“Dig those chips, dig that gold, dig those chips of corn.” Soon after Disneyland opened in the summer of 1955, the Frito Kid (more on him in a minute) welcomed park guests to the Casa de Fritos restaurant with catch phrases about Fritos corn chips. Casa de Fritos was initially located in Frontierland next to Aunt Jemima’s Pancake House, which is now where the River Belle Terrace is located.
The buffet-style restaurant served Mexican food, including Frito chili pie, tamales, enchiladas, and a “Ta-Cup” (a type of small tostada).
Like all original restaurants in Disneyland, Casa de Fritos was initially owned and operated by an outside company, The Frito Company, that leased space inside the park. In the 1950s, The Frito Company sold Fritos and other snack chip products throughout the United States and in 1954, the year before Disneyland opened, it issued its first public stock. It would later merge with the makers of Lays potato chips, then eventually with Pepsi Co. In July of 1957, Casa de Fritos moved into a larger space styled as a southwest adobe structure next to the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train.
For many Disneyland visitors, Casa de Fritos provided their first experience with Mexican food. Cast members working the cash registers would often be asked by guests about the food put on their plate. While one of America’s most common foods today, Mexican food was not widely available throughout the country in the 1950s and 60s. In addition to introducing park guests to tacos and enchiladas, Casa de Fritos also played a role in the development of another beloved food item – Doritos! In the mid-60s, a food supplier noticed the restaurant had a fair amount of unused tortillas that would go stale. It was suggested they fry them, break them into pieces and then toss the tortilla pieces with taco seasoning – and with that, Doritos were born. Frito-Lay executives saw their popularity and began to produce them for retail sales, first regionally then nationally.
The real star of Casa de Fritos was none other than the Frito Kid, the official mascot of Fritos corn chips. The early audio-animatronic figure, with moving eyes and tongue, was actually a Fritos vending machine.
Guests would insert a nickel and the Frito Kid, who stood in front of a mine shaft, would talk to Klondike, an unseen miner who would then slide the bag of chips down the trough. The dialogue between the Frito Kid and Klondike would vary between a number of scripts. Here’s one example:
Frito Kid: “Someone else knows what’s good. Another bag of Fritos, Klondike!”
Klondike: “Okay, comin’ right up. One bag of crisp, salted Fritos.”
In 1982, Casa de Fritos became Casa Mexicana, which was sponsored by Lawry’s Foods. In 2001, it became Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante, which remains today. The whereabouts of the Frito Kid are unknown.