Not Your Traditional Review: A personal take on Taco Bell’s flashier, boozier offshoot

A personal take on Taco Bell’s flashier, boozier offshoot

Colorful decor at the Cantina.

By Jason Kron. Photos by Allyson Bills. March 2019 Issue.

Downtown Phoenix has been changing, and some have been using terms such as “revitalized” to imply that the change has been positive.

The upper classes have been descending upon the district, largely oblivious to the artistic endeavors of past residents who have been forced to leave due to rent inflation.

Pricy, “high-vibe” food fare with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options have populated the properties, but more importantly, where does this leave Taco Bell?

As has been portrayed in countless works of film and literature, the well-to-do delight in the occasional act of “slummin’ it,” cheating on their juicing diets and “being bad.” But up until now, the new downtown hasn’t offered its clientele the ability to experience chains such as Taco Bell without having to go to a real Taco Bell and be in line with people that they may consider to be lowlifes (such as myself).

What if someone wants to enjoy a Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco and take their date to a joint that feels fancy AF? Alas, the gods of gentrification have smiled upon the area and blessed them with Taco Bell Cantina.

The Second Street and Jefferson location is convenient for local workers on foot during their lunch breaks. Unfortunately, it lacks a drive-thru for those of us who are looking for a quick fix and need to eat our burritos alone in a den of darkness.

One has to actually enter the establishment to get their grub, where they’ll encounter EDM playing at club-level volume coming out of the “Feed the Beat” sound system. You can watch one of the three massive TV screens while standing in line, or you can admire a roughly 15-foot painting of the various Taco Bell hot sauce packets and the sassy sayings that they sport.

There’s a basket of peppermints at the counter for those who for whatever reason wouldn’t want the taste of gorditas to linger on their lips. One can wash down their meal with an imported beer or even an alcoholic slushy (of which the options include spiked Mountain Dew). Depending on the kind of person you are, this may sound delightful. For me, it’s like having a lifelong best friend that you think you know better than yourself, but one day you go over to their house and see that suddenly they’re not into punk rock and skateboarding anymore, that they now obsess over smooth jazz and rollerblading. Who is this person? What is reality?

But then there’s the food, which is like having a conversation with your rollerblading friend and realizing that you still have things in common despite their perplexing transformation. The classics that we all know and love return for this incarnation of Taco Bell, and they taste exactly the same and as amazing as they do at every other location in the world. In the fucked-up world in which we live, the consistency of Taco Bell’s menu everywhere you go creates a much-needed small sense of comfort.

In today’s volatile world, the only thing we can all agree on is Taco Bell. Therefore, entering a Taco Bell is equivalent to setting foot in a real-life utopia, where everyone puts aside their differences and unites over their unequivocal love of Chalupas and Crunchwraps.

Jalapeno Dippers from the Shareables menu.

If only we could turn all of Earth into one giant Taco Bell, we would have a world where everyone was too high on MSG to start wars.

But why is my favorite chain trying to up the swankiness here? It could be argued that this is a signal of Taco Bell selling out, sacrificing the original ambiance that made up half its appeal in a chase for the new downtown’s dollar. Is it that, or are they trying to bring the gentrifiers over to the Taco Bell way of thinking? Are they trying to change the system from the inside? Or is Taco Bell doing this because they just want to try new things and meet new people?

Though it’s easy to assume the worst, I am trying to give Taco Bell the benefit of the doubt as I work through my general trust issues. It’s been a close companion and confidant throughout my whole life. After my parents divorced, my dad would pick me up every Friday, and we’d get double-decker tacos without fail, an attempt on my part to be more like Shaq. (look up the classic commercials on YouTube.)

When I learned to drive, the first place I went was to Taco Bell. The day my child was born, I eventually got hungry and wanted to celebrate this incredible occasion within the walls of my favorite establishment. Though those whom we love may change, our love for them leads to the desire to believe that they intend only the best with their actions, even if those actions make no sense to us.

So, to Taco Bell Cantina, I wish you the best of luck on your journey to being who you want to be. Though the new you may make me uncomfortable, I’ll always be here for you.