Confession: I never had KFC's Double Down. Before eating fast food became a journalistic concern, the Colonel's double-stacked chicken fillets with cheese, bacon, and secret sauce sandwiched in the middle seemed like a bridge too far, even for me. KFC's chicken is good, bacon is good, cheese is good, and the sauce is presumably good, but all of that together in a heap seemed like I was doubling down on eventual cardiac arrest.
That said, I've got to give credit where it’s due—the Double Down was the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that has brought us into this golden era of fast food creativity. Taco Bell is on the vanguard of this movement, and yesterday they released the Naked Chicken Chalupa, what can be best described as its own take on the Double Down. The principle of chicken-as-conveyance remains the same, but where KFC went maximalist by adding hearty bacon to two healthy-sized patties, Taco Bell opts for a simpler stuffing of lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, and avocado ranch dressing. It's a winning combination.
Though the Naked Chicken Chalupa runs for $3.49 on its own, Taco Bell is currently offering a $5 box that also includes a hard taco, Doritos Locos Taco, and medium drink, a steal by comparison. The most critical element, naturally, is the shell, a breaded, thin piece of chicken that's formed into the shape of a taco shell and deep fried. Stacked next to a regular hard-shell taco, the chicken shell looks marginally shorter on both ends, but just barely. It holds together incredibly well—just enough meat to maintain its shape, not so much that it’s overwhelming.
With a nice spicy taste, the chicken shell resembles, as CP photo editor J.M. Giordano rightly noted, a nice chicken tender. We're talking a high-quality tender here, not the one you get at some bar-restaurants that is heavily breaded and has that dull, light brown hue. The spiciness melds nicely with the creamy, tanginess of the avocado ranch and the sharpness of the cheese. Honestly, the lettuce and tomatoes are kind of an afterthought. At least there's some comfort in knowing fruit and vegetables are involved, right?
In truth, the Naked Chicken Chalupa really stretches the definition of "taco." It's more like a taco turned inside out. On its face, biting into a meat shell and only get rewarded with lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese sounds like a strange sensation. The flavorful chicken and its avocado ranch companion more than alleviate such concerns.
It's worth pointing out that I never had any misgivings about eating this like I did with the Double Down, and I think that's because Taco Bell showed proper restraint compared to its Yum! Brands counterpart. Yes, that sentence is 100 percent serious: Taco Bell is a paragon of moderation and good choices. Well, at least in this instance. If a fried chicken taco shell comes off as too extreme, I'd urge you to reconsider.