Opinion Brief

Can Taco Bell pull off gourmet Mexican food?

The far-from-classy creator of the Dorito taco shell and notorious quasi-meat is going upscale, prompting not a few scoffs of disbelief

Taco Bell, which according to urban legend squirts its tacos with meat from a tube, is launching a new upscale menu on July 5 that company executives are dubbing "gourmet Mexican." Dubbed the Cantina Bell menu, it will feature burritos and burrito bowls with new ingredients like fire-roasted corn salsa, cilantro rice, pico de gallo, and herb-marinated chicken. The shift is an attempt to compete with higher-quality Mexican-food chains like Chipotle, and arrives with an ad blitz featuring celebrity chef Lorena Garcia, who is set to appear on Bravo's Top Chef Masters. (See the video below.)  Skeptics doubt that the purveyor of quasi-beef and Dorito taco shells, whose food is so beloved by inebriated college students that it advertises itself as a "fourth meal," can really make the jump to epicurean sophistication. Can Taco Bell do gourmet?

No. Taco Bell is incapable of quality: Let me check: "Yep, turns out this Cantina fare will still be prepared and served in a Taco Bell," says Hamilton Nolan at Gawker. "The fancy food will be made by the same workers in the same kitchen where they make the cheap shit." Sound tasty? Right, I didn't think so. "Keep pushing that burrito up the hill, Sisyphus."
"Attention, gourmands: Taco Bell is upscale now"

And customers don't want Taco Bell to change: "Americans don't need Taco Bell to get fancy," says Maressa Brown at The Stir. "We just want to lay down less than $5 for a few tacos and then 'run for the border.'" It's not in Taco Bell's character to sell this "snooty cilantro rice" and "hoity-toity cilantro dressing," and it's far too late for reinvention. "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."
"Taco Bell's new 'gourmet' menu sounds like a cheap imitation of Chipotle"

At least the Cantina menu is cheaper than Chipotle: Sure, it's hard to think of Taco Bell without conjuring memories of "beefy five-layer burritos warming your lap through the bag," says Christopher Robbins at Gothamist. And the advertising blitz only underscores the weirdness of Taco Bell's normal menu — "beans (not bean-tasting products!), cilantro rice (with 'cilantro seasoning!'), citrus- and herb-marinated chicken (it was once a live chicken!)." But the Cantina menu on average is "at least $3 cheaper than Chipotle." That has to be worth something.
"Will you eat Taco Bell's new Chipotle-slaying 'Cantina' menu?"

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