I’m an unabashed Taco Bell fan. It’s in my rotation of Friday night takeout options and I even braved the wilds of Orange County for the opportunity to visit their test kitchen and see where the magic is made. I’m pretty regular in my routine. I usually stick with a basic burrito, maybe a taco and almost always a beef Baja Chalupa, although I do occasionally swap it out for the not-on-the-menu-but-available-if-you-ask-nicely Volcano Beef Chalupa.
I have to take my hat off to them for the success of scientific breakthroughs like the Doritos Locos Taco, though that sort of thing always struck me as gilding the lily a bit. But what about a new product line that wasn’t a gimmick—one that stressed high-quality and fresh ingredients? That’s where the Cantina Steak Burrito comes in.
Taco Bell’s introduction of the Cantina menu was intriguing. A trip to your local shopping center will make it clear that Taco Bell is facing competition, so it was only logical that they would fend off the challenge and take advantage of the public’s desire for a more sophisticated option. So, after seeing my wife order it on a few occasions, it was time for me to see if Taco Bell had found the sweet spot between their affordable options and the higher-end products offered by its fast casual foes.
The first thing that you notice about the Cantina Burrito is its size—it’s pretty hefty. Big enough that you can probably order one and some nachos and call it a meal. The tortilla is pressed on a griddle, giving it a slight and welcome crispness.
On the inside, there’s quite a bit to like. They brought back the corn and black bean salsa that they used to include in the Santa Fe Chalupa (RIP), but this time the corn is grilled and nicely sweet. The rice doesn’t add much flavor but the texture is nice. The guacamole is flavorful, though I did feel like the citrus flavor of the guac might have slightly overpowered the avocado flavor. (It is also very smooth and might have benefited from some pieces of avocado.) The pico de gallo, which is supposed to be made daily, tasted as good as you could hope for from a tomato in February.
Steak can be a dicey proposition in a Taco Bell burrito. I usually find it to be too tough and I invariably end up pulling out half of my burrito filling along with it. The Cantina Burrito steak is quite tender—possibly even too much so—and the marinade lends a nice flavor, though I would have liked a little more grilled, beefy flavor. When I added some of the Fire sauce (the burrito lacks heat, too), its smokiness actually boosted the meatiness a bit. Don’t bother with the verde salsa…it blends right in with the guacamole and you’ll hardly notice it’s there..
I can see why my wife likes the Cantina Burrito. It tastes fresher, less “heavy” and, frankly, less greasy than many of Taco Bell’s other options. I’ll probably stick with my usual fare most of the time, but I’ll welcome anything that raises the bar a little bit and makes my wife more eager to make a run for the border.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see if I can figure out how to reverse-engineer one of those Santa Fe Chalupas by pleading with the person at the register for a side of the corn and bean salsa.
(Photo: Taco Bell)
This post is sponsored by Taco Bell. See how great our steak is when you try the new Cantina Steak Burrito. Because when it comes to a great steak burrito, it”s all about the steak.