For years, Taco Bell invited diners to “think outside the bun” — a not-so-subtle dig at the fact that its menu didn’t have the ho-hum assortment of burgers and sandwiches that define the lineups of most fast-food chains. True to its name, the chain has celebrated the taco and other Mexican favorites — and never more so than on National Taco Day, which happens to be Monday.
But apparently, Taco Bell, part of the Yum! Brands /zigman2/quotes/209029767/composite YUM +2.69% family, is still willing to compromise on its ideals. Why else would it join the chicken-sandwich bandwagon and offer its own version of the item that has been all the rage in recent years?
Well, to be clear, this isn’t a sandwich per se. It’s a Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco with a wrapping that’s a cross between a taco shell and something more bread-like.
It’s also a misfire in my humble opinion.
In truth, I’ve never been a big fan of Taco Bell, since I find its version of Mexican food too milquetoast — you can do much better at most local Mexican restaurants (even ones that are fairly Americanized) or from taco trucks, which often deliver a truly authentic product at a remarkably low price. Granted, Taco Bell’s idea of Mexican is all about convenience (it’s fast food, after all), but I often feel you’re sacrificing a lot of taste in the process.
But I do love me a good, crispy chicken sandwich. And if it’s got a spicy kick, I’m all the more satisfied.
The Taco Bell sandwich-taco was introduced as a limited-time offering a few weeks ago and comes in both spicy and regular versions. Prices can vary by location, but the official cost is $2.49 per sandwich (er, taco). It delivers on the actual chicken front: We’re talking a fried strip or tender-size piece of chicken, not a full breast, but it’s real meat that’s been marinated in what Taco Bell calls “jalapeño buttermilk” and seasoned with “bold Mexican spices,” before being lightly breaded in “a crunchy tortilla chip coating.” There’s a creamy chipotle sauce as a final touch, though the spicy version adds jalapeño slices for more heat.
Put three or four of those strips in between two bun halves — maybe with some lettuce and tomato for added texture — and you might have a helluva chicken sandwich. In fact, it could be a smart take on a torta , Mexico’s version of a sandwich.
Instead, Taco Bell has given us a mini sandwich-taco thingie — about the equivalent of a slider — served on a bizarre flatbread. The bread is more akin to a small pita — slightly dense and completely at odds with the filling. “Is this Taco Bell or a Greek gyro restaurant?” I found myself asking.
Taco Bell declined to comment on the record.
For the sake of comparison, I tried a couple of other chicken items on the Taco Bell menu. And you know what constitutes a decent version of a chicken sandwich-taco? An actual taco! Specifically, the Soft Taco Supreme (it normally comes with beef, but you can substitute chicken). It has all the elements — protein (the chicken here is not fried, but still fits the bill), veggies, cheese — and it comes wrapped in a thin, soft flour taco, something that works with the filling. Granted, it’s not a “sandwich,” but it’s…logical.
Clearly, Taco Bell decided it had to go the cutesy route in order to jump on the chicken bandwagon. In any case, the chain is on solid ground these days. Its parent, Yum!, which is also behind KFC and Pizza Hut, has seen its stock rise about 16.5% this year, with the company reporting a strong second quarter .
Restaurant analyst says Mark Kalinowski says Taco Bell has been key to Yum!’s recent success and he expects the chain will offer more fowl items in the near future, including wings. “I think they have more chicken up their sleeves,” he says.
Kalinowski also doesn’t think the chicken-sandwich craze will die anytime soon in the fast-food world. Part of the reason, he argues, is that Americans are increasingly shying away from red meat. And even when the chicken is fried and slathered with a creamy sauce, it’s still somehow seen as better for you. “Chicken carries a healthy halo with it,” Kalinowski says.
While the Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco is a new item (albeit one that has been tested since 2019, Taco Bell says), the chain points to a history of chicken innovation, as in a menu item like the Naked Chicken Chalupa. The company also notes that it has used flatbread-style wrappings in other offerings.
But I’ll stick by my point: The company’s name is Taco Bell, not Flatbread Bell. And there shouldn’t be confusion as to whether you’re eating a sandwich or a taco.