Taco Bell goes gourmet with new Cantina Bell menu


The ingredients: Eight new upscale recipes including herb and citrus-marinated white meat chicken and fire-roasted corn salsa. A Venezuelan chef with a “Top Chef” pedigree, whose creations each bear her signature. A “like it or your money back” guarantee.

Sounds like something Chipotle might be behind. Instead, it’s the doing of Mexican-style fast-food mega-chain Taco Bell -- a brand that’s undergone a recent rebirth.

On July 5, the Irvine-based company is scheduled to roll out its new Cantina Bell menu, which features items such as the Cantina Burrito Bowl, nationwide. The offerings, all with suggested prices under $5, were developed since October 2010 by Lorena Garcia, a chef featured on NBC’s “America’s Next Great Restaurant” and slated for Bravo’s upcoming “Top Chef Masters.”


It’s an “industry-changing partnership,” according to Taco Bell, which will offer customers their money back if they’re less than wowed. The company, a subsidiary of KFC owner Yum! Brands, is set to begin introducing advertisements for the food as it prepares to launch it in its nearly 5,600 North American restaurants.

Among the new menu options:

  • Black beans that aren’t refried, flavored with onion, garlic, cumin, chili powder and more
  • Cilantro rice seasoned with onion, garlic and parsley
  • Guacamole, cilantro dressing and pico de gallo featuring fresh ingredients

Each item is to feature Garcia’s signature, much in the same way that Domino’s now asks its store managers to sign boxes for its new Artisan Pizza line.

It’s all quite a stretch from Taco Bell’s usual fare, which includes beefy nacho burritos and Doritos Locos tacos. The company made several sweeping changes this year and last, including new breakfast offerings and a new “Live Mas” slogan, as it attempted to recover from a controversy over its seasoned beef filling.

In its first quarter, Taco Bell’s income soared 73% to $458 million.

Now Taco Bell seems to be taking cues from quick-service competitors who are trying to draw new customers with more premium options.

In Italy, McDonald’s tapped Michelin-starred chef Gualtiero Marchesi to created limited-edition hamburgers and swanky desserts. Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill is looking into small plates and premium ingredients such as langoustine, crab and lemongrass rice with basil. Wendy’s last year began eyeing fast-casual competitors such as Five Guys with the launch of its so-called mid-tier W burger line.



Taco Bell returning to glory? Parent Yum’s income up 73%

Taco Bell: No more “Think Outside the Bun.” Now, it’s “Live Mas”

Taco Bell trying “First Meal” breakfast and fresh “Cantina” menus

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