According to a recent investor conference, Taco Bell‘s chief executive Greg Creed told investors and analysts that 2011 had been a terrible year for the brand (NRN).
Apparently the lawsuit attacking the chain’s seasoned beef coupled with a relative shortage of new products during the course of the year seemed to truly rattle the fast food giant. The conference wasn’t all negative though — the light at the end of the tunnel being the agressive product lineup they have ready for 2012.
When Creed was asked about rebooting core ingredients, posed as a comparison to Chipotle Mexican Grill’s success as a fast-casual Mexican chain, he was quick to note that Chipotle is less a competitor, but the comparison opens up an opportunity to create similar quality items at a cheaper price.
The first of these higher quality, more economical efforts? Taco Bell Signatures.
The Chef’s Signature lineup was helped developed by Miami-based chef Lorena Garcia. Upgrades include a reformulation of several key ingredients, from the beans, pico de gallo, marinades and seasonings on the chicken and steak.
The lineup, which we hear is slated for debut sometime next year, was quietly waiting for us at a Costa Mesa, CA location near our office.
Of course, we jumped at the opportunity to try what we will naively pose as possible Chipotle-competition. The menu was relatively simple to understand — three main groups of items, all priced out at $2.99, boasting NEW INGREDIENTS, NEW FLAVORS. No word if this will be how the menu actually comes to fruition when brought out nationally (if it ever does), but it works as is.
A group of 3 signature tacos, with your choice of Chicken, Veggie, or Steak (we ordered one of each), was among the first group of items we tried:
All three were delicious. The meats were great, the seasoning was quality, and the pico de gallo with charred corn was…in the words of my man Jason Segel from the 2009 film I Love You, Man, “a revalation.“
One of the hidden gems of the taco (which will also prove to ring true in both the burrito and salad bowl) is the quality of the beans. The addition of black beans works exceptionally well with all the tacos, particularly the Veggie option, which relies heavily on it without the use of Chicken or Steak as a main protein.
Pictured above is Rudy getting throat-deep in the Steak burrito offering. As you can see, the size is respectable, and the flavors are on par with the quality of the tacos. The burrito isn’t the size of a Chipotle burrito, but for the price ($2.99), it’s definitely worth every penny.
Lastly, we ordered up their Signature Bowl (also $2.99), an accumulation of all the ingredients, alongside a bed of seasoned rice, and the dollop of guacamole was a great touch. Here’s a look after I stirred it all up: