Consumer Law

Are tacos and burritos sandwiches? A judge in Indiana ruled yes

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A basket of tacos

A judge in Fort Wayne, Indiana, ruled that tacos are sandwiches. (AP File Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

It’s a question that has stood the test of time—and one that fed a yearslong legal battle in an Indiana city.

Are tacos considered sandwiches?

According to one judge in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the answer is yes. And he says burritos are sandwiches, too.

Allen County Superior Court Judge Craig J. Bobay wrote in a ruling Monday that tacos and burritos are “Mexican-style sandwiches.” Bobay made the decision in a case reviewing whether a restaurant, “Famous Taco,” could open a new location at a Fort Wayne shopping center.

The zoning policy for the property prohibits fast food, but allows exceptions for restaurants whose primary business is to sell “made-to-order” or Subway-style sandwiches. A city commission denied the request.

But Famous Taco, Bobay ruled, is allowed at the shopping center because it would serve “Mexican-style sandwiches,” and the zoning policy “does not restrict potential restaurants to only American cuisine-style sandwiches.” Hypothetically, other restaurants that serve made-to-order items, including “Greek gyros, Indian naan wraps or Vietnamese banh mi,” would also be allowed, Bobay wrote in his decision.

Attorneys for the Fort Wayne Plan Commission and the resident trying to open the Famous Taco restaurant in the shopping center did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

A spokesperson for the Allen County Superior Court said Bobay does not comment on cases on his docket. But his ruling brought “the most food-related feedback” to the court, spokesperson John McGauley said. It also probably marked, McGauley added, the first time a ruling from the court had “shown up on Barstool Sports.”

The Indiana court is not the first to consider the legality of a food’s categorization.

• Contrary to Bobay, a Massachusetts judge in 2006 ruled that tacos, burritos and quesadillas were not sandwiches. In that case, Panera Bread sued White City, Mass., for allowing Qdoba to lease space at a shopping center, alleging that the city had violated an exclusivity clause preventing leases with other businesses “that primarily sell sandwiches.” Judge Jeffrey Locke wrote that the agreement did not explicitly define sandwiches, adding that tacos, burritos and quesadillas are not commonly understood to be sandwiches.

• In March 2023, a federal court ruled that American cheesemakers can label their product “Gruyère,” even if it is not made near the French-Swiss border, where the rich cheese originated.

• An Illinois court is considering whether Buffalo Wild Wings falsely advertises its “boneless wings.” Last year, a Chicago resident sued the company, alleging that the wings he had bought were actually chicken breast.

• Even Supreme Court justices have been asked to weigh in on food debates. During a 2018 appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” the comedian asked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to decide whether hot dogs were considered sandwiches. She said they were.

In 2005, the Department of Agriculture published its own view on the sandwich debate with its Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book. The book stipulates that a burrito is a “Mexican style sandwich-like product.”

Another theory that led to much online debate is the Cube Rule, which categorizes food based on the location of the starch. Using the Cube Rule, a burrito is a calzone, or a dish fully enclosed in starch, and a taco is just that—a taco, or a product with starch on the bottom and two opposing sides.

A hot dog is also considered a taco under the Cube Rule.

Fort Wayne’s own food fight dates back to 2022, when resident Martin Quintana, the developer of the shopping center property, wanted to allow the Famous Taco restaurant to open there, but a nearby condominium association raised concerns that the business violated the property’s zoning policy.

Discussions with Fort Wayne’s Plan Commission about whether to allow Famous Taco to open under an amendment to the original zoning policy followed. The policy did not allow fast-food restaurants such as Wendy’s and McDonald’s, but made an exception for sandwich businesses, citing examples including Subway and Jimmy John’s. Restaurants under the exception could not have outdoor seating, drive-through service, alcohol sales or outdoor speakers.

At an October 2022 meeting, Quintana told the Plan Commission that the disagreement over Famous Taco had “kind of became an argument of … is a taco a sandwich or not.”

Ultimately, the commission did not approve the amendment, denying approval for Famous Taco—a decision Quintana asked the court to review in December 2022.

In his decision this week, Bobay ruled that Famous Taco “is permissible under the terms of the original” policy and could classify as a restaurant serving “made-to-order” or Subway-style sandwiches.

With that, at least for now, the judge seems to have wrapped up the sandwich beef in Fort Wayne.

“No amendment was necessary,” Bobay wrote.

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