I’ve posted before about the noticeable shift in focus and price hike Taco Bell has undergone recently. Actually, on a recent T-Bell trip, the Loaded Grillers themselves had been hiked to about $1.19, making them all but worthless. But the flip side of Taco Bell’s gentrification is a new classier menu by celebrity chef Lorena Garcia, the Cantina line. These new offerings include a couple of burritos and salads, as well as a new guacamole, made with Hass avocados (a distinction that sounds fancy but means nothing to me. Hass avocados could very well be the lowest quality avocados that can legally be sold, for all I know).

Surprisingly enough, it actually looks a lot like this in real life. Who would've guessed?

Surprisingly enough, it actually looks a lot like this in real life. Who would’ve guessed?

I’ve had both the steak and the chicken Cantina burritos, and I’m of two minds about them. On the one hand, it’s nice to see Taco Bell branching out a little bit. In addition to the meats, the burritos contain black beans and rice, guacamole, pico de gallo, roasted corn and pepper salsa, and a cilantro dressing. There are a lot of comparatively new items here, and both the ingredients (corn and cilantro especially) and the combinations (it’s basically all sauces and medleys working together) show the clear involvement of a master chef. It’s a tasty burrito set apart from normal Taco Bell fare. But at the same time, it’s very similar to the kind of thing you can get a Chipotle or Qdoba, not to mention any number of local places. It’s a big step for Taco Bell because the bar is set comparatively low, but what’s remarkable here is only kind of average elsewhere.

The Cantina Burrito goes for about $7.50 in a combo, and is a dollar or so cheaper a la carte. It’s on the pricier end of the menu, and it’s kind of a hard sell compared to other stuff both here and elsewhere. But if Taco Bell wants to refine and rebrand a little bit, as it seems they do, it’s a good start, and I’d recommend checking it out if for no other reason than to see where things may be going.

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Red Robin can be a little pricey, but they deliver tasty burgers and sandwiches with neat concepts behind them on a fairly regular basis. It’s usually more a question of if I can budget going to Red Robin than if I’m interested. But I had a birthday recently and wanted to celebrate a little, so I headed out to Red Robin and tried their new Onion Onion Burger. I’ve got my thoughts below, but really, it all comes down to your answer to one question:

How much do you like onions?

DC Comics has recently tried to apply the name "Red Robin" to a couple Batman-related superheroes. In the same vein, I'm proud to announce my new vigilante, T.G.I.Friday, the End of the Weak!!

DC Comics has recently tried to apply the name “Red Robin” to a couple Batman-related superheroes. In the same vein, I’m proud to announce my new vigilante, T.G.I.Friday, the End of the Weak!!

There are a LOT of onions on this burger. There are sauteed onions by the boatload. There are crispy fried onion straws mixed in. There’s also a garlic Parmesan spread, but that’s the only non onion-based topping. It even comes on an onion bun. I liked this burger quite a bit. I think the combination of onions and steak is a great one, and I’m always a fan of an interesting bun deployed well. But even as a moderate onion fan, it was a little bit much for me. It’s not the kind of burger you should order every day.

The Onion Onion Burger is actually a little less expensive than most Red Robin burgers at $7.99, probably owing to the relative simplicity and availability of the ingredients. Do not order this burger on a date. Do not order this burger on a business luncheon. Don’t order this burger any time you have to talk to anyone for a prolonged period of time during of after eating it. But if you’re an onion fan like me, and you want to celebrate your love of the onion, then by all means, order this burger.

Growing up in Ann Arbor, I’ve walked past the Red Hawk Grill countless times. I actually get my hair cut around the block, so I’ve spent literal years walking past it. But it wasn’t until a recent recommendation by a friend that I decided to actually head in and give it a shot. And boy, am I ever glad I did. The Red Hawk Grill serves most bar & grill standards (burger, steaks, some seafood and pasta), but with a modern, inventive twist. A number of their offerings include Asian or Southwestern elements, and while I wouldn’t quite call it “fusion cuisine” (the atmosphere isn’t nearly austere enough for that moniker, for one thing), they have a number of clever, clearly carefully planned sandwiches and burgers. While I’d normally start with a basic hamburger of chicken club sandwich, the Peanut-Crusted Shrimp Burger caught my eye. A burger made of shrimp!! Could it be?

I know it sounds crazy, but just go with me here for a minute.

I know it sounds crazy, but just go with me here for a minute.

I wasn’t disappointed. My key concern, the amount and quality of the shrimp, was perfect. The core of the burger was a large patty made of shrimp meat, with a thin, subtle crust of chopped peanuts. The meat was high-quality, not scrapped together from cocktail shrimps as I had feared. It also had a nice, full texture, and was firm enough to hold together as I ate it. It came topped with a chile mayonnaise and a sweet and sour cucumber relish, which were tangy and flavorful, but still toned down enough for the shrimp to shine. I’ll need to head back soon to see how they do with actual ground beef and chicken breasts, but this burger pulled off something I previously would’ve called impossible.

Burgers and sandwiches at Red Hawk generally go for $8-9, with an extra $2 for fries. This burger, at least, is a steal at that price. Next time you’re on State Street near Liberty, I’d definitely recommend checking it out. I can’t wait until I’m there again to try something else new, this was a first impression that did not disappoint.

Anyone who’s stopped by Taco Bell recently has noticed something upsetting. There’s been some rather insidious price-gauging going on, and nearly everything’s been moved a price-point. That’s an increase of about 20-50 cents, depending on the item. This has thrown my usual meal (Crispy Potato Soft Taco, Beefy 5-Layer Burrito, and Chicken Burrito) into disarray. As a partial solution to the problem, Taco Bell introduced their Loaded Grillers line, a series of small, grilled wraps for 99 cents apiece. Are they enough to fill the hole in my heart?

Oh man, I forgot about this. They're also trying to market these as a viable alternative to classic Game Day food. Seriously?

Oh man, I forgot about this. They’re also trying to market these as a viable alternative to classic Game Day food. Seriously?

Yes and no. The Grillers are up and down, depending on their content, but overall they’re not super satisfying or filling. Let’s move into specifics.

  • The Spicy Buffalo Chicken Griller was my least favorite. My disdain for buffalo sauce is well known at this point, but more than that, I felt that the combination of chicken, Lava sauce, and sour cream was missing an essential third element, like cheese or tomatoes or something. I wanted more from it, and I didn’t like what I did get out of it.
  • The Beefy Nacho Griller fared a bit better. It combined ground beef, nacho cheese, and slightly spicy Fritos-style red corn chips into something akin to a Volcano burrito. It comes together nicely, but again, the smaller size leaves me wanting a bit more.
  • My favorite, surprisingly enough, was the Loaded Potato Griller. I’ve said before that adding potatoes to a wrap is a great way to round out the flavor and make it more filling, and indeed, this sandwich reminded me a lot of a Menna’s Dub. The Griller combines potatoes, bacon, nacho cheese, and sour cream into a filling, flavorful meal. This is the only one of the bunch I can see making it into my regular rotation.

All in all, the Loaded Grillers were pretty disappointing. While I enjoyed the Loaded Potato, the other two felt like smaller versions of other items, or at worst things thrown together from scraps, like the ill-fated Chicken Flatbread. Check them out if you want, but you’d be better off resigning yourself to paying a little more at the register.