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Lorena Garcia's Taco Bell Cantina Bowl: Without Linen and Fine Crockery

Categories: First Bites
tacobellgarcia sign.jpg
All photos by Laine Doss
Chef Lorena Garcia invites you to try her Cantina Bell.
Last week we tried Lorena Garcia's Cantina Bowl at her studio kitchen. On fine china. With some good wine.

The occasion was a media blitz before the official rollout of Taco Bell's new mini-line of chef-driven offerings. Lorena Garcia -- chef, author, television personality, and restaurateur -- was on hand to lead the dinner, offering animated descriptions of the bounty of Latin-inspired food we were about to eat. Loads of cilantro! Black beans taken from her mother's secret recipe! Citrus-marinated chicken with the grill marks still on them! Sweet fire-roasted corn salsa!

It all sounded wonderful and tasted, well, all right. But my concerns were if the dish could be prepared mass market. How would the Cantina Bowl look and taste in the hands of the assembly line workers who will prepare the bowl at my local Taco Bell? I headed there to see for myself.

As I drove up to the Coconut Grove location, there was no mistaking that Taco Bell is heavily pushing this new menu. Images of Lorena Garcia's ultra-airbrushed face cover the windows, with the promise "You'll love it. Or we'll replace it." Note to Taco Bell: You don't have to airbrush a woman who is naturally beautiful. Just saying.

Posted on the menu board are instructions on how to order your Cantina meal. Step 1: Choose bowl or burrito. Step 2: Choose your protein (chicken, steak, or veggie). Step 3: Make it a combo by adding chips and a choice of guacamole, corn salsa, or pico de gallo, and a soda. Bowl or burrito is priced at $4.79 for chicken or veggie, $4.99 for steak. For a combo, add $2 to either.

I ordered a steak Cantina Bowl and a chicken Cantina Bowl combo with guacamole. Here's what the Cantina Bowl looked like at the fancy media dinner:

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Laine Doss
Taco Bell Cantina Bowl at media dinner.
Here's what it looked like at Taco Bell:

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Cantina Bowls at Taco Bell.
Which one is the chicken, and which is the steak? Good question. I had to dig deep to find either protein. When I did, I wished I hadn't.

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Taco Bell steak.
The steak, which wasn't offered at the media dinner, certainly didn't taste like steak. But it did taste familiar. Then I got it. It tasted like Taco Bell ground beef -- only in chunks.

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In her presentation, Chef Garcia told us about the chicken: "I want to see the grill marks!" There were grill marks, but the chicken was that processed kind. Made from parts unknown, shaped back into a breast, and then grilled. My take: You should have to chew chicken. When it's melt-in-your-mouth soft, there's a problem.

The guacamole, which was chunky, if a little bland, at the dinner, got the Taco Bell touch too. Meaning it looked and tasted the same as the Taco Bell guac you get with your regular food.

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Taco Bell corn salsa
What held up to scrutiny? The lettuce was fresh and crisp, and the roasted corn salsa was still sweet with a hint of smokiness. 

What concerns me the most: Looking at the Taco Bell website's nutritional content, I couldn't help but notice these "healthier" versions aren't healthful at all. In fact, they're laden with sodium (which I could have told you by the headache I got about a half-hour after eating just parts of the meal). Here's the nutritional information, per Taco Bell:

Cantina Bowl (chicken) - 560 calories; 22g fat; 1560mg sodium; 64g carbs.
Cantina Bowl (steak) - 550 calories; 23g fat; 1600mg sodium; 64g carbs.
Cantina Bowl (veggie) - 540 calories; 31g fat; 1310mg sodium; 64g carbs.
Chips and Guacamole - 320 calories; 30g fat; 450mg sodium; 32g carbs.

In conclusion, the Taco Bell Cantina Menu is filled with sodium, empty calories, and processed foods. Fast-food chains can hire celebrity chefs to make a menu, but if they fall down in the everyday execution and cut corners with inferior and/or cheap product, even the best names in the culinary world can't help them. But don't take my word. Go try them. As Chef Garcia says: "You'll love it. Or we'll replace it."

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29 comments
elli_707rocker
elli_707rocker

I find this article to be wholly foolish. What did you expect from a taco bell? a t-bone steak in there? it's a fast food joint, and it's a wonderful buy for only a little under 5$ and - it tastes pretty great, in fact I'm sitting here eating the veggie one right now. if you want some expensive meal, go someplace that's not a fast food joint, and doesn't put their food in plastic disposable bowls. all hail cheep yummy food. 

arturo22
arturo22

Really? a cook from Venezuela in a feeble attempt a semi-Mexican food? Her mother's recipe? A culinary degree does not a chef make. Beside why would any self-respecting, half successful, REAL chef consult for Taco Bell; of course if you are a sell-out and have no passion for your trade, then by all means. But please do not call yourself a Chef. May I suggest Consumables Consultant?

Julieamis
Julieamis

Don't worry. I hate DIANA, too. She just treats people like they're ants from Mars and is just a horrible person. I'll tell all the Taco Bell people about that darned DIANA for you.

Jlrobiii
Jlrobiii

Enough sodium to kill you in one serving.

Grulew
Grulew

I tried the Chicken Cantina Bowl for lunch and liked it so much I had another one the same day for dinner!  This is a wonderful addition to the Taco Bell menu.  Great work, Chef Garcia!!

Karileesc
Karileesc

People it's $4.79 and it's the best thing that comes out of Taco Bell!! The rice was delicious!

Joan
Joan

I have now had my 4th lunch of the Cantina Bowl.  I went there expecting a drive thru meal.  I am quite pleased w the bowl.  I order chicken, hold the beans.  If I wanted a full Mexican meal I'd hit up Chevys or someother great "restuarant".  It is very filling and tastes great.  Its a fast food joint...get over it.

Ms Rivas_1
Ms Rivas_1

MY HUNNY HAD THE CHICKEN BOWL YESTERDAY & HE RECOMMENDED I TRY IT... SO I DID TODAY & I LIKE IT & IT IS VERY FILLING SO U DONT HAVE TO EAT THE ENTIRE BOWL!! REMEMBER: PORTION CONTROL ;)

Clarny
Clarny

Please will you call all the Tacos Bells and tell them this because DIANA is trying to get all the people there in bad trouble and I bet she will even lie and say there was roaches and a mouse in her food or cats inside the restarant. and also do  ot be fooled the other people here most of them are HER!

Clarny
Clarny

I think maybe you ARE Diana because this is what she TOLD ME SHE WOULD DO is come to the New Time and write many terrible things of all the Tacos Bells and now you have done this too instead of like I said the CLASSY way of whispering to them there problems where you call the owner of Taco Bells instead of like this because now you have got all the workers there in bad trouble and they will probably all get fired and even lose there houses and children over this. And DIANA told me in Aventura Mall when she was yelling and everybody was looking at her that she would do this and I said you better not and then she came here under different names and pictures of strangers she found and I bet you are really her too!

jen
jen

I thought the chicken bowl was pretty good and the bite I had of my husband's steak burrito was even better. I was very pleased, but I tried it expecting fast food quality food.

Donna Traughber Kiber
Donna Traughber Kiber

@Clarney: r u paranoid or what is your problem with this Diana girl? How could u possibly know who u r talking to? U r a little.....well u know!

Donna Traughber Kiber
Donna Traughber Kiber

I was going to try the cantina bowl from taco bell but not now! First of all they have most recently changed there guacamole to a very blain one. The one prior was much spicier and much flavorful! I'm very disappointed to hear that this cantina bowl is all frozen crap! So no Cantina Bowl for me!

Clarny
Clarny

I do not know how you are making this with the different names but I am sure it is YOU DIANA because you yelled at me in Aventura about this that you would! The people at all the Tacos Bells will lose their jobs now because of you writing these terrible things of them in the newspaper where millions can see it INSTEAD OF BEING A WOMAN OF CLASS AND DIGNITY AND GOOD HYGIENE AND MANNERS WHO WOULD WHISPER TO THEM THEIR PROBLEMS! Well I am going to call them at all the different Tacos Bells and tell thim it is just Diana making this trouble for them and to prepare their bowls the same way!

BerlinerKindl
BerlinerKindl

Just made an attempt to eat the Steak Bowl.. um first order of business, give me a damn fork, the spork is an pain in the ass. Second, the meat is the same flavorless highly process meat they use in everything else with steak in the name. The rice was watery, there was some green stuff that I think was supposed to be guac, but was flavorless. Swing and a miss, I am not keen to try the burrito considering the watery nature of the rice and beans in the bowl I sampled. I did not go in expecting too much, and was not disappointed by what was delivered. 

Clarny
Clarny

I don't know who you really are but probably it is DIANA I talk to again and again here with her tricks and sorcerys. You are jealous of my education. Also I know from Aventura that you are against these people at the Tacos Bells and will say ANYTHING about them treating them like bugs from Mars not people! And also you made the mistake because I talked about the ORANGE BOWL of the past not the Cantina Bowl so you are stupid.

Caeser_Palache
Caeser_Palache

In all of your postings, your composition is just as horrendous as the Cantina Bowl.  Stop embarrassing, yourself. 

Clarny
Clarny

Is this DIANA again? You are not fooling me at all. I think you will get all these people fired now at the Tacos Bells for your complaints that are made. Why not has it been made in secret after they are close when people can whisper to each other their problems not treat them to spanking in public like they are the bugs from Mars! There will be no shame in this. ALSO it is sounding like you got all the proteins and vegetable matters thay are serving at the Taco Bell you might be very fat and think you should get more meat of hogs and cows but they are looking out for you.

Jax
Jax

I just tried it after I read the review so I didn't know what to expect or what was suppose to be on it. First mine didn't have any dressing on it. Second they didn't give me guacamole on the side with the chips. I asked for guac and the guy told me it came with it but I only got what came on the bowl. It was pretty bland. Probably would have been better with the dressing on it. Next time I'll give the burrito a shot.

Clarny
Clarny

How did they know this upon your arrival there? Also these are PEOPLE not BUGS FROM MARS you are talking about and now they will lose their JOBS! I think you are Diana that yelled at me in the Aventura Mall and don't want to tell your secrets to me.

Jerimalibu
Jerimalibu

LMAO!!  My Daughter and I  both had the Chicken Cantina.  Looks NOTHING like pictured-had a total of 5 pieces of lettuce,.minute amounts of chicken,..Very disappointing.

Clarny
Clarny

I will place the bowl on the mop floor again, Diana. Then you will tell me and all of the Taco Bell SAGA of Viking Lore and also you think now of the grand old ORANGE BOWL that sttod once at the street and the milk shakes.

Dan
Dan

Seriously, what did you expect from Taco Bell for $4.79?

Sakb
Sakb

I wondered if Lorena Garcia's version was real and then now we have the Taco Bell rendition.  My chicken, too, was pressed and all of it was thawed out frozen stuff and tasted mushy and the guacamole was mixed with mayo and tasted awful.  I went with a BOBO free coupon and didn't ask for the guarantee as I was full.  We also got the chips and corn salsa and soda.  The best thing I had was the soda and I refilled my cup several times.  Our local Mexican restaurant is just a block away and they serve a wonderful Lunch special for $5 every weekday(Wednesdays it's steak or chicken fajitas with beans, rice guac, pico, sour cream and unlimited chips and fresh salsa).  Taco bell can not beat that.  I bring half of my lunch home for dinner.  Much better deal.  I don't think this will survive on the menu.

Beast
Beast

Another example of the Fleecing of the Great Unwashed.

jsr124life
jsr124life

You're annoying as fuck. Shut up..

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