Fast Times

New Taco Bell Cantina Bell Salads Hit the Mark

I had had my eye on the Cantina Bell™ menu at Taco Bell for several weeks, and finally had the opportunity to try something over the weekend. The menu features three "Cantina bowl" salads -- chicken, steak and veggie -- as well as a Cantina Burrito, and "chips and sides" that include guacamole, pico de gallo, rice and beans, and a roasted corn and pepper salsa. The commercials for the new menu feature Chef Lorena Garcia prepping fresh veggies and lean proteins in beautiful, austere commercial kitchens -- the sort we are so likely to find at Taco Bell!

As I perused the drive-thru menu, I also noticed a new beverage -- a Frozen Strawberry Lemonade "Fruitista Freeze." I don't drink soda (nope, not even diet), but a nice, tart lemonade hits the spot once in a while, so I added a 16-ounce frozen lemonade to my Steak Cantina Bowl order and headed home to give the whole thing a taste test.

Let's get one thing out of the way: The frozen strawberry lemonade "Fruitista Freeze" was not for me. I like lemonade because it is tart -- I don't have much of a sweet tooth, especially when it comes to beverages -- so a sweetened lemonade-from-concentrate, with syrupy fruit on top, did not hit any of my spots. If you dig sweet, this drink is for you, but lovers of traditional, tart lemonade should beware.

The Steak Cantina Bowl salad was far more successful for me. Sure, the meat has that unmistakable fast-food texture -- slightly compressed, and machine-shaped -- but the steak still tasted pretty good. There are a lot of good flavors going on in the bowl which were highlighted against a bed of fresh, dark greens, a win for any fast-food salad. The Cantina Bowls layer salad on top of cilantro rice, with beans, roasted corn and pepper salsa, guacamole, and meat (steak or chicken; veggie is also available), all dressed with a creamy cilantro dressing. A little cilantro goes a long way for me, and the Taco Bell Cantina Bowl got it right. There is just enough brightness from the cilantro to complement the heavier flavors and textures of the beans, rice and meat, and it's especially yummy against the sweetness in the roasted corn and pepper salsa.

At 550 calories, this is a substantial, filling option from Taco Bell that I thoroughly enjoyed. Especially nice is the play of hot (rice and steak) against cold (greens), which was not lost even in the transportation back home. As is often the case with fast food, I would like more tomatoes in there -- to add freshness -- but this is as good a fast-food salad as I have come across. Kudos to Taco Bell, and to Chef Lorena Garcia.

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Christina Uticone