Taco Bell's New Cantina Bell Bowl Tastes Nothing Like Taco Bell

Categories: Our Taco Hells
taco-bell-cantina-bell-bowl.jpg
Taco Bell
What the Cantina Bowl is supposed to look like. 
Fresh, light, crisp, subtle.  

These are the descriptors that drifted through my mind as I chomped down my meal at a preview event for Taco Bell's new Cantina Bell menu.  

Who are you and what have you done with Taco Bell?! 

The new menu, a Chipotle-like lineup of "gourmet" bowls and burritos, is a bold move for the Irvine-based mega-chain--it's food has never been loved for its pretty face. Created by Lorena Garcia, a Venezuela-raised chef who's appeared on The Biggest Loser and Top Chef, the offerings are unlike anything else on the bro-focused menu. Think juicy chicken with real grill marks, guacamole with actual avocado chunks, romaine lettuce instead of wimpy iceberg and vibrant fire-roasted corn salsa. The prized item is the burrito bowl, a giant leap for a company that rarely thinks outside shell or tortilla. 

taco-bell-table.JPG
Lorena Garcia (dressed in black) explains how she came up with the menu. 

"I said, 'What if we don't wrap it?'" Garcia explained, sitting at the head of the table filled with hungry reporters and bloggers like this one. "I want to be able to see what I'm eating." 

For Cantina Bell, Garcia got rid of the guacamole gun (the one that shoots out globs of green stuff and can probably double as a lethal weapon) and ditched sour cream all together. (It's never been a part of Latin American cuisine, anyway, save for those pesky pochos) Garcia grew up eating tons of cilantro and wanted to incorporate it in a major way, so Taco Bell set up cilantro fields across the country to keep up with the demand. In total, she introduced eight new ingredients to the permanent Taco Bell menu, which is a big deal considering it seems that the restaurant previously had like four. 

Thumbnail image for taco-bell-cantina-bowl.JPG
And what the Cantina Bowl really looks like--pretty darn close!

Anyway, we got to try the chicken Cantina Bowl, which arrived in fancy bowls on our fancy place settings. First off, the thing is hefty, similar to Chipotle's burrito bowls. The Taco Bell folks assured us that what we saw in front of us was what customers would getting, and even passed around a bowl in its real-life packaging. It was heavy indeed. I could do bicep curls with that thing. 

The chicken itself was tender, juicy, and substantial, unlike any fast-food chicken I've tasted. The lettuce was crisp, the corn was sweet and the cilantro rice was nice and moist. Without the citrus-y chicken, however, the overall flavor was a bit bland for me--if I were at Taco Bell, I would have grabbed a handful of Fire packets and doused the thing. The beans didn't add much of anything for me and the creamy cilantro dressing was tasty but a little too subtle. While Chipotle is like an explosion, Cantina Bell is like a scented candle, pleasant but not mind-blowing. 

Still, everything was fresh (and very pretty!). And at $4.79 and 550 calories, I could see this being a hit for those who want something quick and relatively guilt-free. 

The Cantina Bell menu launches on July 5 at Taco Bell restaurants nationwide, but if you can't wait until then, there are a few OC locations serving it now, including the one on Barranca in Irvine, Red Hill in Tustin and Rockfield in Lake Forest.        

Follow Stick a Fork In It on Twitter @ocweeklyfood or on Facebook! And don't forget to download our free Best Of App here!

Advertisement

My Voice Nation Help
14 comments
liz
liz

Quite overpriced for me.  My bowl had bits of chicken, not slices as shown in the picture, and as someone else mentioned, had very little flavor.

Lgmi
Lgmi

'Cilantro Rice' my _ss...it's white rice, plain and simple and the vegetarian dish is mostly rice with a smidge of beans and even less corn...1/2 a cup of lettuce.  The flavors are great, but it's an expensive bowl of white rice with minimum toppings...disappointed.

Keonianalo
Keonianalo

Sounds pretty 'MEH' to me....I'll pass.

deport all asians
deport all asians

Year of the dragon? What world are you from. There are no such things as dragons. Pure myth.

JB
JB

Taco Bell is doing everything right in the Year of the Dragon!!

Shinsch
Shinsch

 I like almost everything but cilantro...yuck!

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...