Mexican food was a new experience for most Australians when the founder of Taco Bill, Bill Chilcote, arrived in Australia from the California/Mexico border in 1967. His first Taco Bill outlet was located on the Gold Coast and offered take-away food. The chain is now a franchise operation with 33 stores in Victoria.
Taco Bill introduced Australia not just to tacos but to nachos, which soon became ubiquitous on pub bar menus. Then there were tortillas, quesadillas, enchiladas, fajitas and burritos – all complete with large amounts of melted cheese. The Taco Bill name was no doubt inspired by the US chain, Taco Bell, which opened 100 restaurants between 1962 and 1967.
Taco Bill’s website says their first Melbourne restaurant was in Armadale. It has been suggested that the South Melbourne venue claimed to be first and that it was originally called the Mexican Cantina. I definitely remember frequenting this restaurant in the 1970s. It was always Taco Bill’s Mexican Cantina. Originally Taco Bill was unlicensed (or, at least, you had to take your own liquor, which we did, so some of the memories are a bit hazy).
Bill Chilcote died in 2011 and a notice in The Age announced that “There will be a Fiesta in his honour for friends and family on TUESDAY December 20 at Taco Bills Mexican Cantina, 375 Clarendon St, South Melbourne from 6pm.”
Taco Bell attempted to enter the Australian market in 1981, but withdrew when they were sued by a local restaurant trading as Taco Bell’s Casa. The brand is owned by Yum! Brands who also own KFC. There was an attempt at co-branding stores but this fizzled in 2005. However, in January 2015 a Queenslander, Greg Creed, became CEO of Taco Bell and suggested that the brand may yet be launched in Australia.
Meanwhile, new chains including Guzman y Gomez and Mad Mex are serving up a modern version of Mexican to a new generation of Australians. And that’s not to mention the hot Mexican restaurants who are, by all accounts, doing a roaring trade.