We Tasted Taco Bell's New Upscale Menu That Launches Next Month — Here's The Verdict

taco bell cantina

Photo: Kim Bhasin, Business Insider

Taco Bell invited us to a sit-down dinner at the Empire State Building with Chef Lorena Garcia to try out the new Cantina Bell menu which launches nationwide July 5th.

Click here to see what the new menu is like >
The new menu is meant to be more upscale than traditional Taco Bell fare, positioning itself more directly against fast-rising Chipotle’s offerings. They enlisted Chef Garcia of Top Chef Masters fame to help them out.

Two years in the making, Taco Bell wants this menu to be of comparable quality with Chipotle, but much more affordable with a price point under $5. But if it doesn’t taste good, then what’s the point? We were excited to try out the Cantina Bowl and see for ourselves.

So, what’s the verdict?

It was a solid meal, and quite filling for something that’s under 600 calories. There’s nothing spectacularly different about it, but it has simple, tasty flavours.

One big plus is that the new guacamole is appropriately chunky, and pretty good for a fast food joint. You don’t have to pay an extra $2 like at Chipotle, but I did chomp through all the guac in my first few bites. I didn’t have a chance to customise like at a regular Taco Bell, but I certainly would have piled on some hot sauce.

I wouldn’t get this on what, for many people, is a traditional 2 A.M. Taco Bell run, but that’s why it won’t be serving these new items late at night anyway.

Is it at least good enough to compete with Chipotle?

The value proposition is definitely there, since the price point is so low and Taco Bell worked so long on the quality. But here’s the thing — the Cantina menu will pass most Taco Bell customers’ taste tests, however, it’s going to take more than just flavours to win people over. 

Taco Bell’s marketing has to overcome the brand’s stigma, stand out and convince people that this is a legitimate food item — not just a poor man’s Chipotle burrito bowl.

The dinner was held at Taylor's office on the 38th floor of the Empire State Building

They had a very green-themed table set up, with Chef Garcia's spot at the head of the table. Admittedly, it's quite strange to actually sit down and eat Taco Bell at a big dinner table.

The bar had three of Chef Garcia's original cocktails — White Mango Sangria, Fresh Cucumber Mint Martini, and Watermelon-Cilantro Mojito

We chose the mojito, and it was really good

The view from the 38th floor is absolutely spectacular

They put on a Spotify playlist as we hung out and waited

Meanwhile, we had some chips to hold us over. They were accompanied by the new guacamole, pico de gallo, and corn salsa.

The food preparation folks were setting things up for Chef Garcia's demonstration

Chef Garcia's knife was still in its holder, but she'd be out soon

Here's what we'd be eating — the new Cantina Bowl

Chef Garcia also talked about what's next for her and Taco Bell. She said she'd like to see carnitas, salads, and make changes to the steak.

The infamous guacamole gun. Pull the trigger once to dispense the appropriate amount for consistency. It was Chef Garcia's first shock when they started working together.

The hardest part, she said, was getting consistency everywhere. Taco Bell's scale is just so massive that you really have to think about all the ingredients and where they're sourced from.

Of course, they won't be sold in stores with such a fancy bowl. They'll come in a plastic container with a clear top like this one.

It's a pretty hefty bowl, even though it's under 600 calories. Recommended price for chicken and veggie is $4.79, while steak's price is $4.99.

Chef Garcia chatted it up with the Taco Bell folks until we had to head out

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.