Erica Rudd eats a lot of Taco Bell.
The florist and vegetarian regularly travels for her job, and there aren’t many good, meatless options on the road. The Spicy Potato Taco–lettuce, crispy potatoes, cheese, and a spicy sauce–always hits.
“It’s $1 or $1.25 everywhere,” she said. “You can find it across literally all of America.”
So when she saw the price at the Taco Bell in Lower Queen Anne–$3.99?!–she backed out of the drive thru.
“But the thing is, there was nobody there,” she said. “I drive past there almost daily and that place is empty all the time.”
The Scathing Yelp Reviews
For years, it has been an open secret in Seattle’s Live Más community that the KFC/Taco Bell in Lower Queen Anne (210 W. Mercer Ave) overcharges.
Just read the scathing Yelp reviews.
“Yo, the prices at this Taco Bell are literally insane,” writes Jackson V of Redmond, Oregon after buying four tacos, chips, and drinks. “The window girl looked at me dumbfounded when I asked how was this $50 [sic] … Went to Taco Bell's actual website and also checked prices at nearby locations, this price gouging is specific just to this location. Shame on you guys. NO ME GUSTA.”
To make matters worse, Jackson V didn’t even get his chips. “Lol I can't,” he wrote, crestfallen. “Dead.”
Elizabeth T. from San Diego wasn’t going to pay “$9.99” for “instant diarrhea.”
“I prefer it at 5.49 thanks,” she wrote.
“Fucking ripoff Fucking ripoff Fucking ripoff Fucking ripoff Fucking ripoff Fucking ripoff,” wrote the succint Robert W.
The frustrated Rudd posted a TikTok to her business account @bloombrats_botanical. It blew up.
“I wasn't super surprised because Seattle people are passionately hateful about a lot of things,” she said. “As, like, pretty much everyone was commenting, almost everyone in central Seattle will drive to the SODO location, the Ballard location; people are even driving all the way up to Aurora Avenue, which is pretty far–almost 20-minutes from Lower Queen Anne.”
The Stranger checked it out. We visited five different Seattle-area Taco Bells, snapped photos of the menus, compared all prices in a spreadsheet, and ate five of the chain’s flagship Crunchwrap Supremes, which are much worse when eaten one after the other on a prematurely warm spring day. We determined that the Queen Anne location is, in fact, a rip-off.
We're Talking 98% Price Hikes
A Crunchwrap we bought in Lower Queen Anne cost us $11.07, pre-tax. But in SODO, Ballard, Rainier Beach, and Kenwood we paid $6.19, $5.39, $5.39, and $5.59, respectively, for the same thing–a staggering 98% price hike on the low end.
Inflated prices are consistent across the menu.
The Mexican Pizza costs you $9.99 in Lower Queen Anne. But you can find it for half that price (between $5.69 and $4.99) anywhere else.
The Bean Burrito ($5.99) at LQA is also double the price. A regular crunchy taco ($3.89) is at least 33% more expensive. The “value menu” Cheesy Roll Up–literally cheese in a tortilla–is $3.99.
In fact, we found there wasn’t a single item on the LQA Taco Bell menu that you couldn’t find cheaper at another Seattle location. That remains true if you’re ordering on Doordash or UberEats.
The Taco Bell in Lower Queen Anne isn’t the only Taco Bell on this list to up-charge on occasion; prices do vary somewhat from restaurant to restaurant. But of these five locations, nobody is consistently charging you more than the TB in Lower Queen Anne.
What's Going On?
The company that owns the building, Columbia West Properties, said they don’t set prices. And at first, the receptionist told us they didn’t even own a Taco Bell. We told her they paid property taxes on it in March. A brief hold.
If we had mentioned we were inquiring about a KFC/Taco Bell–they did own KFCs–there wouldn’t have been confusion, she said, before sending the email for Pacific Restaurants owner Amin Vakil, who leases the property.
Vakil did not return our emails or phone calls about the restaurant’s prices. Taco Bell Corporate didn’t comment on the prices, either.
“We don’t share details of our pricing strategy for competitive reasons, but many factors come into play including the local market cost of living, product demand, labor and food costs,” the corporate rep wrote.
Jeff Shulman laughed aloud when I told him the Crunchwrap cost $11.
He’s a marketing professor at University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, and he has taught pricing strategy for years.
Shulman explained this particular Taco Bell may be aiming for less “price-sensitive” customers visiting the Seattle Center; people who have already emptied their wallets for a Kraken game or for the Children’s Museum.
“It really depends on how much of their business is targeted towards visitors who are spending quite a bit of money… versus the people who live there regularly and go ‘Ok, I’d rather go a mile away if I have a Taco Bell craving,”’ he said. “The franchise might be willing to say, ‘Hey, we don't care if we get half the number of people from other stores.”’
Paying $4 for Taco Bell when you should be paying $1 is a lot of things–an indignity, it’s bullshit, and it undermines the whole ethos of fast food. Wherever we go, whatever we do, fast food promises a familiar flavor around the corner, one that’s going to pretty much cost the same, taste the same, and feel the same as it does everywhere else. To upset that order feels like a personal attack, and an attack on the country. The kind of offense that motivates someone to drive clear across town, create a Yelp account, or make an overly complicated spreadsheet.
This story has been updated since its original publication.