When you think of Taco Bell, you probably think kooky chihuahua, late night ("fourth meal") eats, mall food courts, meat that isn't really meat, and evil but amazing-sounding Dorito-flavored taco shells (mmmm). Not high-end, gourmet eats. Americans don't need Taco Bell to get fancy. We just want to lay down less than $5 for a few tacos and then "run for the border." But the chain has a different idea.
They announced today that they'll be launching a menu addition called Cantina Bell created by celebrity chef Lorena Garcia (from America's Next Great Restaurant -- love her!) early next month at its nearly 5,600 U.S. restaurants. The new items will feature healthy black beans (Not refried?! Gasp!), snooty cilantro rice, snobby citrus and herb-marinated chicken, fancy guacamole, and hoity-toity cilantro dressing. What the ... ?
If some of those ingredients sound vaguely familiar, don't worry, you're not going crazy. I'd venture to guess it's a direct rip-off of the offerings from another successful food chain: Chipotle.
Given Chipotle founder Steve Ells' major nationwide success, I'm sure Taco Bell has gotten a little huffy and jealous about any biz he's yoinked from them. And they want a piece of that "gourmet" Tex-Mex action. But it's kinda too late. I say this with love, Taco Bell, but you've already made your bad-for-you fast food bed, and now you have to lie in it.
As a Mex aficionado who swears up and down that cuisine from south of the border can be incredibly healthy if you make wise choices, I swear I thought I was the only person on the planet ordering off of TB's "Fresca" menu (which subs in a lovely, light pico de gallo and lettuce for cheese and sour cream). Just try to use the words "healthy" and "Taco Bell" in a sentence and not have people look at you like you've completely lost your maracas.
Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled that TB offers healthier options and are attempting to incorporate even more, but at the same time, I seriously doubt they're going to lure the same folks who are chowing down on Chipotle. At the very least ... it'll take a lot more than their version of black beans or cilantro rice to convince Ells' followers that they need to ditch their hormone-free, no antibiotics added "fast casual" burritos for what we tend to think of as down and dirty fast food.
Would you try Taco Bell's new "gourmet" menu?
Image via Evan Bench/Flickr