First Look: Taco Bell Goes Gourmet with New "Cantina Bell" Menu

July 5, 2012 8:12 AM EDT | By Anthony Smith
Taco Bell
To compete with rival Chipotle, Taco Bell steps up its game in a big way with new menu. (Photo: Creative Commons)

We're giving you a first look into major fast food chain Taco Bell's first formal challenge to its rival, Chipotle: a gourmet menu crafted by celebrity-chef and television personality Lorena Garcia.

Remember all those nasty, completely untrue rumors about Taco Bell's meat being worse than what the government could legally serve to prisoners? Well, their new Cantina Bell menu puts the final nail in that awful coffin, and sees the fast food chain finally going head-to-head in taste, quality, and value with rival Chipotle.

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Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's been a strong week for Taco Bell. When they aren't in the news for amending pranksters' misdeeds by airlifting 10,000 tacos into Alaska, they're in it for their first real attempt to hone in on the gourmet-minded demographic. In teaming up with Chef Lorena Garcia-- who, like our darling arepa, hails from Venezuela-- they've proposed a healthy, delicious-looking menu that invites you to take a look into every single aspect of the food, from the ingredients to the actual cooking process and everything in-between. The button that invites you to click and see the nutritional information of each product comes front-and-center on the website.

At present, the new Cantina Bell menu is currently small, offering only three items: the Cantina Bowl, filled with citrus-herb marinaded chicken, black beans, guacamole from Hass avocados, roasted corn & pepper salsa, and a creamy cilantro dressing served on a bed of cilantro rice. It's also available in steak and veggie. And from today till July 7th, it's buy-one-get-one-free. Hard to beat, no?

The Cantina Burrito places all of that good stuff in between a tortilla. For sides, they're offering bowls of guacamole, corn and pepper salsa, pico de gallo, and rice and beans. It's hard to believe this is the same place that offers the Dorito taco.

And how's it faring so far? Nancy Luna, a food reporter for The Orange County Register who attended the Taco Bell Cantina Bell Sneak Eat, interviewed her fellow attenders and found that one thought the Cantina Bell menu "beat Chipotle." That's as ringing an endorsement as any. And if you need a cherry on that sundae, Amy Kavanaugh, Taco Bell's VP of Public Affairs, remarked that Lorena Garcia's menu "helped [them] fall in love with their food again."

The website for Cantina Bell uses a cool green color to augment the freshness and cleanliness of the food photography, which seems to make the case that this isn't just late night craving food anymore-- we're in guilt-free territory. Nothing's drowned in nacho cheese. They even post the darn recipes for each of the dishes to the site.

As such, this new menu doesn't seem to be about thinking outside the bun-- this seems to be about letting the food speak for itself. Meanwhile, Ms. Lorena Garcia will be competing on Top Chef Masters later this year. How's that for some early hype?

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