Yeah, I know. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Taco Bell is arguably the biggest force behind the rampant Americanization…hell, let’s just call it what it is…the dumbing down of Mexican food. Now they, like Taco Time, have their version of street tacos, except they’re calling them “cantina tacos“. Bull muffins. If you wrap two corn tortillas around a little pile of meat, onion and cilantro, you’re trying to emulate street tacos. At least Taco Time had the cojones to use the name.
Believe it or not I actually dig Taco Time to an extent, but I don’t trick myself into believing it’s Mexican food. The crisp “burritos” are a particular weakness of mine. That having been said, their “street tacos” are absolutely horrible (you can read more of my thoughts here). And now, a potentially similar abomination threatens from their bigger, meaner cousin. And though I should know better, once again I fell victim to my own morbid curiosity…
I first heard about these cantina tacos a few days ago from my mother who had seen an ad somewhere. I told my girlfriend, as she and the kids are both big Taco Bell fans. Sure enough, the next time she went there she tried one of the chicken ones and proclaimed it “pretty tasty”. Of course, she’s only ever been to one taco truck so she wasn’t able to give me much idea as to the authenticity. Today, I found myself in the drive-through lane at the eldest child’s request, agonizing over whether to try them or go somewhere else for my own dinner. The deciding factor is that they have a three cantina tacos combo, and since there are three kinds I got one of each. The meal cost me five bucks (technically $6.89, as I didn’t realize this combo didn’t include a drink). All the time I’m seeing pictures of these things on the menu board, signage, in the windows, and I have to admit they look pretty decent. This is what the ads show:
|Not bad looking, if you ignore the nuclear green lime…|
I was even willing to accept that these tacos are more expensive than my beloved truck tacos. They are, after all, stuffed quite a bit fuller. They finally hand me my order, and déjà vu…no authentic Mexican style sauce or salsa to accompany the supposedly authentic Mexican style tacos, which are handed to me individually wrapped in foil and dropped into a plastic bag. Now, the trucks usually give you your food on a paper plate covered with foil. Taco Time actually gave me their version on a plastic platter with a lid. I shrug this off and go home to open these things up and see what I’m dealing with. Take a good look at the picture above again. With me? This is what I had when I got home:
|Chicken, steak and pork carnitas “cantina tacos” from Taco Bell|
Okay, so they’re not stuffed quite as full as the picture would indicate. At least the limes look normal. The chicken one is acceptable, it has a strong cilantro taste that almost obscures the chicken. A squeeze of lime gives it some tang but doesn’t do much to help the fact that the chicken and the tortillas both are kind of dry. All I’ve got to help them are the standard unholy trinity of Taco Bell sauces, and a squirt of the “hot” variety gives the taco a little moisture and heat, but unfortunately also makes it taste even more like Taco Bell food. Let’s take a closer look at that steak one now…
Okay, this one’s a little juicier and doesn’t need as much help. It actually ends up being my favorite of the three since the beef has a decent flavor and I don’t have to muck it up with Taco Bell sauce to give it enough moisture to be edible. One question though: these are soft corn tortillas, so why are they ripped? For the answer to that, let’s move on to the pork taco…
All of the tacos were initially folded up like this, kind of the same way the cheese roll-ups on their value meal are presented. The creases caused by the fold job are where the tortillas started to fall apart as I ate these things. To be fair, my girl said that the chicken ones she purchased weren’t presented this way, but at the same time I would think a national chain of this size would do a better job of teaching their crew how to prepare a promotional or special item. The true horror is yet to come though. See that soupy mess leaking from the end of that thing? Let’s open it up and see what we’re dealing with…
What the hell is all that moisture? The ad said slow-roasted pork, not pork in gravy. If that was any wetter, it would be a stew. And beyond that, it tasted awful, the way a really weak gravy, a soda in which the ice has melted, or anything watered down does. That soupy mess actually tasted more like chicken broth it was so weak. The cilantro and onion couldn’t cover it up, and even another squirt of lime and an entire packet of hot sauce couldn’t make it edible.
Not that long ago, I got a meal at Tacos Mobil Primo on Franklin and Curtis. It was roughly the same price, no drink but it came with four tacos plus rice and beans. Not only was it a better value, but the tacos blew these out of the water easily.
|Asada and carnitas tacos from Tacos Mobile Primo|
Furthermore, as I said in a recent post, there is a truck in this town where you can get a combo meal with five tacos, rice, beans, and a can of soda for $6.50 (write-up coming soon I promise, but if you can’t wait it’s called Tacos Velos and it’s on Fairview in front of A-1 Pawn). Sad that a corporate giant like Taco Bell can’t even come close to competing with that kind of value or quality.
As I type this, I’m still feeling queasy from that pork roll-up, and implore you once again to try the real stuff. The trucks are everywhere, and there are even a few stands and a couple of Mexican grocers with in-house taquerias. There’s just no excuse to eat the garbage the fast food chains are pushing. And if you don’t have the guts to “break the chains”, at least go to Baja Fresh. You’ll pay a little more, but they have the same style tacos (“orginal baja” tacos) available and made with much, much better ingredients.