10 Facts To Know About Taco Bell's Cantina Brand

When a craving for a late-night snack hits, Taco Bell has come to our rescue time and time again to satisfy our hunger pangs. In 1962, former Marine Glen Bell opened the first Taco Bell restaurant in Downey, California. Since then, the Taco Bell franchise has expanded to 7,000 restaurants worldwide. The fast food restaurant has become synonymous with being the midnight munchie king of fast food because of its late operating hours and affordable Tex-Mex menu, perfect for satisfying hungry appetites in the late hours with flavorful food that will not break the bank.


In the last decade, Taco Bell has been trying to change the late-night snack stereotype that has become synonymous with its brand amongst the other fast food chains. Taco Bell's Cantina brand is a fairly new initiative, created as a detour from the typically fast food drive-thru experience and to show customers it can satisfy their cravings any time of day. Learn how the Cantina brand has shaped Taco Bell, and how it is taking the restaurant into the future of fast food.

The Taco Bell Cantina brand was started in 2015

The dawn of the Cantina brand began in 2015, when Taco Bell opened its first Cantina restaurant in Chicago, Illinois. This location was the first in a restaurant strategy focusing on two new types of Taco Bell eateries, called Cantinas and Urban Inlines. These new restaurants are strategically located in high-traffic locations in major cities around the U.S.; a significant piece of Taco Bell's brand strategy is catering to people living in urban environments. Cantinas and Urban Inlines offer a brand new take on classic Taco Bell in a more trendy fashion with modern designs. Urban Inlines and Cantinas are both very similar except for one key difference: Cantina locations typically serve alcohol, while Urban Inlines do not.


There are a few major differences that set Urban Inline and Cantina restaurants apart from other Taco Bell locations. These restaurants do not have drive-thrus, making it more of a sit-down experience with popular decor concepts and an emphasis on bringing modern experiences to restaurant-goers by incorporating technology into the experience. A reimagined menu created specifically for these locations helped to differentiate the new restaurant concept from other Taco Bell restaurants.

Cantinas reinvent Taco Bell's brand mission

Taco Bell Cantina and Urban Inlines pushed the fast food chain into new, trendy restaurant categories in different ways than the normal Taco Bell restaurants was capable of. Taco Bell's breakfast menu has shown success since its launch as a delicious and quick way to grab a morning meal, and the Cantina brand encourages hungry guests to enjoy the restaurant chain's Tex-Mex menu in the daytime.


The new Cantina and Urban Inline restaurants challenge conventions in the fast food industry with city-like touches in decor, shareable plates, and boozy drinks that appeal to people living in urban environments. Digital menu boards and flat-screen television monitors modernize the ordering process in person as mobile ordering and online payment allow restaurant patrons to order in a fast and easy manner. Comfy seating and popular restaurant amenities encourage customers to stay longer and enjoy their food without the drive-through rush. The Cantina and Urban Inline restaurants' clear distinction from the typical Taco Bell locations has set it apart from the fast food category and into the fast-casual sector that we have come to recognize with other popular chains like Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread.


Locations were chosen to ditch the drive-thru

The Taco Bell Cantina brand restaurants were strategically planned for urban environments and large cities due to their high foot traffic. Stores in Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, and New York were among the first Cantinas open for business. When scoping out locations for Cantinas and Urban Inlines, the company gravitated towards buildings in city spaces with no room for a drive-through. These locations provided the perfect opportunity for these new Taco Bell experiences.


With the main concept of these new restaurants being an upscale and relaxed eatery, sacrificing the drive-through for a space to walk into and interact with was essential. In high-traffic areas like cities, pedestrians who typically do a lot of walking around the neighborhood could easily walk into the Cantina restaurants and utilize the space to eat, work, or hang out. This allows Taco Bell Cantinas and Urban Inlines to offer a break from the fast-paced city atmosphere, putting an emphasis on taking time to relax with menu items and stay for a while.

Cantinas feature new trendy restaurant designs

One aspect of the new strategy that the Taco Bell Cantina brand incorporates into its restaurant locations is decor and design. Stylish building concepts and decorative elements played an important role in differentiating Cantinas and Urban Inlines from the typical Taco Bell restaurants. One important aspect of the design was including an open kitchen concept where restaurant patrons have a view of the cooking process going on behind the scenes.


As far as decor, every aspect of these restaurants' designs incorporated trendy concepts to match urban life in the city. Taco Bell Cantinas and Urban Inlines proudly displays localized artwork native to the city, creating a unique experience for each venue. 

You can order booze at a Taco Bell

Taco Bell Cantinas make an adult-oriented change to the drink menu with the addition of alcoholic options. Taco Bell's signature freezes are given a boozy twist that turns the originally zero-proof slushes into a frozen cocktail called Twisted Freezes. Varieties available are Cantina Punch, Cantina Margarita, and Mountain Dew Baja Blast, all of which can be made boozy with the choice of rum, tequila, or vodka. Cantina restaurants also serve beer, wine, and sangria.


Since this was a big diversion from the traditional Taco Bell beverage menu, a few adaptations needed to be made to ensure serving alcohol would feel like a natural addition to Cantina restaurants, while complying with local alcohol regulations. Alcoholic beverages cannot be taken on the go. Additionally, Twisted Freezes are poured into special cups to help it visually stand out from the booze-free versions, and only one serving of rum, tequila, or vodka can be added to a Twisted Freeze.

Cantinas were designed for lunching and lounging

Since the Urban Inline and Cantina restaurants were planned for customers to skip the drive-through line, the interior was designed to be cozy, enabling customers to sit and stay for a while. Access to the restaurants' Wi-Fi is offered for free, a serious perk for the tech-savvy crowd, providing the opportunity for a casual workspace and further evolving Cantinas out of the fast food category.


The new Cantina brand restaurant menus encourage the lunch-and-lounge atmosphere. Taco Bell Cantinas offer boozy drinks (that need to be sipped on-site) and new shareable offerings, perfect for splitting amongst a group. These restaurants provided an opportunity to take the time to sit back and relax, rather than rushing through the drive-through and grabbing food on the go.

Taco Bell introduced the new Cantina Chicken menu in 2024

The Cantina brand does not stop at this new restaurant concept. This year, Taco Bell introduced the newest addition to its Tex Mex lineup at its fast food locations, the Cantina Chicken menu. According to Taco Bell, fans have been craving more chicken items on the menu. The Cantina Chicken menu brings an upscale chicken variety to customers that promises bold flavors. Cantina chicken is slow-roasted with garlic, onion, chilies, and other Mexican spices.


Five new menu items are being offered, including crispy and soft Cantina Chicken Tacos, the Cantina Chicken Quesadilla, the Cantina Chicken Burrito, and the Cantina Chicken Bowl. And there's no need to fret about these new dishes leaving like the beloved Nacho Fries; Taco Bell has assured us that the Cantina Chicken menu is here to stay as a permanent addition to the regular menu.

The new menu showcases five new premium ingredients in their Cantina Chicken menu offerings. Aside from slow-roasted Cantina chicken, new ingredients include shredded fresh purple cabbage, white corn tortilla shells fried daily, freshly prepared pico de gallo, and Taco Bell sauce packets of avocado verde salsa made with real avocado included with each new menu item. All of these ingredients make the new menu feel vibrant and fresh, and Taco Bell expects to add over 2.5 million pounds of additional produce in 2024, thanks to the fresh ingredients in the Cantina Chicken menu.


The menu was available for limited time early access

Back in February 2024, the Cantina Chicken menu was unveiled at the first-ever Live Más live event in Las Vegas. At this premiere event, Taco Bell announced many new menu offerings coming to restaurants for the year, including the new Cantina Chicken dishes. Attendees of the event got an insider look at the marketing calendar for the year and participated in exclusive tasting opportunities, including a first glimpse at the new Taco Bell menu offerings, and had a chance to sample the new menu months before its release nationwide.


Not far behind the Live Más event attendees, Taco Bell Rewards members got the chance to try the early access menu in March 2024. Anyone who registered as a new Taco Bell Rewards member was gifted a free Cantina Chicken Crispy Taco as an added bonus. The Cantina Chicken menu is available now to all customers in Taco Bell restaurants.

Live Más with new menu additions coming soon in 2024

The Cantina Chicken menu is not the only bit of Taco Bell food news to look forward to this year. Big changes are coming to Taco Bell in 2024, including a new Veggie Build Your Own Cravings Box with a variety of vegetarian items to choose from, the return of Double Stacked Tacos (a crispy taco wrapped in a soft tortilla with melty cheese sauce holding it all together), and the launch of new Cravings Kits to make dinnertime at home a breeze.


Many new menu offerings will be making their way into restaurants this year. Over a dozen dishes from the Taco Bell Test Kitchen will be headed to participating locations, including the Crispy Chicken Crispanada (a crispy chicken and cheese empanada), Crispy Chicken Nuggets, and the highly anticipated Mountain Dew Baja Blast gelato. This year also comes with a whole slew of brand partnerships like Tajín, Cheez-It, Salt & Straw, and Beekeeper Cafe to name a few.