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.

Taste: 7.75/10
Value: 6.50/10
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
Nutrition Facts:
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

69 comments on “Review: Cantina Bell Menu from Taco Bell

  1. droknman says:

    guacamole sucks

    • Crysta says:

      Bite your tongue. Guacamole is awesome. :P

      RE review: I have to admit I’m surprised at the high score! I didn’t expect this to be good at all, but now I might have to try it, lol.

  2. Satyr says:

    I used the coupon that was being promoted on Facebook (BOGO Cantina Bowl free). I was very surprised. I finished the steak and tried the chicken. Both were way better than expected! The salsas, guacamole, and cilantro dressing brought it all together. It was very filling as well. I would definitely order it again, but who knows if they will keep it for the long run? They have a habit of taking something that everyone likes, then discontinuing it.

  3. Justin ST says:

    Interesting. About to get it right now.

  4. CarrieN says:

    I had the chicken bowl today. I was very impressed with the size and the value- it’s the $2 ish less plus the cost of adding guac to Chipotle which is included in the Cantina bowl. I do like Chipotle better but i can definitely say i will be getting this again. It’s a lot easier to get this than stand in line for 20 minutes waiting for them to make your burrito. I am glad to see other people liked it because people are trashing it on FB.

  5. ratbuddy says:

    Meh. When are they gonna bring back the damn scallions and black olives?

    • shana says:

      I miss the black olives too!

    • Lancaster says:

      Haha, my thoughts exactly. If they can bring out so many fresh veggies for this, then they can damn well bring back the green onions for the Enchirito, Mexican Pizza, Nachos Bell Grande, and whatever other items had them. *grump grump grump*

    • Ed H says:

      Exactly!

  6. Mehu says:

    wow thanks for the quick review!!

    considering getting this with the BOGO coupon

  7. Chris W says:

    Tried it today, was amazing.

  8. Steven says:

    I tried a chicken bowl today and was mixed on it. My rice was somewhat dry and flavorless. It reminded me of instant white rice that sat for a little too long. The other components were all there in flavor and were a nice change of pace from the usual Taco Bell fare however nothing really popped out at my taste buds as being super delicious and crave inducing. The pico de gallo and guacamole seemed to be new/different based on marketing but appeared to be the exact same salsa from their “drive thru diet” options and previous products where guacamole was on the menu.

    All-in-all I will likely buy this again as it was good – BUT it was nowhere near what my taste buds crave from Chipotle.

  9. stevenp says:

    I wouldn’t call Chipotle any kind of value for comparison, even if they serve a bigger burrito. Their burritos are basically rice bombs rolled in a tortilla, with a smattering of other ingredients that get lost in the rice. meh

  10. Eric says:

    Is the Nutrition Info labeled wrong or were the wrong items listed? Items reviewed: Cantina Bowl with Steak, the Cantina Burrito with Chicken.
    Nutritional Info section lists: Cantina Bowl Chicken, Cantina Burrito Steak

  11. I tried this today, after reading this & seeing that there was a buy one get one coupon on Facebook & I am disgusted. First of all, I added the “meal option” to get a drink and nacho chips. I tried the salad first, then the burrito, and was very disappointed with the flavor. It lacked flavor & spice & just turned to mush. Then, I started eating my chips & decided to pour them out on a plate and inside was a BUG that looks like a ROACH!!!! Of course, I couldn’t eat anything else after that. I tried to call my local Taco Bell to complain and they wouldn’t answer the phone.

  12. JF says:

    I never thought Taco Bell was “great tasting” but there are times it just hits the spot (no, not talking about a late night bender, but that does fall into the category)! lol

    I was skeptical about their Cantina menu and don’t see how it can really compete with Chipotle, Qdoba, etc.

    But after the review and some of the comments I do think I will give it a try. I don’t like any kind of beans, so as long as I can get an item without them, it’s a go for me.

    I do prefer Chipotle over Qdoba (and they are really close) and not expecting TB’s offerings to be as good, but if it’s quicker, cheaper and close it could be a win.

    I still don’t know why they got rid of their spicy chicken (it never was that spicy, but tasted better than their regular chicken). A spicy chicken crunchwrap supreme was the norm from me coming home from snowboarding in Breckenridge.

    I never knew they had scallions, and don’t like olives of any kind, but brings back memories from other’s comments about what they used to have.

    Thanks Ryan for taking another one foe the team!

  13. Sascha says:

    Am I the only one who laughs every time I see these Lorena Garcia commercials, considering she and Steve Ells judged together on America’s Next Great Restaurant?

    Not a TB frequenter, so I’ll likely pass, though this looks better than their regular fare, I can’t see me paying $5 for a menu item at TB. I don’t have a Chipotle in town and have never tried it, but I do have a Qdoba, and if I have a hankering for a huge burrito (which is a very rare occasion) I’ll stick with the Q.

  14. GMD says:

    1960mg sodium? That’s absurd.

    • TehBuLL says:

      Wow that is freaking deadly. That is 460mg more than anyone needs daily. My heart would quite literally explode in my chest if I ate all of that without chasing it with a banana or like 3 glasses of water.

    • Sam Fu says:

      Every burrito from fast food/casual restaurants/taquiera is going to have an ass-ton of sodium

      • GMD says:

        You’re right. I went to Chipotle’s site and the same burrito there would have roughly 2100mg of sodium. Both are unacceptable. Fat and calories are one thing but the sodium levels in these fast food meals are way out of control.

  15. Jonathan Wayne says:

    Had the chicken burrito today and it was excellent and it was quite a lot of food for the money and pretty heavy. Much better than Qdoba too, they actually toast it unlike Qdoba which just gives you a gummy wrap. I would buy this at full price and I don’t say that about a lot of food.

    • Sam Fu says:

      I’d also like to mention that for those that prefer Qdoba over Taco Bell/Cantina Menu, my local Qdoba has a special, any entree + chips & salsa + regular drink for $6 plus tax before noon. Pretty good deal if you ask me.

  16. Kaylin says:

    Does anyone happen to know if I could order this cantina bowl WITHOUT the rice? Just fill up the rest of it with lettuce instead? Because I’m not the biggest fan of rice and I think it’d be pretty good as just a big chicken cantina salad….but I wasn’t sure if anyone else had heard if they would do that or not. Thanks ahead of time.

    • Heidi says:

      My grandma doesn’t eat rice or noodles, and the local TB let her have one without the rice.

  17. Justin ST says:

    It was actually pretty good.

  18. Raiders757 says:

    Thanks for the review. I was curious about this, but now I think I’ll just stick to what I go to TB for. Eating on the cheap. Four crunchy tacos and a beer from the fridge for just under $5. If I’m going to pay more than that, I’ll just got Moe’s, or finally give Chipotle a try(I just have no reason to go to the mall, and hear you have to pay extra for chips and salsa, which is lame).

    • Jonathan Wayne says:

      Or you could you know, try it for yourself and actually make a determination on your own rather than just read what someone wrote…

      • Raiders757 says:

        Yea, I could do that, but the points made here pretty much spell it out for me. I know what I like and I know what to expect from Taco Bell. If I’m going to spend that kind of scratch, I might as well go to Moe’s or finally give Chipotle a try. Taco Bell is what it is, and tacos on the cheap are it’s main purpose for me. Nothing more, nothing less.

      • TJ says:

        Nah I agree with Raiders on this one, maybe this new stuff is fine but I can’t imagine it’s more tasty than a chalupa, etc…

  19. Lancaster says:

    The stratification of fast food menus has been fascinating to watch. The burger guys already did it with their value menu vs. premium items, and now the only Mex chain with nationwide saturation is finally following suit. It’s a bizarre and strangely honest phenomenon. You’ve got the low-tier, super-processed category, and then, right next to it, stuff that more resembles real food. You’d think either could undermine the other, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case. Customers walk in, set a price threshold for themselves, and get whatever the heck they feel like. And there’s no, you know, public shame in picking the “lower” offerings because you’re all still standing together in a freaking fast food establishment. Pride is either on hiatus or temporarily changed into a kind of solidarity.

    • TJ says:

      Nice analysis, you belong at a think tank haha

    • Ty says:

      Totally, man, really interesting to watch. The fast food companies are literally having to reinvent parts of their menus, because they CANNOT SELL most of it to significant (and profitable) parts of the population.

      For about a year in college, I lived with a wealthy family in an affluent part of LA. Although they’d happily munch down Chipotle (even though, as has been noted, Chipotle burritos also contain a lot of calories, sodium, etc), they would not have even CONSIDERED Taco Bell. Not in as a quick snack, not as a stop on a road trip, not as a last resort–just never.

      They literally just did not consider Taco Bell to even be food. I was flabbergasted to learn that the three teenagers in the family had never once eaten anything from a Taco Bell.

      And regarding your note that there’s “no shame” in ordering from the lower-priced tier, I’d say that Taco Bell is also unique in that in some ways it embraces the unhealthiness of it’s menu in a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle ways in its advertising…I mean, they made up a whole NEW MEAL for people to pretend to need to eat!! Fascinating that it now has both of these seemingly polar-opposite sentiments now operating on one menu.

      • Lancaster says:

        I love that it’s socially acceptable to be a sucker for Taco Bell in a way that doesn’t apply to any other fast food joint. They seem to have obtained a clout that’s eluded the other properties of Yum! Brands. You can look down your nose at establishments above the Taco Bell tier like Applebee’s and Olive Garden, all the while lining up for Taco Bell’s latest ridiculous product, and no one will question you. They’ve built an armor-clad reputation on trashiness and silly marketing, bouncing back from that meat-controversy far more quickly than another place might have. When you’re the king of delicious filth, how can you really be hurt?

  20. Tori says:

    I wish they would not have changed the chicken. I was always happy with the chicken before. It was surprisingly not fatty for being so cheap (loved the chicken/rice burrito before the change). The new chicken is fatty and chewy and the texture is a turnoff. Guess I will wait for the Cool Ranch Dorito taco before heading back to TB.

  21. Heidi says:

    I used one of the Facebook coupons and got the steak and the veggie (my mom ate the veggie). I liked it…it doesn’t look like a large amount of food, but it is. I’d never tried TB steak before, and thought it was decent…kinda spicy. It was pretty good…I thought the rice was seasoned well, then again, I hardly ever eat anything cilantro-laced. The only downer was the pico de gallo…no taste whatsoever.

  22. Rusty Shackleford says:

    Carnitas, oh god no. I love carnitas too much to let Taco Bell use some canned pork mush and try and pass it off as carnitas. That being said, I might try this out. I’ve never had chipotle (though I’ve been to restaurants with the exact same style), and even though one just opened up nearby, it’s still on the other side of town, whereas Taco Bell is right down the road, and is one of the franchise locations that actually has quality food.

  23. Jack Smoke says:

    Anyone know if you can substitute sour cream for guacamole? I tried the cantina steak. I think the first thing that stood out to me was the quality of steak difference between chipotle and taco bell. the chipotle just completely blows it away. thought the salad became a little mushy but pretty good. 7/10

  24. Sandy says:

    That portion of guac and chips wouldn’t even fill up Barbie.

  25. Crysta says:

    We had this for lunch today with the Facebook BOGO coupon. Overall I thought it was pretty good and not a bad value. Pretty filling, and it had a nice flavor. Nowhere near Chipotle levels, but well worth the price point.

  26. Jay says:

    Love the Cantina Bowls! They just said on Facebook that they’re a permanent part of the menu.

    Also, did anybody hear about TB’s Fire Sauce being discontinued?? I really hope that’s not true.

    • Royal says:

      They discontinued the Fire ROASTED, I doubt the Fire’s going anywhere.

    • Crysta says:

      Hadn’t heard that, but my local Taco Bell no longer has the Fire-Roasted Salsa. It was the only sauce there I used. :(

    • Jeff D. says:

      They damn well better not discontinue the Fire sauce! UNLESS, they plan on replacing it with a sauce packet that actually brings some real heat. The fire sauce packets are the hottest but still very mild for my taste buds. Anyone else agree?

      • Mike N. says:

        Yes! The Fire sauce has the most flavor, but not a ton of heat; I think the ‘hot’ might actually be hotter, but without the same tomato tang of the fire.

  27. WILLMEGA06 says:

    I had the chicken bowl and steak burrito, the chicken tasted like mothballs, but the steak burrito passed the test. Taco Bell needs to not fool themselves they can’t mess with Chipotle, it’s just not happnin!

  28. Alex K. says:

    Jay: I think they discontinued the Fire Roasted, not the Fire. If it’s the first, no big loss. If it’s the second, it’ll be the saddest day in Taco Bell history since the day they got rid of green onions. Mexican Pizzas and nachos supremes still aren’t the same.

  29. allen r says:

    Love chipolte , but tried taco bell steak cantina today. It was very good. Slightly less food then chipolte but not bad for the price. Will go back again.

  30. Chad says:

    I think it’s interesting that TB, within 6 months, has done a Dorito promotion and a chipotle-knockoff promotion.. a very conflicted message. I think this cantina idea will be shorter lived than their breakfast menu.

    I had TB twice this weekend and skipped the Cantina menu both times. I can get a deal #1 (chicken burrito with doritos and drink) for $2. It has the cantina chicken and improved rice.. for a lot less, and is probably a similar amount of food. I’m not going to pay $5 for a TB burrito.

  31. Mikey F Baby says:

    Tried the steak bowl and I was very surprised. Plenty of portion for me (it was $5) and the fact it had some corn in it made me happy. I got the chips with the Corn Salsa, and WOW. The corn “salsa” was really sweet and delicious. I’ll definitely be getting this again, probably go with the chicken next time though.

  32. Alex says:

    I got the cantina chicken burrito.

    For $5, it certainly is hefty, but I wasn’t that happy with it. It was pretty good, but… eh. Also, the chicken tastes just like it used to. My second to last bite was cartilaginous chicken. Bleh…

    I’d give it a 3.25/5

  33. thissergood says:

    you didnt even review the bowl, just mentioned the steak…unless i missed something, wait…nnnnope, i didnt….so did you like the bowl or not?

    • Ryan says:

      Everything is the same with the bowl so I mentioned the steak… being that it’s the only variable. Otherwise I’d just be repeating myself.

  34. stevenp says:

    I tried the Bowls with the BOGO promo. Had a chicken and a steak–they’re each $5.99 here in NYC. I was not impressed at all. The size was pretty skimpy, with mostly lettuce and some rice, very little meat. The guac was not bad, the other veggie bits did not raise this to “gourmet fast-food Mexican.” And I’m not a huge fan of a bunch of lettuce on rice, as I discovered. This TB usually makes solid, good-sized food items, so the Bowls are a fail imo. Will not try again!

  35. Jacob says:

    I tried the chicken burrito. I would get it again. Of course it wasn’t Chipotle….only Chipotle tastes like Chipotle. I asked myself “Does Chipotle’s burrito taste $2.50 better than this Taco Bell Cantina burrito?” The answer was no. I’ll still eat at both places, but Taco Bell will be more likely to be my first choice if I am craving this style of burrito. Bonus points to Taco bell for not having me get out of my car and wait in a wrap around line.

  36. Robert says:

    Yep, yet another review that was written before the item was even tried. This is easily the best thing Taco Bell’s come up with in years, and I hope it sticks around.

  37. Crystal says:

    Well…I just tried the bowl after reading the review. Honestly I was not that impressed. I was so close to keeping straight, headed for Chipotle, but took a left turn instead. The chicken is disgusting! I ate the corn and threw the rest of it away. The flavor was okay, I just could not get past the imitation looking chicken.

  38. Meghan says:

    I was eating the chicken bowl as I was reading this. And I thought it was fantastic. It will be a much healthy replacement for my favorite crunch wrap supreme when I choose to indulge in some t-bell. The guac was kind of gross though, in my opinion. I love guac, but this was just icky. I really shouldnt have made it a meal. I have plenty of things to drink at home, and I did not need the extra food.

  39. Rachel says:

    Rarely do I ever get curious to see what other people think of a fast food item, but this TB cantina menu is good enough to make me want to tell people to try it. I’m sure the quality varies a bit with location, but my chicken burrito was excellent. It tasted very fresh and had an explosion of different flavors. I especially enjoyed the cilantro sauce (and I don’t even really like cilantro). It didn’t seem quite as processed as other TB items and you are getting a hefty portion of veggies in there- avocado, corn, tomatoes, etc. The whole thing ends up being pretty satisfying and I was stuffed after eating half of it- saved the other half for lunch today and it was just as good. I will definitely be indulging in this again and want to try the steak next. Don’t knock it till you try it, folks!

  40. Pam says:

    For over $2.00 less and to be able to get it via the drive-through, it’s a win for me. And I am GLAD they don’t have cheese or sour cream on it – those are the things at Chipotle that I always add to my bowls but don’t need! And having the guac on it without having to pay extra is a plus! I will still eat Chipotle, but after trying TB’s Cantina Chicken bowl twice now, it is definitely an alternative. I really liked it!

  41. Swts says:

    Tried the cantina veggie bowl. Although the taste was good, the portion size was wayyyyy too small, would get double its size for just 2$ more in chipotle…and chipotle’s bowl is just as tasty. Would give 5/10.

  42. Tony says:

    Just tried the cantina chicken bowl. As I’m apt to say, twice – the first and last time. If a trained chef did come up with this, then it most assuredly lost something in the trip to the stores. The whole thing was mushy at best, the two teaspoons of ‘salsa’ and ‘guac’ were basically tasteless. The ‘creamy cilantro dressing’ tasted like ??? and just overpowered everything else in the bowl. There was no good delineation of flavors and since everything was basically like mush, there were no contrasts in texture. What an absolute waste of $5.40

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  45. Lori says:

    BEST thing on the taco bell menu!! I’m craving this stuff!!!