I grew up in the foothills of Southern California in the 1960s. Coming off the post-war 1950’s, it seemed like California was always on the cutting edge of music, technologies, fast cars and fast food. Taking over from the casual dining experience of Howard Johnson, Sambo’s, Shakey’s Pizza and Bob’s Big Boy, America embraced the fast food convenience of McDonald’s (“tens of thousands sold) , In-N-Out, Jack in the Box, A&W, Colonial Sanders and Taco Bell. In 1968, I could leave junior high school during lunch break on my bike, go to a fast food restaurant and get a cheese burger for .25 fries for a nickel and a large soft drink for .20 cents!
One of my favorites was what Taco Bell called the “Bell Burger.” It was a Sloppy Joe style sandwich using your season beef and cheddar cheese used in their tacos; add lettuce tomatoes and onion for the “Bell Grande.” During special promotions, I could get 5 for a dollar! Sadly, the Bell Burger was a casualty of the Burger War and was extinct by the mid-1970s. I do not profess to have their secret recipe, but this is pretty darn close. It is a simple and quick recipe if condiments are prepped in advance. The picante sauce is fresh and without preservatives. This would be a great item for game night.
1 lb. Ground beef¼ c. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. dried onion flakes
½ tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. onion powder
1 dash garlic powder
½ c. cold water
1½ c. cold water1 tsp. cornstarch
½ (6-oz) can Tomato paste
1½ tbsp. distilled white vinegar
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
6 hamburger buns, steamed slightly¾ cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded lettuce
½ diced tomato
½ cup diced onion
It is best to make the sauce first. In a saucepan add the water and cornstarch and whisk until fully dissolved. Next add vinegar, salt, cayenne and tomato paste. While bringing it to a boil, continue stirring sauce. Reduce heat to low and let simmer until sauce thickens. Cool sauce in a covered container in the refrigerator.
Now for the filling: In a stand mixer or food processor, combine the ground beef and dry ingredients until well mixed. In a large skillet over medium heat, add beef and the ½ cup water. Stir the mixture while it cooks, breaking up large chunks. Cook until slightly browned. In a colander, drain off any grease or liquid. While cooking the beef mixture, steam the buns slightly in a rice maker or double boiler.
To assemble, spread some sauce on the bottom bun. Next, add two tbsp. seasoned meat. Sprinkle meat with shredded cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion. Serve with guacamole as garnish. Enjoy, JW