Taco Bell Does Chipotle: Cantina Steak Burrito Lacks "Dorito-ness"

It appears Taco Bell has a bit of an identity crisis these days. They are trying to turn our eyes into slot machine wheels by making tacos out of Doritos shells, then having the gall to dare Doritos to make an Inception-inspired chip that tastes like a taco that tastes like a chip. At the same time, they are pulling the Kansas City Shuffle on us by enlisting "celebrity" chef Lorena Garcia to push the ever-evolving Cantina Bell menu. According to Taco Bell's translation, the term "cantina" means "cheap Chipotle rip-off" and Garcia is simply the face to try to make the food seem original and authentic. The term "cantina" actually refers to a bar, so either way you slice it the application of the word doesn't really play.

When the commercials first started making the rounds last year, I'd guess I wasn't alone when I asked my German shepherd the question "Who's Lorena Garcia?" Garcia, according to various sources not named Wikipedia (which is suspiciously empty, I might add), is a Venezuela-born chef who pursued her passion for food after a career in law didn't motivate her as much as she'd hoped. She trained at some restaurants across a few countries, opened two joints in Miami, then eventually unveiled a couple eponymous restaurants of her own at the Miami and Atlanta airports (DFW's LG haunt will open 2014, Cantina Burritos all around!). She has now parlayed her restaurant success and appearances on a few reality food shows into the Taco Bell gig.

More important than all the flash and resume padding, how does the food actually taste? For this experiment I tried the new Cantina Steak burrito. As it tries desperately to be a poor-man's alternative to the Chipotle iteration, it comes across almost as a copy of a copy of a copy. The basic framework is there, it's just not as good. For starters, it's smaller than a Chipotle job. It has similar stuffing, with a base of steak and cilantro lime rice, followed with black beans, lettuce, corn salsa and a guacamole-ish paste. The only real difference is that Taco Bell presses the burrito like a panini to go get a little char on the outside.

To make any assessment on the quality of the steak would fruitless. It's steak at Taco Bell, at least I'm guessing it's steak, these days you can't be too sure. The rest of the ingredients blend together under the cover of the guacamole imposter. You can tell it's not real guacamole because anywhere that uses real guacamole charges you a ton for it, so who knows what it actually is. It's green and it's got some tomato and peppers in it. Everything else is decent, with no one ingredient being too exposed, which probably works in favor of the wrap. In summary, it's better than most Taco Bell items, but for a couple bucks more you could get a better version at Chipotle.

After about a year of attempts, it seems that Taco Bell's effort to woo the food nerds of the world isn't really finding its rhythm. The Bell should stick to its Fourthmeal mantra and cater to the hazy cravings of their far-more-devout, far-more-chemically-affected customer base.

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Justin Bitner
Contact: Justin Bitner