Restaurant News & Reviews

Raleigh is getting a Taco Bell Cantina. (That’s the one with the alcohol.)

Raleigh’s booming restaurant scene has attracted one of the rarest creatures in American fast food: a Taco Bell with booze.

The innovators behind such creations as fried chicken as a taco, an egg as a taco and a Dorito as a taco finally pulled the low-hanging fruit and will serve beer, wine and spiked frozen drinks.

A Taco Bell Cantina will open at 2304 Hillsborough St. in Raleigh, according to permits filed with the city. That’s next door to Smashed Waffles and right across the street from N.C. State.

Building permits for the Hillsborough Cantina were approved this month, and movement already has begun in the space. Taco Bell did not respond to multiple requests seeking more details and a potential timeline.

Taco Bell introduced its Cantina offshoots a couple of years ago, opening the first in Chicago. Nearly a dozen more followed, including a two-story flagship in Las Vegas, complete with a gift shop. The Cantinas seem to separate themselves from the old-fashioned Taco Bells with shareable menu items, digital screens and a more modern design aesthetic of neon, polished wood and exposed brick.

Taco Bell Vegas5
The menu at the Taco Bell flagship in Las Vegas shows a Cantina-style menu: shareable menu items, beer, sangria and alcohol slushies. Matt Prince Taco Bell

The company launched the Cantinas as a way to reclaim downtown relevance, shrugging off drive-thrus for sidewalks in urban markets increasingly unlikely to drive out to the suburbs for a cheesy gordita crunch. Also alcohol. Alcohol is kind of the story here.

The Hillsborough Street Cantina will have two frozen slushie machines mixing up what Taco Bell calls Twisted Freezes, fruity vessels for tequila, vodka or rum. Alcohol can also be added to Mountain Dew Baja Blast, found only at Taco Bell.

All Cantina locations also serve draft beer, and for some, there’s even a proprietary amber called Beach Bell modeled after Mexican lagers. There will also be sangria and wine.

Plans filed with Raleigh show around 30 seats, plus an outdoor patio on Hillsborough Street. The middle of the dining room will feature a tall table flanked by stools. Photos from other locations show a coffee shop level of electrical outlets in case diners care to hang out with their laptops.

Raleigh’s location is part of a push by Taco Bell to open more than 300 of its Cantina concepts nationwide within five years. The online blog ITB Insider first reported the concept would come to Raleigh.

Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson

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