The chain that El Jefe loves to hate has been on a mission to up the ante. Remember their attempt at breakfast? Those Doritos tacos? Now they want to knock on Chipotle territory. I had a fast food childhood of the Bell, but spent a large part of the last decade chowing Chipotle fare. We were curious to compare.
Sure, we could've taken the El Pollo Loco route, or gone banzai at Wahoo's. But what compelled us to duel these in particular, if anything, was the fact that Lorena Garcia actually judged with Steve Ells on America's Next Great Restaurant last year. One of the challenges even involved contestants taking over the lunch shift at one of his branches. Was the saucy lady already doing work for Taco Bell back then? Maybe. Did she make mental notes on all things Chipotle? You betcha. Our duel is to see how she fared.
To level the playing field further, we'll preface this by saying that I don't normally choose chicken at either chain. We are a fan of all things carnitas at Chipotle, but typically stick to the ground “beef” at Taco Bell. It was chicken all the way for both entrees. And so we begin.
Price-wise, Taco Bell is clearly cheaper at $4.79, compared to Chipotle's $6.25. A gap of over a buck is like passing on the beverage; it's enough of a difference. In weight, Chipotle had more total mass. No, we didn't bust out a scale, but it was clearly the case.
Their ingredients had obvious differences. Lettuce in our Cantina bowl threw us off. They fail to even mention the greens on their website. Was this a salad, minus the crispy, 500+ calorie tostada shell? It had a creamy cilantro dressing, so that would be a “Yes”. Guacamole would've cost us extra at Chipotle (but it was included at Taco Bell), so we stuck with cheese and sour cream. Oh, and the addition of pico de gallo makes FOUR condiments in that lightweight cantina. We like having more stuff, since that should mean more flavor. But four?
When we break it down between individual components, we were going head-to-head with a few shared ingredients: chicken, black beans, corn salsa and rice. The quality of these would matter the most.
And since we eat with our eyes first, in appearance, Chipotle was pretty vanilla with its yellow, white, and brown. We're betting half the reason behind all that jazz in Cantina territory had to do with red and green hues. So what they didn't have in heft, they made up for in looks. Did I just insult someone?
We heart rice, so it was a little disappointing to find that the grains in our Cantina bowl were muddled from sauce overload. Even with a couple of layers of dairy, Chipotle's cilantro lime version was distinguishable. And their salsa reigns surpreme, incorporating jalapeno and poblano heat with red onion and cilantro. The Cantina had red and green peppers, and that's all.
Black beans tasted more like an afterthought for Cantina bell, but possessed a little more integrity at Chipotle. But the chicken sealed the deal. There was a stronger flavor profile, in our opinion, with Chipotle. It was just better.
If you're seeking a salad bar of flavors, we say step right up and grab a Cantina bowl. However a bowl is a bowl, and should not be mistaken for a salad. Our version of a Hungry Man dinner is Chipotle, without a doubt.