is still going on, Green Burrito hasn't really done all that well. The problem with Green Burrito is that their food is not much better than highschool cafeteria fare.

ChristianZ, who writes the OC Mexican Restaurant blog has an article about Taco de Carlos, and has collected a bunch of memories from commenters...

The Taco de Carlos coffee mug you see in the photo above is actually for sale on eBay via Mustang Collectibles...


  1. Simone.... ese. I rememeber Taco De Carlos. On Warner and Bristol,
    where El Pollo Loco is now. I too... loved the California Burrito, and tambien, the foot long tacos and the Orterga Burger with the ortega chile and cheese. Remember that one? Carl's still makes them once an a while.

    One time, my mom ordered some tacos, and when she bit into it it was all lettuce and no meat! Man, we laughed so hard! Of course, we took it back to the counter and they gave us free tacos. Man, I loved them burritos, and the logo was a trip! A happy star with a Sombrero. A Mexian Carl's Jr. People still think I'm crazy loco when I talk about it. How bout Tastee Freeze.... bananna splits and chocolate dipped cones.

    And Yup, Pup&Taco pastrami sandwiches and their chili dogs!

    Those were the days.

    1. My sister worked at that Taco de Carlo. I loved their French fries there.

  2. Don't tell anyone but I worked at the one in Fountain Valley when I was in high school.

  3. Hey FV Tom, I probably saw you a lot then! We were walking distance from Taco de Carlos and were there a LOT. Thanks for good eatin'!

  4. Hi, Yeah I worked at the Taco De Carlos in Anahiem for 8 months. We wore little short skirt dress type uniform. I love the Machakka buritto.

  5. I worked at the one in Fountain Valley as well. Barb was the manager at the time. I used to love making my own Ortega burgers, they were always double meat & chilis. I think there were a couple of sisters that worked the named Ortega. I did like the food. Too bad Carl never really got behind the restaurant and promoted it more.

  6. Beach Blvd. and Leffingwell, had a Taco De Carlos and a Carl's Junior. Loved the Machaca burrito, and loved the California Roast Beef sandwich with the grilled Ortega chile, awesome. Now you go down to Imperial burger and get a roast beef and cheese burrito with a grilled ortega chile and the childhood memories flow on.

  7. I still have fond memories of growing up in Fountain Valley and eating at Taco de Carlos and as the first poster said when ever I bring up Taco de Carlos people look at me like Im on drugs. lol

  8. We ate at the one in FV at Warner and Brookhurst. Across from GEMCO! Loved that humongous taco they had!

  9. I used to go to the one off Warner and Brookhurst at lunch from Los Amigos...I would buy the fried burrito (way before their time) cuz it was easy to eat and drive at the same time... couldn't be late for 5th period!!

  10. my high school band performed at the TDC in La habra for their grand opening and that one was also next to a carls jr but sadly it was turned into a del taco. my friend went to TDC and couldnt make up his mind so he ordered a hamburger they cussed him out and told him to go next door for hbis burger

  11. I worked at Taco de Carlos in I think 1980ish, the location in Mission Viejo, Marguerite Pkwy. and Avery Pkwy. Dearly loved the food there! Hear a lot of chatter of the Calif. Burrito...seems like it moved over to Carl's after TdC's death as the Crisperito(?). I know we didn't assemble the burrito there (and neither did Carl's later on). My favorite was their regular beef burrito, tastier beef than anyone else, a blend of chedder/jack cheeses, and a better red sauce than anyone else. The packaged taco sauce I liked better than anyone else as well. I've still have a couple tidbits of TdC, maybe my favorite is a TdC folding paper employee hat.

    My first job ever was at the Mission Viejo Pup n' Taco (excellent taco sauce as well), next was Taco de Carlos (the manager soon grew to hate me, eventually fired me for putting too much cheese on a burrito...I got the last laugh, she was escorted out of the restaurant by the police a couple weeks later for embezzlement). My girlfriend was at Carl's #296 Irvine/Woodbridge, she got me a job at Carl's #310 Irvine/Northwoods. I can remember my manager at Carl's explaining to me that the Taco de Carlos chain was always intended to loose money. Don't know if this is true, but it always stuck with me. Even as a kid working in a fast food place, I do remember I was impressed more with the quality of ingredients at TdC than other Mexican fast food places.

    Another sidenote...the Carl's Jr. "Q.A", Quality Assurance monitor assigned to my area Carl's Jr. was the owner of the independently owned (then) 1 or 2 store strong "Green Burrito" restaurant. What a hard-nose this lady was!! Looks like she got to eventually cash in with the Green Burrito name.

    Scott K., an OC refugee, in Palm Springs...and dinning now at Baker's in Beaumont when possible.

  12. I am so glad I decided to google this today. I have dearly missed Taco De Carlos and crave their Crisperito's. I guess I am feeling nostalgic, anyway, they had the BEST mexican food as far as I was concerned. Those of you who visited them in the Santa Ana locations probably knew my mom as she was one of the managers/district managers for Carl's Jr. for over 20 years! Those were the days! Maybe they would consider a comeback in the future??

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