Gut Check won't lie: More than a few times, after an evening of too much liquid courage and too little solid food, we've found ourselves in the drive-through of the local Taco Bell, trying to persuade our designated driver that "ALL THE TACOS, ALL OF THEM!" is a sensible order. Now, Taco Bell is trying to lure our more
sober sophisticated palates. Last week the chain debuted its "Cantina Bell" menu at locations nationwide (with the exception of Taco Bell Express locations).
The new menu offers a variety of items created by chef Lorena Garcia: a "Chicken Bowl" burrito, a "Steak Bowl" burrito and a "Veggie Bowl" burrito, as well as several new side items including chips with fiesta or corn salsa, guacamole, black beans and cilantro rice.
Yeah, it sounds kinda like Chipotle to us, too. More on that in a bit.
As Taco Bell would have it, the menu provides lower-calorie, lower-fat options for the low prices Taco Bell customers are used to, while also offering more flavorful food, thanks to chef Garcia's work.
Taco Bell representative Sweta Shah explains that the menu is aimed at, perhaps, a higher-end customer base: "Consumers who are looking at food as an experience, not just fuel, the Cantina Bell menu provides them with more options and flavors that appeal to evolving palates."
With the introduction of its Cantina Bell menu, Taco Bell will be launching a completely new citrus-herb marinated chicken that will be available across the menu. It's the same chicken that has always been used in Taco Bell dishes, but with a new marinade made with garlic, onion, lemon juice, cilantro and tomatillo. The steak will remain the same, but the Cantina Bell menu will bring vegetarian options to Taco Bell for the first time (aside from its "Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes," obviously).
Items on the menu have been marketed to draw comparison between Taco Bell and Chipotle Mexican Grill food, with Taco Bell emphasizing that it is offering its food at lower prices.
When asked to comment on this, Shah responded, "After working closely with chef Lorena Garcia, we realized our food had great quality, but we had to make small changes to further bring out the flavor of the ingredients."
She went on to explain how Taco Bell is able to keep its prices so low: "We serve more than 35 million people a week through 5,600 locations nationwide.... We are able to work closely with our suppliers to secure low prices on everything."
Gut Check spoke with Chris Arnold, communications director and official spokesman at Chipotle, to learn if the restaurant was aware of Taco Bell's new menu -- and how Chipotle feels about the menu being compared to its food.
"I think its great when any of these traditional fast-food guys improve the quality of the food they are serving, but there is a lot more to Chipotle than corn salsa and black beans," says Arnold. "We make our food through more sustainable sources, like naturally raised meat and locally grown produce. There is a soul to Chipotle that goes beyond the menu."
Here's a look at the Cantina Bell menu prices and nutritional information:
Chicken Burrito Bowl ($4.79): 547 calories with 23g total fat, 26g protein Steak Burrito Bowl ($4.99): 539 calories with 24g total fat, 24g protein Chicken Burrito ($4.79): 750 calories with 28g total fat, 33g protein Steak Burrito (4.99):742 calories with 29g total fat, and 28g protein. Veggie Burrito Bowl ($4.79): 531calories with 22g total fat, and 14g protein Veggie Burrito ($4.79): 734calories with 27g total fat, 20g protein Sides: chips and salsa, guacamole, black beans or cilantro rice $1.49 each
Taco Bell is promoting the Cantina Bell menu under the tag "Don't deny it 'til you've tried it." The restaurant says it's so confident that customers will be pleased with the new options that it will replace a customer's meal if they're unhappy with the any of the new menu items.
Will they replace it with "ALL THE TACOS, ALL OF THEM"? Gut Check will let you know.