Qdoba's Knockout Tacos
Qdoba's new Knockout Tacos include warm corn or flour tortillas and slow-cooked or flame-grilled meats with bold and unexpected flavor combinations.

CHICAGO — Americans are loco for tacos. The south-of-the-border staple grew 22% on menus between 2012 and 2015, resulting in a 5% increase in Mexican cuisine during that time span, according to research from Mintel.

Mexican is the second-most menued international cuisine behind Italian, which, comparatively, decreased 4% on menus between 2012 and 2015.

Half of U.S. consumers crave Mexican foods, and 61% enjoy spicy dishes in restaurants, Mintel said. Between 2012 and 2015, menu mentions of chipotle peppers grew 33%, habanero peppers increased 32%, and jalapeños rose 20%. Avocados climbed 20% over the same period.

Caleb Bryant, Mintel
Caleb Bryant, food service analyst for Mintel

“Mexican foods have become so common in the U.S. that certain Mexican ingredients have seemingly lost their ethnic connotation,” said Caleb Bryant, food service analyst for Mintel. “Such is the case with avocados, which were a hot ingredient on U.S. menus in 2014 and 2015 due to their versatility and superfood status. As more Americans become familiar and comfortable with Mexican foods, this ethnic cuisine will continue to emerge and could usher people toward more unfamiliar South American dishes.”

Growing interest in Mexican cuisine also has inspired the introductions of global hybrid dishes, such as Korean tacos and banh mi burritos, he said.

“These mashups are a way to showcase unfamiliar flavors on a familiar platform, allowing restaurants the opportunity to expand menu offerings that appeal to a wide range of consumers,” Mr. Bryant noted.

An example was introduced at Applebee’s Grill & Bar earlier this year as part of a new appetizer menu. The Grilled Chicken Wonton Tacos feature spicy chicken stuffed in wonton shells with slaw and cilantro. Another item, the Salsa Verde Nachos, combines shredded brisket or pulled pork with spicy queso blanco, pico and fresh jalapeños.

Applebee's Wanton Tacos
Earlier this year, Applebee’s Grill & Bar  introduced Grilled Chicken Wonton Tacos.

Other recent restaurant introductions include Chili’s new Ranchero Chicken Tacos, which are filled with seasoned chicken, jack cheese, chimichurri sauce, pico de gallo, sliced avocado, chopped cilantro and queso fresco; and the new Knockout Tacos at Qdoba, which include warm corn or flour tortillas and slow-cooked or flame-grilled meats with bold and unexpected flavor combinations. An example is the Two Timer, which has pulled pork, salsa roja, shredded cheese, lettuce, pico de gallo, cotija cheese and a crispy taco wrapped in a flour tortilla spread with a three-cheese queso.