On the Cantina Burrito

I tried the burrito from Taco Bell’s new Cantina Menu yesterday. It looks like this. The sauce packet is included for scale:

The Cantina Bell menu is not for me. By that I cannot imagine I am the person Taco Bell had in mind when creating and marketing the new Cantina Bell menu. Celebrity chef Lorena Garcia, while fire-roasting her corn salsa, never stopped to say, “man, I hope this will finally be the innovation that gets Ted Berg into Taco Bell.” I don’t need winning over.

The new burritos and burrito bowls, boasting “citrus-herb marinated chicken,” “guacamole made from real Hass avocados,” and “pico de gallo prepared fresh daily,” seem aimed at the squeamish girlfriends, the healthy-living husbands, the no-beef bros and every other blight on society who seems like a perfectly reasonable person to spend time with until it becomes clear they will refuse to accompany you to Taco Bell.

Here’s the good news, for them: The Cantina Chicken Burrito isn’t bad. It mostly tastes like cilantro, presumably due to the “cilantro rice” and the “creamy cilantro dressing.” Cilantro — unless you genetically despise cilantro — has sort of a clean taste, and because we associate its increasingly popular flavor with table-side guacamole and carefully constructed banh mi, it seems like a great way to code “freshness” into food.

Don’t tell this part to the others: It still sort of tastes like Taco Bell. It’s definitely different from anything previously served at Taco Bell, since that cilantro flavor and the presence of sweet corn kernels are new and unfamiliar to the seasoned Taco Bell palate. But still there’s some subtle, difficult-to-describe aftertaste that is unmistakably Taco Bell’s own. I think it’s in the tortilla. And I like it; it’s grounding.

There’s chicken in there, though not a ton of it. It was reasonably moist and more enjoyable than typical Taco Bell chicken — which I almost never order — but I did not pick up on the citrus-herb flavor. The burrito is nowhere near as filling as the one from Chipotle that pretty obviously inspired it, though it is several dollars less expensive. It’s supposed to come with guacamole, but if mine had any, I couldn’t identify it. There are also black beans, which added some interesting texture but not much flavor.

Will I order the Cantina Burrito on my next trip to Taco Bell? I won’t. Would I choose it over a burrito from Chipotle? I wouldn’t. But then — again — though I’m good for about one Chipotle trip a month, I’m not someone that Taco Bell has ever had trouble convincing to eat Taco Bell. No sir.

This is an effort, we know, to cut into Chipotle’s market. Maybe that works. And by making Taco Bell more enticing to more people, the Cantina Bell menu appears apt to get me and people like me into Taco Bell more often, since we will inevitably sing its praises to those around us reluctant to visit Taco Bell. The Doritos Locos Taco invigorates the base, then the Cantina Bell menu broadens it.

These are both, in their own way, clever tricks to get you to eat more Taco Bell, but then I guess life is just a clever trick to get you to eat more Taco Bell. And we can sit here and debate whether this represents Taco Bell’s progress or Taco Bell’s selling out, but the truth is, if it goes as planned, it means we all ultimately eat more Taco Bell. So, you know, I’m for it.

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