When Christina Tosi began making desserts at Momofuku in the mid-2000s, they were all about playful, inventive takes on mainstream sweets. In 2008, when she opened the first Milk Bar, things like cereal milk-flavored soft serve, truffles that tasted like “birthday cake,” and cookies stuffed with cornflakes and and potato chips were delightfully weird riffs on beloved mass-produced flavors, with enough of a twist to push them beyond their origins. It was the coolest, most inventive bakery when it debuted, zagging from the trends, unapologetically sweet, ready to make what tasted good, not just what was considered good taste.
But now, Milk Bar is no longer in the elevation game. The brand is collaborating with lowbrow fave Taco Bell on a new cake truffle, available for $2.99 through August 16 at select locations. “A collab with our brilliant friends at Taco Bell has been on my bucket list for some time,” says Tosi in a press release.
The Strawberry Bell Truffle is supposedly inspired by Taco Bell’s crunchy taco shell. It consists of vanilla cake dotted with bits of strawberry and soaked in strawberry milk, filled with sweet corn fudge, and is currently being offered at Milk Bar’s two flagship locations, as well as the Taco Bell in Tustin, California. But presumably, it could go bigger.
“The Strawberry Bell Truffle is the first mashup of its kind to be served to consumers on a large, test scale from our brands,” said Taco Bell Executive Chef Rene Pisciotti. “This one-of-a-kind truffle is the friendship-fueled fruition of a concept made possible by a mutual dedication to innovation.” Between this and Milk Bar’s push into grocery stores, the brand is no longer an homage to junk food. It just is.
Tosi, and the players in the larger Momofuku world (Momofuku is not involved in operations at Milk Bar, but remains a large investor), have never been shy about championing the lowbrow. David Chang waxed about Domino’s pizza in Ugly Delicious, and has often positioned himself as rebelling at hypothetical “food snobs” who would judge him for his tastes. Tosi’s brand has thrived on nods to Dairy Queen, Pillsbury’s Funfetti, and Nesquik. But even as Milk Bar has expanded — and corporatized — it has kept a certain distance from the things it’s riffed on. The desserts are like boxed cakes and mass-marked cereals you remember from your childhood, but they aren’t actually them.
But by publicly partnering with Taco Bell, Milk Bar has parted the largely aesthetic veil separating it from mainstream junk food. Which was actually always the goal. In 2018, Tosi told Eater it would be “cool” to sell it to “a great food company like Mondelez, or Mars, or Hershey’s.” In 2019, Milk Bar secured funding to expand into grocery stores, and sells its own cookie mix. In 2020, it partnered with Cinnamon Toast Crunch at its flagship store in Manhattan, offering a cookie made with the cereal. Of course it was going to partner with Taco Bell, the ultimate lowbrow-cool, fuck you it’s delicious fast food chain. Tosi always wanted Milk Bar to be accessible to everyone. Now that it’s fast food, it is.
Disclosure: David Chang is producing shows for Hulu in partnership with Vox Media Studios, part of Eater’s parent company, Vox Media. No Eater staff member is involved in the production of those shows, and this does not impact coverage on Eater.