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The United States of Tacos: a map of the 14 biggest Mexican chain eateries in America

8 months ago by James Mattone in Features, Markets

Whether it's Cinco de Mayo, Taco Tuesday, or lunchtime in the city, Mexican-American fast food and fast casual food have become a staple in our country. 

It has, in a sense, become the United States of Tacos:

(We've excluded Guam on this map for visual purposes).

This map marks out every open location for 14 of the biggest Mexican chain eateries in the country. The warm and cool colors symbolize how much an eatery is considered "fast food" (warm) or "fast casual" (cool) it is. Want to highlight a certain brand or zoom into your hometown? That whole map is interactive, so you can change colors, remove brands to narrow down a specific one, and tinker to your heart's content.

For this map of 14 different chain restaurants, we included the obvious ones:

Taco Bell ($NYSE:YUM) and Del Taco ($NASDAQ:TACO) had to be included. So did Chipotle ($NYSE:CMG), Moe's ($MOESGRILL), and Qdoba ($QDOBA). Those are the two biggest taco chains and three biggest burrito chains in the country respectively.

But we also included the regional players, upstarts, and some bigger Mexican chains that one might not think of before those big five companies. These are El Pollo Loco ($NASDAQ:LOCO), Real Mex Restaurants ($REALMEXRESTAURANTS) (i.e. Chevys Fresh Mex), Taco John's ($TACOJOHNS), Freebirds World Burrito ($FREEBIRDS), Torchy's Tacos ($TORCHYSTACOS), Baja Fresh ($BAJAFRESH), TacoTime ($TACOTIME), On The Border ($ONTHEBORDER), and Dos Toros ($DOSTOROS).

Here are some key insights: 

Taco Bell claims the Taco Crown

Restaurant Name/Group

Number of U.S Locations

Taco Bell






Moe’s Grill


Del Taco


El Pollo Loco


Taco John’s


On the Border


Baja Fresh


Taco Time


Real Mex Restaurants




Torchy’s Tacos


Dos Toros


Unsurprisingly, given that it is the chain with the longest history and is part of the company with the largest market cap, Taco Bell has the most restaurant locations among our collection of Mexican-American eateries. In fact, it has more locations than every other brand on our list combined.

H-Town? More Like Taco Town, USA

The city known as the fast food capital of the country also has the most taco joints among our brands. 

Houston has triple digit fast casual and fast food places to get some Mexican grub in our list. Because of how everything is scraped, Houston actually has more locations than 103 — it has 117 individual restaurants, when factoring in stores that are listed under Houston, Texas (all of them being Torchy's Tacos.)

Five separate companies on our list compete for Houston's lunch options, the majority of which being Taco Bell.


Number of Stores

Taco Bell


Chipotle Mexican Grill


Torchy's Tacos


Free Birds World Burrito


El Pollo Loco


Carson City Runs on Tacos

On the Thinknum database, the 2017 population estimate is available for comparing locations and population density.

While Houston has the most taco chains overall, the core-based statistical area of Houston isn't even close to having the most stores per capita. That title belongs to the CBSA of Carson City, Nevada, as it has three Taco Bells, a Chipotle, a Pollo Loco, and a Del Taco for its population of around 60,000 people.

It also, for what it's worth, has another Del Taco and a Qdoba just south of its CBSA border in Gardnerville Ranchos.

With these maps, there is no reason why you can't get a taco this weekend or on a Taco Tuesday; Mexican-American fast food chains are everywhere. Whether you are a hungry businessperson in Manhattan looking for a Dos Toros fix, or someone looking to know what areas are in need of a few more taco joints, we hope they serve you well on this Cinco de Mayo weekend and year round.

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James Mattone

James is the Associate Editor at Thinknum Media, mainly covering video games, food, and tech news, but not afraid to head into Sephora or beauty brands if need be...

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