Taco Bell restaurant in Richmond, Virginia (c) Steve Helber-AP Photo)
If you really thought that Yum Brands (YUM) was just going to sit back and let the likes of Del Taco and McDonald's (MCD) move in on its cheese-piled, concoction-driven, low-cost menu, then you clearly haven't downed a Crunchwrap in some time.

Fed up with Del Taco plying its hazier patrons with chili cheese fry burritos and McDonald's going after its more cogent customers with an enhanced Dollar Menu and rumors of all-day breakfast, Taco Bell is coming out like a boss and smacking its competitors with a new "$1 Cravings" menu that should replace its multi-tiered "Why Pay More Menu" offerings.

So what does The Associated Press say Taco Bell customers in test markets including Kansas City, Mo., and Sacramento, Calif., are getting for a buck? A Beefy Cheesy Burrito, a Cheesy Bean & Rice Burrito, a Beefy Nacho Loaded Griller grilled burrito, Spicy Beef and Shredded Chicken mini quesadillas, a Spicy Potato Soft Taco, a taco-style Beef Crunchito, Triple-Layer Nacos and desserts including two types of churros and a Caramel Apple Empanada.

Consumers can go ahead and tell fast-food tracking firms like Technomic that they prefer the freshness of the food at Wendy's (WEN); Taco Bell knows full well that its calorie-laden Doritos Locos Tacos mashup with PepsiCo (PEP) are not only boosting sales, but also saving its brand.

A core contingent of fast-food customers still loves nothing more than a cheap, quick, loaded foodstuff that's inherently unhealthy in mass quantities. That's why they're in line at Taco Bell, Del Taco, Burger King (BKW) and elsewhere instead of hopping aboard the soup-and-salad express at Panera Bread (PNRA).

They're just not willing to pay a whole lot for that grease and cheese product, which makes menus like the one Taco Bell is testing all the more alluring. Granted, McDonald's sales sank last quarter despite bringing back the Dollar Menu, but that chain's experiments with coffee, smoothies, chicken wraps and fish bites have muddled its clarity of purpose a bit.

Taco Bell has never tried to be anything but what it is: a cheap, multinational taco stand unafraid to use its ingredients in every ghastly combination imaginable. If a customer so much as tacks on a $1 churro to their Doritos Locos Taco order, Taco Bell will have successfully chummed the waters with its bargain bait.

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