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!…
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.
• 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