Taco Bell’s New Cantina Restaurants Will Serve Up Booze, Tapas

As we reported many months ago, Taco Bell has been prepping a booze-serving location in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. That store opens this week, and the company says it’s just the start of a plan to serve up more adult fare through a new “Cantina” version of the fast food mainstay.

Unlike its traditional restaurants, the urban-centered Taco Bell Cantina version – which is meant to better compete with fast-casual eateries like Chipotle – will lack drive-thrus and be equipped with open-air kitchens where customers can see ingredients clearly from the front of the stores, the company announced on Tuesday.

The restaurants, which will also utilize digital menu boards, television monitors and allow visitors to place orders and pay for their meals via dedicated mobile apps, are designed to focus on “simplifying and modernizing the restaurant experience” in urban areas of the country.

While Taco Bell says it’s still evaluating an expansion plan for the new eateries, a second Cantina restaurant is slated to open in San Francisco later this month.

“These new urban restaurants are a critical part of our growth strategy in markets where people experience our brand differently,” Brian Niccol, chief executive officer, Taco Bell Corp., said. “Today’s consumers are living in more urban settings and our new restaurants cater to their lifestyle in adapting our traditional restaurant concept to fit their modern needs.”

Each Cantina restaurant will feature varying alcoholic beverages: the Chicago restaurant will serve beer, wine, sangria, and boozy slushies called Freezes, while the San Francisco location will serve only beer and wine.

Menus at the locations will feature Taco Bell’s traditional items, as well as tapas-style appetizers meant to be shared amongst groups.

The new Cantina-style restaurant isn’t Taco Bell’s first attempt to enter the fast-casual market. Last year, the company announced plans to open a new upscale eatery called U.S. Taco Co. that served “American-inspired” tacos and other American dishes, as well as boozy milkshakes.

While the U.S. Taco Co. location eventually opened in California, the company at first postponed plans to serve alcohol after it was unable to obtain a liquor license. The eatery — in Huntington, CA — recently began offering some alcohol options, like craft beer in cans, and mimosas.

When asked what the Cantina line plans meant for U.S. Taco Co., a Taco Bell rep told Consumerist that the company is not yet ready to make any announcements about this more upscale venture.

[via The Wall Street Journal]

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