Chef Garcia Helping Taco Bell Upgrade Its Menu

If you’re planning to make a run for the border in the coming months, you may soon find some unexpected items on the Taco Bell menu…

The fast-food chain is getting an upscale makeover this summer, with a little help from celebrity chef Lorena Garcia, who was born and raised in Venezuela.

Chef Lorena Garcia

In early July, Taco Bell plans to rollout an updated menu with new additions created by Garcia for its nearly 5,600 U.S. restaurants.

The new items will feature ingredients like black beans, cilantro rice, citrus- and herb-marinated chicken and cilantro dressing.

Taco Bell

The introduction of the items that Taco Bell executive Brian Niccol calls “gourmet Mexican,” is the company’s way of venturing onto the turf of casual-dining chains like Chipotle and Qdoba, two chains known for higher-quality ingredients.

It’s a departure from Taco Bell standards like tacos, burritos and chalupas that the fast-food company’s core young-adult customers have grown to love, although those mainstays will remain on the menu.

Menu items like the Cantina Burrito Bowl and the Cantina Burrito, according to Niccol, are aimed at customers looking for more than a quick bite on the go.

Taco Bell's Cantina Menu

Niccol credits Garcia, who will appear on Bravo‘s Top Chef Masters this summer, as the force behind the Cantina Bell menu that the chain hopes to eventually expand.

“She brought a lot of new thinking, a lot of fresh approaches to our ingredients that change the flavor profile of the brand,” Niccol said.

The additions, which will go nationwide on July 5, will cost more than Taco Bell’s customers have paid in the past, but the new items will also be bigger than the chain’s regular burritos. The Cantina Burrito Bowl and Cantina Burrito, offered with chicken or steak, will sell for nearly $5 a piece. A vegetarian option will be offered, also for nearly $5.

Side dishes include chips and pico de gallo or corn salsa, chips and guacamole, or black beans and rice. Each will sell for $1.49.

Garcia, a featured guest on NBC‘s Today and The Biggest Loser, started working with Taco Bell in the fall of 2010.

“They were looking to … expand their food to offer new flavors with great taste,” she said. “I saw this as an opportunity to help create diversity to the Taco Bell experience.”