ARTS

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January 11, 2022

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10:16 a.m.

Hyde Park Eats: Taco Bell Cantina


An array of dishes from the Taco Bell Cantina menu.

Courtesy of Taco Bell

Have you ever wanted to be able to grab an alcoholic Baja Blast and a box of $1.19 tacos in the same place? Well, wait no longer. Hyde Park’s hottest restaurant answers the question you never asked: What if you took Mexican food and took out everything that made it Mexican? And then deep-fried it and stuffed with molten cheese and your favorite brand of chips? If this fills you with a morbid curiosity, Taco Bell awaits.

Diners with previous Taco Bell experience may be intimidated by the urbane locale. No ordinary Taco Bell, the Cantina is instead upholstered in ultramodern brushed steel and sleek faux-walnut that is far removed from Taco Bell’s traditional vomit-yellow and puke-green palette. The electronic ordering tablets further contribute to the dystopian sci-fi atmosphere, though not as much as the food itself does.

Surely there is nowhere else where you can get a taco with a shell of fried chicken. While this is probably for the best, you must try this dish—the Naked Chicken Chalupa—at least once, if only to be able to say you did so. Much like April showers and May flowers, the Naked Chicken Chalupa is only available in the spring, so mark your calendar.

And how could you expect anything less from the visionaries who brought you the Doritos Locos Taco, which, upon its 2012 release date, shocked and horrified the American people while simultaneously confirming every negative stereotype the international community held of us but has since become a staple of the American diet? Or the further perversion that was the Doritos Cheesy Gordita Crunch Nacho Cheese, in which the already ungodly abomination that is the Doritos Locos Taco was subsumed into a blasphemous amalgamation of dripping cheese and deep-fried dough?

More recent highlights have included the Quesalupa, an unholy construction that finally answered the eternal question: what if you filled a deep-fried taco shell with cheese? It is fantastic, though as you eat it, you can’t help but feel that you’re taking years off your life with each bite. But this is exactly the ethos that Taco Bell represents, and it makes no qualms about this: Live fast, die young. If you’re eating Taco Bell, you already probably don’t care about your long-term prospects. You might as well enjoy your slide into ruinous depravity.

Much like the Naked Chicken Chalupa, the Quesalupa is a delicacy you have to try at least once. Unlike the chalupa, however, this one’s not to be eaten just for the story—it is an experience. You may regret it five minutes later, but in the moment, it is an epiphany. You find yourself thinking, “Wow, why don’t I eat Taco Bell more often? It’s pretty good.” It’s only later, as you lie on the bathroom floor, that you find yourself remembering, “Oh. That’s why.”

So too for the Spicy Potato Soft Taco, perhaps the healthiest thing on Taco Bell’s impressively artery-hardening menu. (There may be a salad, but, as nobody has ever ordered it, it will not be counted.) The potatoes are clearly (relatively) healthy, or Taco Bell wouldn’t periodically remove them from the menu for no other reason than to keep health-conscious customers on their toes. The restaurant’s steadfast refusal to be associated with health food is admirable, and it puts Taco Bell in the company of peers like Pizza Hut and KFC. (While beyond the scope of this piece, KFC’s twin horrors, the Fried Chicken & Doughnut Sandwich and the Double Down fried chicken hamburger, cannot go unnoticed. I implore you to do your own research.) While potential consumers must, as always, be careful—though the seasoned potatoes are uncharacteristically pleasant, the Taco Bell cheese is unmistakably noxious, and it must be avoided at all costs—the taco, ordered without cheese, is a surprising delight. As it can be purchased for as little as a dollar apiece, this is no small matter. Students on a budget could presumably live off of a daily handful of potato tacos, at least in the short term. However, the dish does come with one massive caveat: while the potatoes are delicious in the moment, as with McDonald’s fries, the second they become cold, they’re as rubbery and inedible as congealed lard. But this is the ultimate expression of the esprit de corps that illuminates Taco Bell: You’re here for a good time, not a long time. Live fast, die young, remember? Come on, have a Taco Bell Cinnabon Delight. You’re only alive once.

Unlike other Taco Bells, the Cantina also serves alcohol, because eating Taco Bell’s food apparently wasn’t self-destructive enough on its own. Overall, a 10/10 restaurant.