What It's Really Like to Eat and Drink at a Taco Bell Cantina—Photos
You've probably had your fair share of Doritos® Locos Tacos from your local Taco Bell. And after all your favorite Mexican hot spots have closed for the night, nothing beats the feeling when you see a glimmer of that giant luminescent bell after a night out with friends. What craving can't be fixed by that cheese-powdered shelled taco?
Well, this Tex-Mex fast-food chain did the unthinkable and made their franchises better. How? Around the country, the chain has been adding Taco Bell Cantinas, which include all your favorite Taco Bell items, plus alcohol and tapas-style menu items. We decided to see what all the hype was about and if the addition of alcoholic beverages and new menu items was worth the trip to a Taco Bell Cantina.
Where are the Taco Bell Cantina locations?
Over the past few years, the franchise has opened Cantina after Cantina across the country. Taco Bell Cantina can be found in 13 locations as of June 2019, with their main hub being in Illinois. There are plans in place to eventually open 300 locations nationwide. If you live in California, Florida, NYC, or Illinois, chances are you've run into one of their many locations. Right now there are eight Cantinas located in New York City alone, but some of the new spots are awaiting a liquor license for you to enjoy the full Cantina experience.
How is Taco Bell Cantina different from Taco Bell?
Taco Bell Cantina isn't as fancy as restaurants that have a salsa bar or bottomless chips and queso, but the overall vibe paired with its modern trendy decor, beer taps, touchscreen ordering stations, and open kitchen concept makes this a dining experience, unlike any other fast food restaurant you will find today.
What was also surprising was that the open kitchen concept leads you to feel like you're in more of a restaurant setting and less of a fast-food place. If you've ever wondered what goes into your Crunch Wrap Supreme in the back of your usual Taco Bell, you can go watch it be made after placing your order.
What we ordered
When you walk up to the Taco Bell Cantina counter, you will find the normal Taco Bell menu above you, but offered on one part of the menu are new food items, alcoholic freezes, and beer options for you to dabble in as well.
We tried three of the Taco Bell Cantina-specific foods, as well as three boozy drinks:
- Chicken Enchilada Nachos Box
- Avocado Ranch Bowl (with chips and guacamole)
- Chipotle Grilled Burrito (with chips and guacamole)
- Party Punch (with rum)
- Cantina Margarita (with agave wine)
- Berry Frozen Rosé
We also compared Taco Bell Cantina's take on some classic Taco Bell staples, so we ordered the following from the normal menu:
- Vegetarian Crunch Wrap with Black Beans
- Bean Burrito
- Cinnabon Delights (order of 2)
- Steak Quesorito
- Frozen Baja Blast
What was Taco Bell Cantina's food like?
Honestly, it was pretty fantastic—minus two duds…
The only menu items we did not like were the Avocado Ranch Bowl (a Cantina menu item) and the guacamole. The guac was way too bland and watery, and we preferred to eat the chips alone.
The bowl looked like it came straight from Moe's Southwest Grill, but that it had been sitting under a heat lamp because everything stuck to the sides of the bowl. There were still fresh ingredients that weren't soggy or limp like other fast-food veggies and meat, but compared to the other fantastic options, this one wasn't our favorite.
However, we loved the other two items! The Chiptole Grilled Burrito didn't last long with our testers. Something about the combination of flavors in this Cantina burrito made it hard to stop eating. The same went for the Chicken Enchiladas Nachos Box. Hefty amounts of cheese, sour cream, and a delectable sauce on top of the surprisingly perfect shredded chicken made this menu item just as irresistible.
How did Taco Bell's normal menu items compare to Cantina?
Eating normal menu items from the Cantina location wasn't anything outlandishly special compared to normal dining experiences. We wouldn't seek out a Cheesy Gordita Crunch just from a Cantina location, but there were a few regular menu items that stood out to us when we ordered here.
The Cinnabon Delights were a crowd-pleaser. They melted in our mouths and melted our hearts. We should've definitely bought the 12-piece option instead of 2. They were heavenly.
The Steak Quesarito was one of our editors go-to, and it was one of the best she ate to date. She said that "usually the cheese is overflowing, and you get more queso than the burrito, which is fine because it's in the name, but this one had the perfect balance of perfectly cooked steak, queso, and a perfectly toasted tortilla blanket holding it all together."
What were the boozy drinks like?
Our thoughts? Seriously delicious for a fast-food cocktail. The Party Punch was a bit on the sweet side, which covered up the shots of rum. The Cantina Margarita had agave wine in it, but we tasted lots of tequila undertones. The Berry Frozen Rosé was a favorite though. It was fizzy like soda and had a perfect balance of sweet and bitter rosé tones.
For a $7.69 drink in New York City, these were hefty portions, so we were satisfied with the purchase.
Bottom line: Is the Taco Bell Cantina worth a trip?
We loved our experience and can't wait to go back. Taco Bell Cantinas have set the bar very high for other restaurants wanting to modernize. If you want a more pleasant, clean, and upscale-feeling fast-food experience, a Taco Bell Cantina is definitely something everyone should have a chance to try at least once. We will definitely be back to have those Cantina Nachos and a Chipotle Grilled Burrito again, paired with a Berry Frozen Rosé.