Taco Bell Should Watch Out For This Competitor

Del Taco is hot on Taco Bell's heels, according to a new report.

After Taco Bell dropped its entire 2024 menu plan like it was a new iPhone release, you'd think the chain wouldn't be too worried about being upstaged by its competition. But according to a new report from Restaurant Dive, there's an underdog in the fast food taco space ready to challenge Taco Bell's nationwide footprint: Del Taco has announced major expansion plans and has its sights set on supremacy.

For those outside the Southern and Western regions of the country, Del Taco is similar to Taco Bell in that it offers a mostly Tex-Mex (or "Mexican-inspired") menu. But Del Taco has far fewer locations, with just under 600 U.S. outlets in 16 states, versus Taco Bell's 8,000 nationwide. It's an imbalance Del Taco seemingly hopes to address, as the chain signed 138 new franchise deals in 2023.

In addition to increasing its number of locations, Del Taco is also expanding into new markets. Of the 138 new agreements, 52 are in Florida, and agreements were signed to open locations in Texas, Montana, and Wyoming. The chain also has plans to expand in California, Nevada, Georgia, and South Carolina, and its first locations in North Carolina and Virginia are slated to open this year.

"[We'll] continue to really exploit the Southeast because it's the fastest-growing part of the U.S. and Florida is the fastest-growing state," Van Ingram, Del Taco's VP of franchise development, told Restaurant Dive. "It makes sense. And there's a lot of pent-up demand for a brand like Del Taco. ... We can go out there and compete with a brand leader like Taco Bell."

The similarities between Del Taco's and Taco Bell's menu offerings are undeniable. Both menus include burritos, the choice of soft or hard-shelled tacos, nachos, quesadillas—even the desserts are similar. Del Taco often leans more into the Mexican elements of its Mexican-inspired menu, with offerings like tamales and fresh guacamole, but at other times it seems to follow Taco Bell's lead with items like the Crunchtada, which looks an awful lot like a Mexican Pizza.

If you zero in on each restaurant's breakfast menu, you'll see siblings separated at birth: Taco Bell offers a Cheesy Toasted Breakfast Burrito with Bacon that contains egg, while Del Taco offers breakfast burrito filled with scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, a zesty red sauce, and choice of crispy bacon or carne asada steak (which Taco Bell also happens to offer as a separate menu item). But Del Taco also has a side of its menu that Taco Bell has yet to explore, which is traditional fast food fare like burgers, fries, and salads. Taco Bell may be doing a whole lot Más with its menu in 2024, but with a diverse menu of standards, Del Taco is nipping at its heels.