I was in Shibuya. I was in a hurry to meet a friend. And I was lost. But then the most wonderful, unexpected thing happened to me.
I saw this.
I had to stop. To blink. …Taco Bell? In Japan!? Since when?
Miracles do happen, people. Miracles do happen.
It turns out this Taco Bell opened on April 21st, 2015. Since then, it appears they have opened two more shops – one in Minato-ku and one in Odaiba – though I’ve yet to experience either of those.
Since I was and still am totally stoked about being able to eat Taco Bell again, I thought I’d share my impressions of the Shibuya shop, as a self-proclaimed Taco Bell connoisseur. 🙂 But first, a little history on Taco Bell in Japan to help you understand how miraculous this is!
Taco Bell in Japan
To my surprise, the opening of the Shibuya Taco Bell was not Japan’s first foray into the world of this wonderful fast food franchise. Apparently, a couple shops were opened in Tokyo and Nagoya in the 1980s but sadly, never seemed to catch on with the Japanese market. Within a few years, Taco Bell became extinct in Japan, save for the safe havens of American military bases where they knew they could count on we expats to consume the stuff like pandas might consume bamboo (If this analogy is lost on you, you may wish to enlist the help of your bff Google. For the lazy ones, just know, it’s a LOT of freaking bamboo!!). The problem was that if you were a Taco Bell-addicted expat and you weren’t lucky enough to be tight with someone who worked on a base, then you were plumb out of luck!
So man, am I glad those dark days are over! Taco Bell just happens to be my fast food place of choice. Yes, I realize it’s not “real” Mexican food, but as far as fast food is concerned, to me there’s no comparison. Just to give you an idea of how much I love it, I will say this: after I got back home after spending almost a full year in Japan for my study abroad, the first meal I ate was from Taco Bell. Not a steak, no. Not a burger. Not even pizza. I had to have goddamn Taco Bell. So yeah. I kind of have a thing for it. A bit of an abusive relationship, if you will. So the fact that McDonald’s and KFC (my least two favorite fast food places) run rampant in Japan while Taco Bell, my kryptonite, has been basically non-existent, is a bit of a touchy subject for me. Like there are some topics of conversation that are generally avoided, such as religion and politics, the subject of fast food in Japan is something I always just tried not to think about. Until now.
Taco Bell in Shibuya: The Atmosphere
Walking into the Taco Bell in Shibuya felt a bit like walking into a New York coffee shop. Unlike the trailer trash vibe that we Americans are typically used to, Taco Bell in Japan is a classy place. It exudes an undeniable air of hipster-ness, which I am fairly certain is intentional, as evidenced by the hipster-glasses-wearing mascot (who’s featured in the featured image). Just take a look at the following and you can see for yourself!
If the first floor is too crowded, you can head down to the basement. It’s actually quite spacious and has a nice ambiance, complete with comfy chairs.
So as you can see, it’s pretty damn nice! It seriously reminds me of a fancy coffee shop. Like, I felt like I could be in an updated version of Friends, save for the fact that there was no couch. But the bench we sat on was just as comfortable, I’m sure.
Since Taco Bell has already failed in Japan once, I bet they thought long and hard about the design of their first shop before its grand opening. Generally Japanese people, particularly in Tokyo, tend to value classiness. Appearance means a lot here. And as hilarious it was for me as an American to be eating at a Taco Bell that looks like a Starbucks, there’re definitely no complaints here. I could get used to Taco Bell being a classy hangout! But we don’t go to fast food restaurants for atmosphere, do we? We go to get food. And fast.
Taco Bell in Shibuya: The Food
I’ll start with what I didn’t like and just get that out of the way. First, it’s expensive. Below is a picture of what I ordered, along with my receipt. It came to a grand total of 853 yen. That’s about $8… for two tacos, some chips, and a drink.
Now, what I ordered in the picture was a set. And that’s unsurprising considering the Japanese get a serious hard-on for their “set menus.” They’re all about it. And in this case, I believe it’s the better deal. When I went to Taco Bell the first time, I just got two tacos and a drink a la carte and it was almost the same price.
My second complaint is that the menu is very limited. They really push the sets, and there are only like five to choose from. And pretty much all of the a la carte items are just the same things you can get in a set. But in any case, if you were hoping for some of the crazy (awesome) American creations such as Doritos Locos tacos or the Cheese Gordita Crunch, you will be disappointed. Even simple things such as the nachos are not the same. The chips in the picture above are what they consider to be nachos (though that’s not necessarily a bad thing). And they didn’t even come with cheese initially. I had to ask.
But enough of the complaints! From the above two paragraphs, it may sound like I was upset with my Japanese Taco Bell experience. But alas, that couldn’t be farther from the truth! The food, albeit a bit overpriced, was amazing. They totally nailed the traditional Taco Bell taste that I have grown to love so much. Even though there weren’t that many options, what there was was delicious. I will definitely be going back whenever I miss that psuedo-Mexican taste that only Taco Bell can provide.
If you’re hoping for an exact replica of American Taco Bell, then you may find yourself disappointed as far as food selection is concerned. On the other hand, in terms of atmosphere, any expectations you may have had will almost certainly be surpassed. Especially if you get a chance to meet Mr. Hipster Taco Man!
Due to the price, if you are a tourist, I’d recommend passing this up (unless you want a chance to get a picture with Mr. Hipster Taco Man?). But if you’re here for the long-haul, such as yours truly, then this place is just what the doctor ordered when you get that craving for fake Mexican.
And based on the over-the-top levels of hipster exuded by the Shibuya Taco Bell, I feel like this could be the next big thing for Japan. Seriously. We’re talking about a country where they’ve been brainwashed to go to KFC for Christmas. Think about it. What if Cinco de Mayo were to get big here? Hmm…