Review: Cantina Bell Menu from Taco Bell
The Cantina Bell menu from Taco Bell has arrived nationwide and I just sampled the goods. I tried to get a decent mix of the menu to give my overall impressions. My order included the Cantina Bowl with Steak ($4.99), the Cantina Burrito with Chicken ($4.79) and a side of Chips and Guacamole ($1.49). Before even trying the Cantina Bell menu, I already came prepared with criticisms surrounding Taco Bell trying too hard to be something it’s not. Narrowing the gap between fast food and fast casual has been going on and on increasingly over the last couple of years. I just wish fast food joints would stick to its forte and give me something cheap, quick and not try to get too fancy.
I found it odd that the Cantina Bell menu is only available from 11am – 11pm. Unlucky for me I arrived at my local Taco Bell at 10:30am and had to make another trip. Right off the bat, I’m rolling my eyes. Once again, give me my fast food fix just like the rest of it. The special hours for the Cantina Bell menu annoyed me. So everyone knows the Cantina Bell menu from Taco Bell will be compared to Chipotle… whether fair or not. I feel it’s appropriate to compare the two because Taco Bell is obviously trying to bite into the Chipotle market.
Just like McDonald’s had to come out with a Southern Style Chicken Sandwich to compete with the likes of Chick-fil-A… but those are both fast food joints so that’s completely fair game. Taco Bell is fast food and Chipotle is fast casual. There’s a couple of bucks separating the two. Taco Bell describes the new Cantina Bowl like this:
Experience our new citrus-herb marinated chicken, flavorful black beans, guacamole made from real Hass avocados, roasted corn & pepper salsa, a creamy cilantro dressing, and freshly-prepared pico de gallo, all served on a bed of cilantro rice. Also available in Steak or Veggie.
The Cantina Bowl with Steak cost me $4.99. The steak at Taco Bell has never impressed me. It’s either too chewy (as it used to be with the old) or not chewy enough (the new) to the point that the steak doesn’t seem real. I felt it was necessary to try something from the Cantina Bell menu with both chicken and steak, so with the bowl, I took the steak route. I found no difference in the steak used in the Cantina Bell menu at all so it should be as you remembered.
The steak at Taco Bell is best left to quesadillas in my opinion, so for Cantina Bell items, I’ll most likely stick to the chicken. Unfortunately, carnitas or a shredded beef mix isn’t a part of Cantina Bell at this point. Maybe it’s something we’ll be seeing down the line. I’ll get into details of the corn, beans, guac etc with the Cantina Burrito so read on.
Taco Bell describes the new Cantina Burrito like this:
Experience our new citrus-herb marinated chicken, cilantro rice, flavorful black beans, guacamole made from real Hass avocados, roasted corn & pepper salsa, a creamy cilantro dressing, and freshly-prepared pico de gallo, all wrapped in a warm flour tortilla. Also available in Steak or Veggie.
For the Cantina Burrito , I figured I’d try the chicken version. The Cantina Burrito with Chicken set me back $4.79. It’s around $2.00 cheaper than a chicken burrito at Chipotle and the it seems to weigh a bit less. Even though the Cantina Burrito can’t meet the hefty weight of a Chipotle foil-wrapped missile, it still was a filling size. Obvious is an understatement that the taste and quality of Cantina Bell isn’t going to hit the Chipotle range and combined with the fact that you get less food with Cantina Bell has me deducting a few points off of its value too.
The chicken at Taco Bell has gone through a mini-makeover and is now a “citrus-herb marinated chicken”. I’ve read comments on how much people absolutely hate the new marinated chicken, but I have no idea why. The chicken change is not at all drastic and I probably wouldn’t have noticed it not for spotting the details on a sign under the menu board. I guess it’s just another thing to complain about and most people don’t seem to accept change well. If anything, the new marinated chicken hasn’t changed enough. Having the corn and pepper salsa does add a refreshing element to the mix, but I wouldn’t complain if there was a little added spice to the mix. The pepper part of the corn and pepper salsa failed to heat things up. I’ve always hoped that Taco Bell would one day have black beans and I’m happy it’s now an option. Black beans go so well with corn too so it was a no-brainer to have both introduced with Cantina Bell. The cilantro rice is a nice change of pace from the seasoned rice I’m used to at Taco Bell, but to me, it’s a little too light on the cilantro. So whether or not you care about that sort of thing, take note. I’ve heard mixed reviews on the cilantro rice where some people were too overwhelmed with the cilantro flavor. I just haven’t experienced that at all and it might be an issue for those not familiar. As you might have noticed, cheese isn’t a part of Cantina Bell. I didn’t really miss the cheese and it keeps the calories at a pretty reasonable level. Also, there isn’t sour cream with Cantina Bell either. Instead, there’s a creamy cilantro dressing that’s basically a light, citrusy-lime flavored mix that doesn’t have much cilantro taste to it.
The Chips and Guacamole are described by Taco Bell as:
Our crispy tortilla chips are prepared in-store daily and come with savory guacamole made from real Hass avocados.
The Chips and Guacamole were priced at $1.49. OK, here comes my guac-snobbery… as expected, the guacamole is mixed to an almost paste-like consistency, but surprisingly, there’s a little chunk or two of avocado in there. I actually didn’t hate this guac, but I didn’t love it either. The guacamole is a mixture of avocado, tomatoes, onions, cilantro and lime juice. The lime flavor came through more than anything else. I might be way off, but the chips seemed a little crunchier and thicker than I’m used to at Taco Bell. I’m not certain there was an official change, so maybe it was just my specific batch.
Closing. I tried my best to hate the Cantina Bell menu for reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not I actually enjoyed it. The truth is, I did enjoy the Cantina Bell menu enough to get it again. I’ve gone on and on in the past about how Taco Bell needs to implement black beans into their arsenal and now it’s been done. With the additions of cilantro rice, corn salsa and a semi-respectable guacamole, I have no choice but to give the Cantina Bell menu a recommendation.
Pros: I'm likely to order Cantina again and again. Tasty new ingredients to the Taco Bell family.
Cons: No shredded pork or beef in the Cantina line. Bridging the gap between fast food and fast casual. Not a value menu item.
Grubbing on-the-go: 4.75/10
Price: $4.79 chicken or veggie bowl or burrito, $4.99 steak bowl or burrito, $1.49 chips/guacamole
Overall GrubGrade: 7.75/10
More Info: TacoBell.com
Cantina Bowl Steak: 550 calories, 23g fat, 4g saturated fat, 45mg cholesterol, 1600mg sodium 64g carbs, 9g dietary fiber, 22g protein
Cantina Burrito Chicken: 760 calories, 27g fat, 6g saturated fat, 60mg cholesterol, 1960mg sodium, 96g carbs, 12g fiber, 32g protein
Chips & Guacamole: 320 calories, 20g fat, 2.5g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 450mg sodium, 32g carbs, 6g fiber, 4g protein