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The first Taco Bell Cantina in Wicker Park, Chicago.
The first Taco Bell Cantina in Wicker Park, Chicago.
Marc Much/Eater Chicago

Taco Bell is trying to grow beyond the world of drive-thrus and draw a hipper clientele. The chain is expanding its new Cantina brand across the country, and Atlanta is next in line. A spokesperson for the company tells Eater Atlanta Taco Bell Cantina hopes to open in "a downtown, urban location, right next to Georgia Tech University," by late summer.

Taco Bell Cantina Atlanta map

Obviously, these plans are for Midtown, not Downtown. The restaurant will take up residence on the ground floor of the new University House apartment complex at 930 Spring St. NW, just across I-85 from Tech's campus. Like other forthcoming locations planned for Taco Bell Cantina, the Atlanta outpost is making a play for the college crowd. The company also plans to open Cantina restaurants near campuses in Austin; Berkeley, Calif.; Columbus, Ohio; and Fayetteville, Ark.

What separates the Cantina concept from regular old Taco Bell? The company wants these new restaurants to have an "urban" feel to attract the coveted millennial demographic, and so far, they're opening only in high-traffic areas. The first two began service last year in Chicago and San Francisco, and in addition to the college-centric locations, there are restaurants in the works for Boston and New York. Drive-thru lanes are nowhere to be found, and food is served out of open kitchens and in open-face baskets to give customers "a look inside Taco Bell's quality ingredients."

There are new menu items too. Knowing exactly how young folks like to eat these days, the restaurants feature "a new tapas-style menu of shareable appetizers — including nachos and rolled tacos — during designated hours each evening." But the biggest development is the booze.

Taco Bell Cantina in San Fran is serving a variety of beer and wine, and the Chicago location has the added bonus of sangria and what the company calls "twisted Freezes." These are spiked takes on Taco Bell's slushy beverages, complete with the welcome addition of vodka, rum, or tequila. There's no word yet on whether Atlanta's Cantina will come with the full alcohol menu available in the Windy City.

With Chipotle struggling to come back from multiple public health disasters in 2015 and a severe devaluation of its stock, Taco Bell clearly sees an opening to attract Tex-Mex-craving 20-somethings. Atlanta is the next step on its path to upscale fast food domination.

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