Taco Bell Takes On Titans of Tex-Mex Cuisine

July 25, 2012

Looks pretty appetizing, doesn’t it? Just wait until you see the real-life version.

Taco Bell wants me.

I’m a 27-year-old guy with a voracious appetite who, not so long ago, would stretch $5 to its limit on Taco Bell’s cheap tacos, burritos and quesadillas for what one would loosely consider “a meal.”

Now? Not so much. What happened? I grew a little older, I landed a good job and my diet became more dignified.

Nowadays, when I want a quick meal — or, really, just a good meal — I go to Chipotle. (That’s true of many of my Fast Horse colleagues, too.) I’ve averaged about 2.5 Chipotle burrito bowls per week for quite some time now, so it’s completely understandable why Taco Bell is gunning for the darling of the quick-service restaurant (QSR) world.

And just how do they plan on winning me back? Earlier this month, Taco Bell partnered with celebrity chef Lorena Garcia to launch its Cantina Bell Menu, which offers “gourmet” bowls and burritos for less than $5 — or about $1.25 less than the same options from Chipotle and Qdoba.

Taco Bell’s intent is plainly obvious: Let’s win back some of the 20- and 30-something guys who think of us as a place where they used to eat back when they were impoverished college students. Taco Bell is thinking, “We can win these guys back by recreating what Chipotle and Qdoba have to offer at a cheaper price.”

We’ll see about that one.

I heard about the Cantina Bell Menu for the first time Tuesday morning and immediately decided I needed to try a bowl for myself. Score one for Taco Bell — they at least got me to try their new menu. The rub, of course, is that my dalliance was purely editorial. If anyone’s equipped to review food of the burrito bowl variety, it’s yours truly.

What Taco Bell’s new burrito bowl really looks like it.

So, how did it taste? With no evidence of cheese, sour cream or salsa and way too much of what’s described as “creamy cilantro dressing,” I wasn’t that impressed. Then again, I rock a pretty heavy bias toward Chipotle. My allegiance was never really at risk. Taco Bell didn’t win me back, much as I admire the effort.

So much for that.

Taco Bell’s new options will do little to slow the attraction of Chipotle and Qdoba, but the attempt is admirable. For a fast food restaurant known as an absurdly cheap dining option, its quite a bold move to purposely offer pricier options in hopes of stealing business from wildly successful QSRs. The Cantina Bell Menu may not live up to the hype, but in creating such a thing, Taco Bell is smartly acknowledging the inevitable refinement of its core consumer’s pallet as he gets older.

It’s too bad Taco Bell’s execution couldn’t match its ambition.