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Review: Taco Bell’s Naked Chicken Chalupa

Last Thursday, January 26, 2017, Taco Bell finally went national with what might be their most unique offering yet, the Naked Chicken Chalupa, now available for a limited time. This “buck-nekked beast” had its first trial run in Bakersfield, California, in 2015, then had a second go-at-it in Kansas City, Missouri. And now it’s nationwide, just like ZZ Top would sing it.

What first came to my mind upon hearing about this was KFC’s “Double Down”, an “inside out sandwich” made of bacon, two different kinds of melted cheese, the Colonel’s secret sauce, nestled between two “bun-shaped” pieces of Original Recipe chicken fillets. The latter of which obviously replaced what would otherwise be bread-based buns. Sort of like the Atkins version of what a “Club Sandwich” would be. Or perhaps a “KFC-fied” Cordon Bleu.


KFC Double Down. Image source: Michael Saechang

I actually never got to try the KFC Double Down when that was available, of which apparently it wasn’t enough of a sales hit to become a permanent menu item.

Before we move on with this review, a few words from our sponsor (not), Taco Town!…

Saturday Night Live – Taco Town from alyssa sarfity on Vimeo.

Which leads us back to this “beast”, Taco Bell’s all new Naked Chicken Chalupa. Similar to KFC’s concept of a “reconstructed” sandwich, switching out the bread bun for bun-shaped pieces of fried chicken, Taco Bell flipped flipped the Chalupa inside out. This, by switching out the deep-fried flour-based tortilla shell in exchange for a “shell” made out of battered and fried marinaded all white chicken meat shaped like their standard taco. Sounds either totally awesome, or completely “whacked”, right? Read on!

I purchased these first ones to try from the Taco Bell in the McCully Shopping Center yesterday (2.1.17), where the counter price was $3.79 each.

You could also opt for the Naked Chalupa Box, which includes a Naked Chicken Chalupa, A Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Taco (as if Naked Chicken Chalupa wasn’t already difficult enough to remember and pronounce!), a Crunchy Taco and Medium Drink, all for a thrifty $6.69.

My order of two was ready for pickup after about a 5 minute wait, arriving in foil-paper wrappers. That said, it must be pointed out that each Naked Chicken Chalupa is fried to order. At least that was the case on our visit.

My initial impression picking one up still in the wrapper is that there’s a good heft and bulkiness to it, thanks to that 4 oz. (quarter pound) of all white chicken meat that makes up the battered ‘n fried “shell”.

It’s about as substantial in the hand as, say, a Crunchy Taco Supreme. The all white meat chicken battered ‘n fried Chalupa “shell” also surprisingly holds its taco-like shape quite well, not wilting over, causing that dreaded “veggies ‘n cheese all falling out crisis”. lol Excellent structural integrity.

The handy-dandy cardboard sleeve it’s served with, shown in the previous photo, definitely is needed to eat this right away as I did, as it arrives PIPIN’ HOT right out the fryer; enough where you feel your fingertips burning holding it without it.

Viewing it from above, you see the fillings are simply coursely-chopped Iceberg Lettuce, large dices of fresh tomatoes and shredded Cheddar Cheese, that begins to melt as the heat from the fried chicken shell hits it. What you can’t see yet is the Avocado Ranch Sauce, which they squirt in first before adding the veggies.

To be specific in size while whippin’ out my tape measure (which I did), the spicy battered ‘n fried chicken “shell” measures 5″ in length (diameter if you consider it a circle) x 2½” height (the side walls) x 3/8″ thickness of the shell, which again is made up of all white meat chicken in a crunchy seasoned batter.

Going right at it, the first bite is like, “Awesome! Love it!” Then after a few bites the spices in the chicken marinade REALLY kick in. As in what tastes like a generous helping of Ceyenne Pepper, that permeates from within the meat, right on out to the batter.  That in turn permeates right into the Avocado Ranch sauce.

I actually updated this review, fortunately after catching a fault in my initial assessment of the Avocado Ranch Sauce part of the equation. This, by what I basically did was go back to the same Taco Bell today and order two more Naked Chicken Chalupas. This time asking for the Avocado Ranch sauce on the SIDE. Not excluded, nor inside it.

Good thing I did that, as upon tasting the sauce separately, the sauce was surprisingly hardly spicy at all. As I just said, what apparently happens is, because the sauce by default is added at the bottom of the spicy chicken chalupa “shell” before the the lettuce, tomato and cheddar cheese are piled on, that ceyenne pepper heat permeates right into the sauce, making that taste hot as well. Seemingly amplifying the heat factor.

As compared to the “virgin” version in the photo above, following is a photo of the Avocado Ranch sauce drippings from the Chalupa shell by default…

As for the flavor of the Avocado Ranch sauce all by itself, without that infusion of Ceyenne from the Chicken Chalupa changing it, it’s sort of “heavy”, and not as as naturally creamy as I hoped. You can faintly taste avocado, while it’s predominantly like your typical fast food ranch sauce/dressing, in a processed way. There’s an ever slight hint of spicy heat, but nothing that would drastically increase the Scoville Units on the Chalupa with the addition of this sauce on there.

So now that we have that squared off, the Avocado Ranch sauce is hardly spicy hot at all, where all the heat is coming from deep within the marinaded and battered deep-fried chicken “shell”.

As for texture, the crunch of the battered chicken shell is distinctive and satisfying, similar in texture to KFC’s original recipe fried chicken batter, sans those “Blend of secret seasonings”.  All I taste in the seasoning is predominantly Ceyenne Pepper, with  perhaps a hint of Paprika, and that’s it. In fact, I would go as far saying if KFC and Taco Bell came up with a hybrid brand menu item, this is what it would taste like. That said, if you’re a fan of either one, that suggested combination in how it comes across with the finished Naked Chicken Chalupa tastes AWESOME and a unique surprise!

The all white chicken meat is surprisingly very moist and tender, yet with enough firmness to hold its shape as a taco shell (or Chalupa, should we say).

Back to the batter, unlike several reviewers who said theirs was oily, ours wasn’t at all. It came across as being deep-fried at correct temperature in what tasted like very clean oil. Perhaps what also helped is that we ate it as soon as we got it right there in the Taco Bell restaurant, so it didn’t suffer “transportation drive time fast food crisis”. lol

As for the fillings of chopped Iceberg Lettuce, large dice of fresh Tomatoes, shredded Cheddar Cheese and Avocado Ranch Sauce, that was the PERFECT compliment to the fried chicken “shell”. It added just the right amount of cool, crunchy, refreshing contrast.

I keep saying this, and I’ll say it again, because that was the most noticeable drawback (your own palate may think otherwise), is our only gripe was after eating through it, the spicy heat factor kept getting stronger and stronger — enough where we needed to constantly chase each bite with a sip of soda (or in my case, Lemonade).

Diner K tried ordering another one with Sour Creme instead of the Avocado Ranch Sauce…

Oh yeah, I was diggin’ the Sour Creme vs. the default Avocado Ranch sauce, finding it had a much better, more natural tasting, cooling contrast to that spicy hot fried chicken shell. For further cooling, creamy-fresh contrast, some fresh Avocado wedges in there would probably be great as well!

Just make sure when you try the Naked Chicken Chalulpa for the first time that you eat it right away in the Taco Bell restaurant you’re at, so you get the most ideal fresh-fried state. This one’s gotta’ be enjoyed “crisp’ety-crunch’ety”.

All in all, spicy heat aside, I REALLY DIG the new Naked Chicken Chalupa. Broke da’ mout winnahz! Great job, Taco Bell! If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend you hit your neighborhood Taco Bell and try it!


Not stopping there, my next “project” using just Taco Bell’s “naked” fried chicken chalupa “shell” is…

The Naked Chicken Katsu Taco! Yup, I went there! Did that! lol

Pretty much a  no-brainer, as this fried chicken chalupa “shell” can serve as a great canvas to expand on! The only hindrance I must note again is that super spicy heat inherent in it. That alone paints a predetermined “background”. More on that shortly.

For this “Naked Chicken Katsu” project, first in goes a drizzle of the Kagome brand Tonkatsu Sauce, tasting identical to the Bull Dog Brand, which I say is one of the best you can get store-bought for the dish.

Next in goes a layer of steamed white rice. You know da’ rules! Where there’s meat, gotta’ stay get rice!

On top da’ rice goes a generous helping of finely chopped (shredded) cabbage, just like how traditional Japanese Tonkatsu is served with it (see first splash photo for this project sement).

Finishing off the Naked Chicken Katsu Taco is another drizzle — this time more generous — of the Kagome Tonkatsu Sauce, and voila…

Gotta’ admit, that looks mighty oishii!

Naked Chicken Katsu Taco side shot.

Naked Chicken Katsu Taco “money shot”. Bow-chic-a-wow-wow. lol

And? Very good. Not great, but with some tweaking it could be AMAZING. Again, that inherent spicy heat from the Ceyenne Pepper in the Naked Chicken Chalupa “shell” batter is so dominant, it totally took away from the “Katsu-fication” of it, almost even drowning out the deep umami flavor of the Tonkatsu Sauce. Also, the type of batter of this Naked Chicken Shell doesn’t really match for katsu. Gotta’ be Panko. Gots’da.

I say if you like this idea, better if you make your Naked Chicken Katsu Taco from scratch by pounding a breast of chicken flat, cut it into a circle the size of small tortilla, dip it in flour, egg wash and panko and fry it into a taco shell shape. Then add just finely sliced cabbage and the Tonkatsu Sauce. No need the rice. You can, but don’t put as much rice as I did. Do that and I think it would be a winnah!

Definitely take the “stock” Naked Chicken Chalupa and doctor away, but stick with Tex-Mex type of ingredients, like say olives, various other cheeses, avocado, other veggies, perhaps fruit, sour cream, other sauces ‘n stuff. I really don’t think adding more meat in this would be a good idea unless you’re a total carnivore. Otherwise you’ll just rob the chicken shell of its own tasty greatness, which I really think is great!

What? Taco Bell Naked Chicken Chalupa
Where did you buy it and how much was it? Taco Bell @ McCully Shopping Center (Honolulu, Hawaii), $3.79 each
Big Shaka to: Totally awesome concept and totally awesome taste! Love it! Excellent texture! Wonderful complimentary contrast with the simple filling of Iceberg lettuce, cubed tomato, shredded cheddar cheese and Avocado Ranch sauce. Reasonably priced and good portion; most people should be full on just one; two if you’re REALLY hungry. Naked Chicken Katsu Taco concept.
No Shaka to: *While still delicious, too spicy hot, IMHO. Naked Chicken Katsu Taco concept not working as good as hoped because of the excessive spicy heat in the Naked Chicken Chalupa “shell”. The lack of the word “Spicy” in the name and description is a bit misleading, and may cause those not expecting that much “heat” to be in for a surprise.
The Tasty Island rating: 4½ SPAM Musubi (tone down the Ceyenne Pepper heat a bit in the marinade and I’ll give it a 5!)

Nutrition Facts: 440 calories, 270 calories from fat, 30 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 70 milligrams of cholesterol, 1,090 milligrams of sodium, 22 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of dietary fiber, less than 1 gram of sugar and 20 grams of protein.

Related links:
REVIEW: Taco Bell Naked Chicken Chalupa – The Impulsive Buy
My verdict on the Taco Bell Naked Chicken Chalupa: It’s a winner – SF Gate
Review: Naked Chicken Chalupa from Taco Bell – GrubGrade
Review: Taco Bell – Naked Chicken Chalupa – Brand Eating
Taste Test: We Ate Taco Bell’s Naked Chicken Chalupa – Thrillist
• Gratzfood Review: Naked Chicken Chalupa from Taco Bell – GratzFeed
Taco Bell New Naked Chicken Chalupa – YouTube Channel


20 thoughts on “Review: Taco Bell’s Naked Chicken Chalupa

  • February 2, 2017 at 1:41 pm
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    haha i tried the naked chicken chalupa and it is indeed good! i like hot too, so spicy is good :) apparently they have a spicier version !

    Reply
  • February 2, 2017 at 3:32 pm
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    I really like your katsu idea.

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  • February 2, 2017 at 5:11 pm
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    @ pat – Thanks! I highly doubt anyone’s done it this way yet! Gotta’ be world’s first of its kind! The closest I found are literally Chicken Katsu Tacos, made the traditional way.

    @ Raph – I think you misunderstood me. I DON’T like food that’s too spicy hot. Just a little is OK, but if it’s scorching Scoville Units, I’ll pass. The Naked Chicken Chalupa is right on the borderline of tolerable for me, Scoville-wise. It’s still awesome though!

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  • February 2, 2017 at 5:18 pm
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    Pomai, i wish they would include ground beef inside the chicken chalupa. That would be epic!

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  • February 3, 2017 at 11:28 am
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    So reader and good friend Ken sent me photos and commentary of the Naked Chalupa Taco he also tried several days ago….

    Good shot of the “sleeve” it’s served with, so you can hold it without burning your hand and/or damaging the crispy batter as you eat it.

    Ken tried his at home, so there was a little bit of that “transportation drive time fast food crisis” going on. lol

    Ken’s a true Tasty Island fan, knowing we must get the “money shot”! lol

    So Ken got his Naked Chicken Chalupa from the Waianae location, where he said they didn’t put any sauce in his. When I told him there’s supposed to be sauce, all he said was the one he got didn’t have any, nor was he aware there was supposed to be sauce. That’s another thing I’d have to complain about from an advertising standpoint, is that along with not naming it the “Spicy Naked Chicken Chalupa”, they should also line list specifically what’s in it like this:

    New and for a limited time only!
    SPICY NAKED CHICKEN CHALUPA
    • 4 ounces of spicy marinated all-white meat chicken as a battered ‘n fried Chalupa shell
    • Lettuce, Tomato, Cheddar Cheese and Avocado Ranch Sauce
    • Verified delicious!

    Anyway, Ken gave the Naked Chicken Chalupa a thumbs-up of approval, which says a lot, coming from his very discerning, sophisticated palate. Enough so, that he ate two of them.

    Reply
  • February 4, 2017 at 12:40 pm
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    My mind has been blown! Totally didn’t see the katsu taco coming. I love love love that the review took it to the next level. U da bes!

    I like the updated layout withOUT the left to right scrolling also.

    Reply
    • February 4, 2017 at 7:50 pm
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      Anon,

      Ha! Yup, the Naked Chicken Katsu Taco is definitely one of the whackiest creations in “Pomai’s Kitchen” yet! I think top honors for “Most Whacky” creation I’ve done still goes to the Corny Cones SPAM Musubi

      Regarding the new layout, are you talking about in desktop view or mobile view? In mobile device view the theme is totally responsive and scales to fit whatever size screen you have, placing everything in a linear loading format. In desktop view it’s set “wide” to fill the entire monitor you’re using. So yes, however you’re viewing this site, or making comments in the text field, browser scrolling should now only be required vertically.

      Reply
      • February 5, 2017 at 8:40 pm
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        Only tried mobile so far.

        Reply
  • February 7, 2017 at 1:48 pm
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    I LOVE taco bell. Might be my biggest guilty pleasure. #4 w no meat (sometimes sub meat for black beans, sometimes I just like the tacos with lettuce cheese and tomatoes), side of guac and apple soda. I can never finish it, and it’s not good leftover, so I figure it could be worse. Sometimes I just get a 7 layer burrito.

    This Naked Chicken Chalupa would probably appeal to more people (healthy types) and get more buzz if the chicken was grilled instead of fried,  with lettuce, tom and avocado. Paleo types would probably go crazy for that.

    Reply
    • February 7, 2017 at 2:04 pm
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      h,

      I’m surprised yet not surprised you LOVE Taco Bell. Surprised, being you actually would love ANY mainstream fast food chain. Yet not surprised, being out them all, Taco Bell is probably the most vegetarian-friendly. Are their refried beans completely meatless? I remember you saying you don’t like McDonald’s fries because there’s a “beef base” in the oil.

      I’m not a regular at any particular fast food joint, only going on a whim wherever I am, or if there’s some new menu item I want to try. That said, until this post, I wasn’t aware Taco Bell has a totally customizable menu option, where you can basically “have it  your way” with any fillings and toppings, not just go with the default menu. Sounds like what you do to get the meats out of there.

      Reply
      • February 8, 2017 at 8:46 am
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        Most places do the “have it your way” now, or at the very least, they have an easy option in their system to remove meat. Especially on Taco Bell’s App. You can go crazy with the customization.

        I don’t know why you’re surprised that I like mainstream fast food. McDonalds big mac w/o meat and with extra, extra pickles? Yum! It’s like a grilled cheese on steroids. No fries though. Burger King’s veggie burger isn’t terrible, it’s morningstar farms, and I prefer gardenburger, but neither are like Boca Burger. By that I mean neither are replicas of meat. I never get fries though. I only like fries from wendy’s (when it comes to fast food).

        I’m not a regular anywhere (except Taco Bell, where I go as often as once every two months it seems), however, I never like my food choices to limit the people I’m with, so I happily join people at fast food places and modify things to be vegetarian friendly and never refuse to go anywhere. Well, subway… I don’t refuse, but I’m really not fond of it. I love the smell of fresh-baked bread usually, but there’s something about their bread that smells awful to me.

        I’m really not a picky eater… except for the long list of food I won’t eat. Haha. Actually, as long as something is vegetarian, there are few things I won’t eat (whether I like them or not). I won’t eat eggs (scrambled, sunny side up, poached, soft boiled, I don’t care, yuck), though I’m fond of custard. I won’t eat tofu (texture), meat substitutes that are meant to taste like meat and have a meaty texture, and beets. I can’t stand beets, the smell, the taste, just yuck. I know lots of people love them, when I was in New Zealand, the McKiwi burger has a slice of beet on it (and an egg). I think I’m in the minority when it comes to not liking beets.  Those are really the only things I refuse to eat.

        Reply
        • February 8, 2017 at 4:03 pm
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          h,

          That McKiwi Burger with a slice of beet and an egg sounds NUTS! I’m gonna’ look that one up on the web later for sure! Speaking of which, I’d love to hear more about your trip to New Zealand. I’m sure you had a great time.

          Funny how you can’t stand eggs, yet like custard. Guy Fieri is another one who can’t stand eggs, which seems conflicting for a guy hosting a show about diners. I LOVE eggs!

          I also don’t like ground meat substitute products much. If that’s the case, just give me mushrooms, and I’m a happy camper!

          We don’t have any Wendy’s on my side of the island. Only on the west side, so I never eat there. From what I understand, all the Wendy’s on the mainland tout burger patty’s that are always “fresh, never frozen”. However because of our location, the Wendy’s in Hawaii use frozen patties. Boo!

          Weird how you don’t like the smell of Subway’s fresh-baked bread. To me that’s the best part of the experience!

          Speaking of Subway, I just tried this new sub joint here called Jersey Mike’s (a chain from New Jersey obviously). Awesome bread! It’s like a crusty french roll. Everything they pile into the sandwich (except the veggies) is fresh-sliced on an electric deli slicer, including the cheese. Fresh as can get!

          I’ll have to try out that Taco Bell app. Sounds handy. Wasn’t aware Burger King had a veggie burger that has  a Morning Star patty in it. As said previously, I’m not fond of ground-meat vegetarian substitutes, including Boca burgers. Like I said, I’d much rather just have sauteed mushrooms in it than that.

           

          Reply
  • February 8, 2017 at 3:58 pm
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    Heck, we don’t even HAVE a TB in my little town! :D I’m in Pensacola for few day shopping trip so I’m going to try one. That katsu version looks great, I’m going to make it when I get home (I make pretty good katsu if I do say so myself) and I got the Bulldog sauce for it too. Maybe couple piece of homemade takuan for extra crunch…

    Love this blog but I hate not being able to kau kau the grindz except once a year…  Appertitus Interruptus…. :D

    Reply
    • February 8, 2017 at 4:32 pm
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      Haru,

      Not really surprised Honolulu has more mainland franchises than a small town in ‘Bama. A long time back, my sister used to live in a small town in Missouri,where her internet service was still on telephone dial-up while we were already on cable broadband.

      In fact, many mainland retailers here on Oahu outperform their mainland locations exponentially. The Iwilei Home Depot and Costco are the number one performing in sales in the nation. Ditto for Walmart. At one time, the Louis Vuitton in Waikiki was the number one in sales in the WORLD. Hawaii is seriously a consumer-driven society. People could be almost flat broke here, yet somehow still will be out shopping!

      As I mentioned, the spicy heat in the fried chicken shell conflicts with the flavor of the Tonkatsu Sauce, so don’t go too far out of your way. Perhaps just try a piece of the shell with the Bull Dog Tonkatu Sauce, just so you can sample it.

      Glad you enjoy the blog! ;-)

      Reply
  • February 8, 2017 at 4:51 pm
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    HA! Missouri must have been Misery for your poor sister :D  I’m a 61 model born at Queens and things were a lot different (obviously) but since we moved on and off the island due to Dad’s work I kept getting snapshots of it as it developed. I even retired there in 2000 (USAF). Last time I was there in Mar 15 I really was amazed at how many mainland outlets had opened there over the last 20 years. I actually got an Herme scarf from Paris for the Wife at the Royal Hawaiian Center – think of it, Paris to Honolulu to Bama! :D Oahu has come a LONG way!

    Reply
  • February 9, 2017 at 7:25 pm
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    I was talking to someone from Houston, Texas today, who said Taco Bell isn’t the first to do a fried chicken chalupa “shell”. He said there was a taco truck in the Houston area who did it years ago. And the people running it were Mexican, so it was much more authentic. Perhaps Taco Bell got the idea from them?

    Reply
    • February 10, 2017 at 6:20 pm
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      Debbie-Chan,

      Yes, I seen that on the news last night. It honestly doesn’t look or sound good to me. KFC needs to work on the quality of their chicken in their namesake original fried chicken, before they start expanding on other things. Last time I ordered from there a few months ago, it was TERRIBLE. And OVERPRICED! It was so bad, I almost took it back for a refund.

      Shirokiya’s Japan Village Walk has a bunch of vendors doing crazy experimental stuff like your “Okonomizza”. Last I seen there was a Shrimp Tempura Pizza, as well as Tonkatsu Pizza. Looked pretty interesting!

      Reply
  • February 11, 2017 at 6:40 am
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    Whoa!  I’d definitely try the Naked Chicken Katsu Taco!!

    Reply

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