The Walking Taco, or “tacos in a bag,” is one of the more popular food items in the Midwestern, Southwestern, and Southeastern United States. It is slowly growing into the US national consciousness because it is easy to prepare and delicious. It is also known as a Frito pie, but different regions have their local name. Adults and kids love eating this food because it is easy to walk around with, there’s no need for plates, and there’s only a little mess to take care of once you’re finished.
In its most basic iteration, a Walking Taco is a bag of your favorite chips (usually Frito or Doritos corn chips) with beef chili as the topping. Other toppings include chopped raw onion, shredded cheese, jalapenos, and an additional dousing of sour cream. Of course, some people would modify the recipe based on their preference, but regardless of the change, the Walking Taco is still one of the foodstuff people can enjoy any time of the day.
Who invented the Walking Taco?
There’s a bit of a controversy regarding who first came up with the Walking Taco. Houston-based author and culinary expert Robb Walsh says that New Mexicans claim that Teresa Hernandez invented the Walking Taco in the 1960s at a Woolworth’s branch in Santa Fe. Hernandez was said to be the one working the lunch counter in the branch and poured red chili into an open Fritos bag.
However, Texans say that the Walking Taco has already been around since the 1930s, and it was Daisy Doolin, the mother of the guy who invented Fritos, Charles Elmer Doolin, who dreamed up the recipe. Doolin’s recipe included chips adorned with chopped raw onions and shredded cheese.
Regardless of who was the original inventor of the Walking Tacos, they came up with a simple dish that can be considered a culinary masterstroke.
The Walking Taco’s key contributors (and evolution)
- Charles Elmer DoolinInvented the Fritos corn chips
Doolin’s desire to add a salty snack to the repertoire of food at their family-owned Highland Park Confectionary led him to buy the original recipe from Gustavo Olguin. Charles and his family began manufacturing the corn chips in their garage and expanded steadily until they had several factories and licensees. He also came up with Cheetos, bean dip, chili, and other Mexican-inspired dips and treats.
- Daisy Dean DoolinMama’s Walking Taco Recipe
Daisy Dean Doolin is Charles Elmer’s mother. Her involvement in the production of Fritos chips may have led her to experiment with how to make the chips a more palatable snack that mothers would approve of. Her recipe for the Fritos pie incorporated shredded cheese and chopped raw onions.
- Casa de FritosFrito Chili Pie in Disneyland
Walt Disney convinced CE Doolin to open a Fritos-themed restaurant in Disneyland’s Frontierland. The restaurant had a menu consisting of food made from Frito chips and other Mexican food such as enchiladas, tamales, and chili pie.
- Teresa HernandezSanta Fe’s Lunch Counter Lady’s Walking Taco
Culinary historians would also point to Teresa Hernandez, the lunch counter lady in Woolworth, as one of the originators of the Walking Taco. She placed homemade red chili con carne over a bag of opened Frito chips, and she added chopped onions and cheddar cheese.
- Andy SalinasBig Tex Choice Award’s Walking Tacos Phenomenon
Salinas became a finalist in the Big Tex Choice Award with his Walking Taco recipe. First, he takes a bag of Doritos and crushes the contents. Then, he adds jalapenos, shredded meat, onion, grated cheese, sour cream, lettuce, tomatoes, and salsa. He stipulates that it’s a build-your-own-taco situation that would allow the client to choose their preferred toppings and bring their tacos as they walk in the Texas Fair.
When was the first Walking Taco invented?
Culinary historians still couldn’t agree on who was the definitive originator of the Walking Taco. Charles Elmer Doolin came up with the Frito chips in 1932 as he wanted to include something salty in their family-owned Highland Park Confectionary menu. However, it is said that his mother, Daisy Dean, came up with the Frito pie, which used the chips combined with chopped raw onions and cheese.
However, other culinary historians point out that Teresa Hernandez, the lady at the lunch counter in Santa Fe, New Mexico’s Woolworth was the original inventor of the Walking Taco. She poured her homemade red chili con carne over a bag of chips and added grated cheese and chopped onions.
Regardless of who invented the Walking Taco, or whatever term you would like to call it, it is still one of the best food adults and children agree on as a delicious meal.
A brief history of the Walking Taco
The Walking Taco has a somewhat controversial history as culinary historians couldn’t agree who invented the delicious foodstuff. They could agree that Charles Elmer Doolin came up with the Frito chips in 1932 after he bought the recipe from Gustavo Olguin. Doolin wanted to add something salty to the menu of their family-owned Highland Park Confectionary enterprise. They began manufacturing the chips from their garage until they expanded because they grew in popularity.
Some historians say that his mother, Daisy Dean Doolin, came up with the first Walking Taco as she combined the chips with cheese and chopped raw onions. Others say that their executive secretary Mary Livingston should be credited with the recipe. The Frito-Lay company, however, attributed the recipe to Nell Morris, who joined the company in the 1950s and helped come up with an official cookbook.
Walt Disney also convinced Doolin to invest in a Fritos-themed restaurant in Disneyland’s Frontierland, where they served meals using chips and other Mexican food such as enchiladas, tamales, and chili pies. They also came up with Doritos in the succeeding years.
Other historians would point to Teresa Hernandez, the lunch counter lady at Santa Fe, New Mexico’s Woolworth, as the recipe’s originator in the 1960s. They said she poured her homemade red chili con carne over an opened bag of chips and added chopped raw onions and cheese into the mix.
As the Walking Taco gained popularity, especially in the Midwestern, Southeastern, and Southwestern parts of the US, there have been modifications to the recipe based on personal preferences. People would pile on whatever they think would make an excellent walking-around meal into the bag and make their mix.
The Walking Taco timeline
- 1932Charles Elmer Doolin creates the Frito chip
The Frito chips became the main ingredient in what historians say became the first iteration of the Walking Taco, otherwise known as the Frito pie. Doolin bought the recipe from Gustavo Olguin and he incorporated the chips into the menu of their family-owned Highland Park Confectionary.
- 1932Daisy Dean Doolin comes up with first Frito Pie
Some sources say that Charles’ mother, Daisy Dean came up with the first Frito pie as she experimented on the chips as an ingredient. Perhaps she wanted to create something that would get a mother’s approval.
- 1955Disneyland’s Casa de Fritos includes Fritos Chili Pie in menu
Walt Disney convinced Doolin to invest in a Fritos-themed restaurant in Disneyland’s Frontierland. It was considerably successful as the menu consisted of Mexican food such as chili pies, enchiladas, and tamales. It also featured various Fritos-based food, such as the Fritos bowl and the Frito Chili Pie.
- 1960sTeresa Hernandez and the Woolworth Walking Taco
Some accounts say that Teresa Hernandez came up with the recipe for the Walking Taco as she poured homemade red chili con carne over an opened bag of chips and mixed cheese and onions. Hernandez was the lunch counter lady in Santa Fe, New Mexico’s Woolworth, when she was said to have done this.
Where was the Walking Taco invented?
Depending on which historical account you look into, there are two possibilities. If you think it was Charles Elmer Doolin’s mother, Daisy Dean, who made the first Walking Taco (AKA Frito Pie), then the first Walking Taco was invented in Texas in 1932, probably in the kitchen of Highland Park Confectionary or at their home.
However, if you think it was Teresa Hernandez who is the originator of the Walking Taco, then you could point out the Woolworth lunch counter in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where it was invented.
The importance of the Walking Taco
- Origin of the contemporary Walking Taco
The first Walking Taco inspired other people to try it out and make their recipes based on it. While the first one may have used Frito chips mixed with chopped raw onions and cheese, there have been other additions to the recipe based on personal preferences.
- Helped promote culinary ingenuity and creativity
With mothers experimenting with different types of food to feed the family, the Walking Taco gave them an idea of a meal that was pretty easy to make; even a child could prepare it.
- Spurred the chip industry
With the success of the corn chips that served as the Walking Taco’s foundation, several improvements and developments have led to the boom in the food chip industry.
- Promoted culinary integration
The invention of the first Walking Taco proved to be a way to integrate different culinary ideas into something delicious. The recipe has been adapted based on personal preference and has incorporated various culinary ideas.
The Walking Taco by the numbers
- 4A good rule of thumb for making a delicious Walking Taco is to put at least 4 ounces of meat fillings into each bag.
- 2Most recipes call for adding at least 2 tablespoons of cheese for Walking Tacos. It adds a different component to the flavor profile and makes it savory.
- 1932Daisy Dean Doolin was said to have invented the Walking Tacos this year. She is the mom of Charles Doolin, the man who created Fritos chips.
- 1946The combination of Fritos chips, chili, and cheese made its national debut this year.
Five facts about Walking Taco
- It’s called the Walking Taco because it’s quite portable.
The term Walking Taco stuck because it was easier to eat and move around with little mess.
- One-ounce corn chips suffice for a Walking Taco.
Unless you have a bigger appetite, most recipes call for a one-ounce bag of corn chips for Walking Tacos. You can add other ingredients to suit your preference.
- Frito pie and Walking Tacos are technically similar.
Walking Tacos are in a bag of corn chips, while a Frito pie is placed on a paper boat and ladled with chili and other toppings. The ingredients are similar, but the only difference is where they’re placed.
- The Walking Taco wasn’t the first Frito-based food item
In fact, the first Frito-based food item was for a Fritos Fruit Cake which called for candied fruits, crushed Fritos and pecan.
- Walking Tacos are highly customizable.
You can customize your Walking Tacos based on your preference. For example, you can change the meat and add other ingredients and sauces as you see fit.
FAQs about Walking Tacos
- Are Walking Tacos healthy?
Walking Tacos can be healthier if you use turkey meat and use more vegetables to the mix.
- Why are Doritos the favored chips for Walking Tacos?
Doritos became the go-to chips for Walking Tacos because it was a product of the Frito-Lay company, which used to be part of Charles Doolin’s food empire.
- What goes well with Walking Tacos?
Several side dishes go well with Walking Tacos. Among them are rice, guacamole, refried beans, cornbread, and corn.
- Is a Walking Taco easy to make?
Yes. A Walking Taco is easy to prepare. All you need is a bag of chips and your preferred toppings such as cheese, jalapenos, chili con carne, beef, chicken or turkey meat, and some vegetables.
- Are Frito pies and Walking Tacos different?
Technically, the only difference is where they’re placed. A Frito pie is placed on a paper boat while a Walking Taco is in a chip bag.