Jul 10, 2012

Review: Taco Bell - Cantina Bowl

Taco Bell's Cantina Bowl marks an expansion of Taco Bell's menu (with the Cantina Bell menu) and conspicuously resembles the Burrito Bowl at Chipotle. Like Chipotle, you can have it customized however you want it, but it's not assembled in front of you in Subway fashion.

By default, it comes with all-new ingredients including citrus-herb marinated chicken, black beans, guacamole made from Hass avocados, pico de gallo, roasted corn & pepper salsa, romaine lettuce, and a creamy cilantro dressing, and a bed of cilantro rice. It's also available in a veggie configuration or with steak.

I've actually previewed and tried the Cantina Bowl twice at various Taco Bell events, but was waiting to review one from an actual Taco Bell to see if there's any difference (there isn't). It was $4.79 for the Bowl. It's $2 extra if you want it with chips, salsa, and a drink.

Since it's going to be compared to Chipotle anyway, I decided to do a review based on carefully thought-out and completely arbitrary criteria.

The Cantina Bowl appears a bit more presentable and is assembled to look a certain way to highlight the different ingredients and colors. The chicken is a bit hidden under lettuce and dressing, unlike the promotional pictures where it's front and center. The last Chipotle Burrito Bowl I had was covered in lettuce and cheese; presentation didn't seem like a priority in its assembly.

Heft (I was going to say "weight," but it started to feel like I was comparing people in a very superficial manner). While the Cantina Bowl is enough to make for a hearty meal, I can often do two meals with the Chipotle Burrito Bowl. I'd say 1.5 hearty meals with the Chipotle version. Of course, it does cost a buck or two more (I think about $6.50 at the time of this writing).

Value. Ostensibly Taco Bell is the better value at $4.79, but it is more of a tie for me because you get a little more food at Chipotle by default and potentially, quite a bit more as you ask for extra rice, lettuce, and what not. You can really get them to fill the bowl to the brim at Chipotle (at least you can at mine). You do get a small scoop of guac at Taco Bell and that costs extra at Chipotle so yeah, I'd say it's close.

Taco Bell's new chicken is more chicken-y than the previous spicier version. The Taco Bell seasoning flavor is replaced with a citrus, herby flavor that's pretty good. There are some grill marks, but it's the same kind you get from frozen food i.e. it was grilled at some point before being frozen. It has the same texture as frozen food chicken as well (smoother and less textured).

Chipotle chicken is seasoned closer to how Taco Bell's chicken used to be and how a lot of Mexican restaurants do it--with spice and cumin and whatnot. It's also good with normal chicken texture; like if you made it at home. They grill the chicken throughout the day, but it's not always hot. Sometimes, it's just kinda warm while Taco Bell's chicken has always been hot.

Between the two, I give a slight nod to Chipotle. I like both of the flavors, but Chipotle's freshness takes it for me.

A wash. Lightly, seasoned black beans at both joints. Good stuff. I suppose you can choose from black beans or pintos at Chipotle though.

Corn Salsa.
Taco Bell's corn salsa is mostly the flavor of roasted sweet corn. Chipotle's corn salsa gets a little bit spicier, which I like but might turn off those who want corn but not the heat.

Rice. Taco Bell's rice is a little mushier but more fully flavored. I found myself wishing for a bit more of it in the bowl. Chipotle's rice is firmer and more subtly flavored. I can get as much of it as will fit inside the bowl. I could go either way on this.

Guacamole. I've never tried guacamole at Chipotle in my bowl. I've had it with chips and it's pretty good. Chunky, like you make at home. Taco Bell's version is blender smooth with small chunks here and there. It's good as well with a strong lemon flavor (keeps it green longer).

You can get chips and guacamole at either chain, so I'll say it here: I like Taco Bell's chips better than Chipotle because they're less salty; with the coarse salt used at Chipotle, some of the chips can be really salty.

Dressing. Chipotle doesn't have dressing. They do have sour cream, cheese, and a spicy red sauce. If you like heat, you'll like the red sauce and I always add that. Taco Bell's dressing is nice; cool, creamy, and refreshing, but not overwhelming. I tried adding some hot sauce to my Cantina Bowl, but it got a little bit lost in the flavors and wasn't doing it for me on the heat front. Maybe I should have gone with "Fire."

Pico de Gallo.
Another wash. It's pretty standard, and honestly, it's when it tastes different that you have a problem since it's a pretty simple salsa. For cilantro haters, this is where you'll find most of the cilantro (as you might notice in the picture), so you might want to get it without.

It's interesting to note, that when testing the Cantina Bowl, Taco Bell found that it did better where Chipotle already maintained a presence. I would guess because people were already used to eating a burrito in a bowl.

Overall. I like and enjoy both products, but I'll put it this way: if I'm at Chipotle, I'll get a Burrito Bowl, if I'm at Taco Bell, I'm still getting a Crunchy Taco. I love those things.

Nutritional Info - Taco Bell Cantina Bowl - Chicken (438g)
Calories - 560 (from Fat - 200)
Fat - 22g (Saturated Fat - 3.5g)
Sodium - 1520mg
Carbs - 64g (Sugar - 4g)
Protein - 26g


  1. My local taco bell franchise does not make the bowls look that nice at all. Where as Chipotle is all corporate owned and can be sure of standards - Taco Bell is all hit or miss. I have had TB's bowl three times from three different units in the last 6 days and each bowl had issues. Twice the rice was dry/clumpy and had almost no flavor and the other time the chicken was dry.

    The MAIN issue though in my mind is in how you can order the bowl. Chipotle will give you extra/as much as you want of anything for no extra charge aside from meat and guacamole. This is very nice for still making a hearty bowl if you choose not to have beans for example. Chipotle also offers fajita vegetables which is a nice option. Taco Bell on the other hand has set portions/scoops/squeezes of the sauce tube and will not give you anything extra without charging you for it. I asked for extra rice instead of beans and they deduct the beans (at no credit) but then charge 45 cents for extra rice. Extra sauce is 50 cents and I suspect anything else extra is similar.

    You also cannot see the bowl being made so you can ask on the fly for extra if you feel they did not give you enough.

    Taco Bell's bowl is yummy yes... but it is no Chipotle.

  2. Chipotle does have dressing and it is sooo on anything they sell..its free too just ask for "dressing" when your paying...its going to blow your mind..your welcome

  3. =O Why have I never heard of this?!

  4. Oh, it's because I've never ordered a salad at Chipotle. They have a vinaigrette apparently. Not sure I want a vinaigrette on rice... but I'll probably try it!

  5. Yea its a vinaigrette but its more savory then tangy. From what ive tried it works best on the pork and chicken's so good it makes everything better..even the rice

  6. "I asked for extra rice instead of beans and they deduct the beans (at no credit) but then charge 45 cents for extra rice."


    I will grab even larger amounts of sporks and hot sauce packets henceforth.... until I have a multi-decade supply and extras will be given to the local homeless daytime relaxing center for use there.

    IO would not be shocked if Taco Bell skimped to save a few lousy cents by making 7-layer burritos with a mere 6 layers.

  7. Cool review, I liked how you went component by component.

    After reading this and the review at GrubGrade, I'll probably never get this... Other taco bell items are too good, so thanks for saving me $5 plus tax.

  8. Thanks! Takes a bit longer to write, but I felt like doing something different to keep it interesting.

    Haha, yeah... it's good, but I think it's Taco Bell for people who otherwise wouldn't go to Taco Bell.

  9. I am a really big fan of Chipotle, but I recently moved to city where this restaurant is not establish. When I saw the commercials on TV about the new cantina bowl,  I couldn't wait to try it...
    I ordered with chips and extra guacamole... I won't ordered again.
    The guacamole looks like a flour paste, it doesn't taste or feel like real avocados, the chips are made from flour tortillas, not good at all. The chicken was white and soggy, very bad.
    However, the rice and beans with the cilantro creamy dressing really work, is very tasty. 
    I was really hopeful to find a replacement to Chipotle, but Taco Bell is not at the same level. 

  10. I love chipotle bowls, so I decided to try this today.  First off the $6.99 price tag startled me.  The bowl itself was mushy and not even close to the fresh and crispy Chipotle bowl, which I have to assume Taco Bell is trying to emulate.  Bottom line - I will stick with Chipotle from now on.

  11. Add lava sauce and it rocks!

  12. And I prefer the burrito version.

  13. This post is the only reason I tried one of these today. I was really happy with it! Your website has been a big help and a good read - I found it while looking up info on the Dunkin' Donuts Oreo items, and stayed even longer to read about all the neat stuff offered in other countries. :D Good stuff!

  14. Just finished one of these and I must say that I am very impressed.  Honestly I was not expecting much from the franchise that squeezes their meat out of a piping bag but this particular item has a hint of freshness that I have not tasted from them before.

  15. I liked the looks of this during commercials and decided to try it.  When presented with it at the drive through, it looked nothing like the commercial.  Everything appeared just "dumped" into the bowl.  The chicken has a good taste but the whole bowl is very bland.  It has some good possibilities but needs some additional seasning.

  16. White sticky rice?  Isn't that what Japanese serve?  C'mon...

  17. More calories than a Big Mac, and  back in the day when I went, I always got the craps. TB's menu is as crappy as the rest of the fast feeders

  18. Ok so i have read all of the posts and it seems over all we like the new cantina bowl... Super!!! I have an idea for those "Sticky Rice & Floury Guaco" comments.... When i order my bowl i swap the Guaco for Sour cream... & I get extra sauce & Tomatoes and finally i add 2 of the mild hot sauces packets..... AWESOMMMMMEEEEE..... but then thats just the way i get mine ...

  19. Ok so i have read all of the posts and it seems over all we like the new cantina bowl... Super!!! I have an idea for those "Sticky Rice & Floury Guaco" comments.... When i order my bowl i swap the Guaco for Sour cream... & I get extra sauce & Tomatoes and finally i add 2 of the mild hot sauces packets..... AWESOMMMMMEEEEE..... but then thats just the way i get mine

  20. Are you kidding? How can you compare taco bell to chipotle? It's like comparing a Toyota to a Lexus. The ingredients used at chipotle are organic and fresh. Nothing there is processed and anyone with taste buds know this.

  21. TOO OILY & it made me sick to my stomache;(

  22. not as good as chipotle.

  23. Gross. No way does this at all compare with Chipotle's fresh ingredients. Dressing saturated all of the lettuce (If I had known before hand there was dressing I would have asked to skip it). Chicken was weird. Corn had a distinct "from the can" taste. While pico was good, there needed to be more of it. The best thing about the cantina bowl - the guac - limey and flavorful. Definitely will not be reordering this one.

  24. My cantina bowl: heaping serving of rice. teaspoon of beans, teaspoon
    of corn, teaspoon of tomato, teaspoon of guacamole; lots of wilted
    lettuce, teaspoon of Chicken and a waste of $5.

  25. Just had my first cantina bowl. Very good! Just enough.

  26. just tried the chicken cantina bowl. i liked the flavors, filled me up but didnt leave me feeling like a greasy fast foodie, however, it's not worth $5.

  27. Please save your money...The cantina bowl is gross. The chicken was very white and with no seasoning what so ever. The rice was hard and flavorless, the sauce was runny...just all around bad!!!!

  28. Just tried it for the first time. It was decent, and I would probably get it again if someday Chipotle dropped off the Earth completely. However, my main issue is the value for the price. I can get the chicken burrito bowl with guac and chips at my local Chipotle for about $7.50, whereas this one came in around $5. The serving at Chipotle is enough for two meals for me, while the Cantina bowl was just enough for one. The value is really low for what I'm getting, especially due to the disparity in quality and flavor.

  29. This should be called the taco bell "Slop Bowl". Try one and you will know what I mean. Reminds me of a 7 layer burrito squeezed into a bowl. Unappetizing taste and appearance.

  30. currently still trying to hold it down and not puke lol. Most disgusting thing I've ever eaten at the bell

  31. well looks like my bowels weren't as successful holding back the bowl. making a run for the border now.

  32. This is amazing. Love the taste. So fresh and tasty. Delicious. I think this is the best thing Taco Bell has. Recommend to every one to taste

  33. Too salty. Dressing was more acidic than I'd like and consumers should be able to add as much as they want. Taste not well balanced as each individual ingredient by itself wasn't very flavorful but as a whole dependent on too much of the dressing to make the flavor. But kudos to taco bell got trying something new.

  34. Haven't had Taco Bell in about 5 or 6 years. The commercials reeled me back in. I really enjoy the cantina bowl...perfect for $5 @ 2am. Tasty sauce, crisp lettuce, flavorful corn and beans. Wish there was more chicken and rice though, and I thought the chicken could've beenore moist but it had great flavor. Would definite get it again!

  35. This is the worst fast food chain, XXL nachos were awful, also everytime I order a taco its all lettuce, I thought lettuce is a topping, not a main ingredient. I refuse to go to Taco Bell anymore, just terrible food and they always get orders wrong or I dont get sauce when I ask for it. If you do have a problem there, call 1800TACOBELL with your receipt and you will get two free items of your choice coupons in the mail. Oh yeah, the Sister company KFC is awful too, stopped going there 2 yrs ago, I go to Popeye's or get a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store now

  36. their salad is butt ugly nasty. still have a whang in my mouth.. never never never get one again..... terrible. not sure if black beans or olives, rice was mushy.... guess they ran to kfc to get the corn - that was the only decent/recognizable item in the container. save your buck. and no sour cream. should of got empanadas and said screw it with the salad at taco hell.


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