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We Drank Everything At Boozy Taco Bell (So You Don't Have To)

By Anthony Todd in Food on Sep 24, 2015 2:28PM

The Drink Menu at Taco Bell Cantina.
For weeks now, the internet has been abuzz with comment about the new Taco Bell Cantina in Wicker Park. Through-the-window shots of the backlit menu inspired whole news articles. At a press tasting (which I didn't attend), executives spouted buzzwords to describe the Cantina (which the press dutifully printed) like "transparency," "urbanization" and "green."

Yeah, right. It's a Taco Bell that pours shots of cheap liquor into its slushies. The only thing "green" (aside from the admittedly planet-friendly LED lighting) is the faintly glowing pallor of the Mountain Dew Baja Blast, and the only thing "urban" is that it happens to be located in the middle of a city block with much better options.

Here's the thing though: I had to try it.

So try it I did. I put my palate and my liver (and, it turns out, my credit score, but more on that later) on the line for you, dear reader. And, lest you think this is just an obvious hack job where a cocktail snob tears down fast food booze, it turns out I actually liked one of the drinks.

Let's start with the basics: Taco Bell Cantina is located in Wicker Park, on Milwaukee Avenue, and looks like a slightly upscale version of a Taco Bell. It's got a bit more wood paneling, an admittedly reassuring open kitchen, and some incongruous bottles of liquor behind the cash register. Despite the hype, there was no line while I was there.

Getting the booze turned out to be more complicated than one might think. The cashiers were adamant that they were only allowed to pour one drink per customer, and reminded every guest that drinks were dine-in only. Despite the plastic cup they're served in (and the fact that they are visually indistinguishable from non-alcoholic slushies), you have to enjoy your booze within the four walls of the Cantina.

I didn't literally drink everything that was available. This is because customers can choose the combinations of booze and slush, and there are three smoothies and three alcohol types. That's nine different options. I don't like you that much, reader. But I did try all three slushes, and in order to attempt to be fair to Taco Bell, I used my cocktail expertise to pick what I thought were the best possible combinations. For all the good that did.

Taco Bell Mountain Dew Baja Blast

First Drink: Mountain Dew Baja Blast With Ketel One Vodka

I felt vaguely embarrassed as I carried this ecto-cooler of a cocktail back to the rail to sip at it. My contemporaneous notes read: "Baja tastes like a green sour patch kid with all the delicious sour powder already licked off." This drink, whether by design or because it's frozen, takes everything good out of Mountain Dew (the delicious citrus kick, the caffeine rush) and replaces it with bland sweetness. Not worth ordering at any price, and certainly not worth the $6.69 I had to pay for it.

When I got this drink, I quickly realized that these are not actual boozy slushies as Chicagoans have come to love. The booze, rather than being incorporated into the drink, is simply poured on top of the slush before it's handed to you. So, your first sip is either a full on shot of vodka or a completely non-alcoholic drink. If you stir, it sort of mixes, but the volume is off. They are using automatic pourers, and I'm guessing there is between 1 and 1.5 ounces of liquor—for a slush that is at least 16 ounces. You're basically drinking a non-alcoholic drink with extra calories.

Taco Bell Cantina Punch

Second Drink: Cantina Punch with Captain Morgan White Rum

Here's the thing: This drink doesn't suck. While they append the "cantina" name to the drink, it's hawaiian punch that has been frozen. That's all it is. And if you can get over the slightly guilty feeling that you're adding rum to something you drank out of a juice box in third grade, it's not half bad. The flavor of the rum pairs well with the artificial red of the drink, and it has enough flavor to actually cut through the drink when stirred.

Should you actually order it if you're not forced to be here with friends who are all having drinks? Hell no. It's still an overpriced, ridiculous concoction. But this is about pain-avoidance, not drinking the best drink you can. You're at Taco Bell.

Taco Bell Cantina Margarita.

Third Drink: Cantina Margarita with Don Julio Tequila

Let me lead with this: If one of the many Republican primary candidates added to their platform that they would introduce a constitutional amendment which would prevent the name "margarita" from being appended to anything that had no actual fruit in it, I would change parties. I don't think a lime ever went near this drink, even in the factory. It's like someone froze bottled sour mix and ran it through a crushed ice machine. It's an affront to the name margarita.

The tequila may actually make it worse. It waters down the sheer artificial pucker flavor, and let's face it—if you're all in on this thing, you might as well make your face hurt.

Taco Bell Cabernet.

Fourth Drink: Stack Cabernet Savignon

At this point, even Chase realized that I was making bad life choices. After four trips to the cash register (because, you may recall, I had to buy these one at a time), my credit card was declined. Chase Fraud Services was probably concerned for my liver. Luckily, I had cash.

Taco Bell Cantina doesn't just serve cocktails—they also have wines and beers. The beers are hard to mess up (Dos Equis and Fat Tire) so I didn't try them. But the wines? Oy.

The glass of wine comes pre-poured and sealed with a little foil cap. I actually said out loud, in the restaurant, "I can't believe I'm peeling a foil cap off of a glass of cabernet and drinking it." Three ladies nearby asked to take a picture.

Also, all the wine is stored in the same fridge, so if you like drinking your cab at about 40 degrees, this is the place for you. It's from California and served in glass, and those are the only good things I have to say about it. On the other hand, anyone ordering wine at Taco Bell probably deserves whatever hell the gods choose to mete out.

As I left, feeling vaguely sick, I reflected: would I actually drink these given the choice? If I was already at Taco Bell Cantina, having somehow decided not to go to nearby Xoco, I would probably get the non-alcoholic version of the Cantina Punch. Aside from that, I can't really recommend the drinks, on taste or on price. The most expensive, tequila, costs more than $7. If you have $7 to blow on that, get extra guacamole instead.