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Food critic tries Taco Bell's Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco

New Crispy Chicken Sandwich Tacos at Taco Bell.

New Crispy Chicken Sandwich Tacos at Taco Bell. Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

This is a time in which a shocking number of Americans say that they are addicted to chicken nuggets. Even accounting for hoaxes, this is as funny-tragic as the recent finding that nearly 48% of the country’s restaurants now contain some sort of fried chicken sandwich.

Given all this, no one should be surprised that today marks the nationwide release of Taco Bell’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco, the name a distinct disappointment coming from the folks behind Naked Chicken Chips and Kit Kat Chocoladillas. Marketing-wise, the new menu item would seem a slam dunk. The universe of folks who love either tacos or chicken sandwiches is large, and the number of those who love neither vanishingly small. But just because we love two things does not mean we will love them together, otherwise Lady Gaga’s Oreos would be hitting pay dirt, along with Keurig margaritas, emoji Eggo waffles, Pepperoni Uncrustables and — soon — Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Mountain Dew.

But Taco Bell’s own mashup tested well in Charlotte and Nashville earlier this year, two cities whose fast-food recommendations must never be ignored. I remained skeptical.

Karma intervened: T-Bell began offering preview tastes of the new tacos during its Happier Hour (from 2 to 5, if you’re wondering) last week on the exact same day that my horoscope read "consider getting out of your comfort zone." In the moment it seemed like too much of a coincidence, and only later would I wonder if astrologers can be sued.

2:05 p.m. found me politely requesting two sandacos (spicy and original) at the nearest T-Bell counter. "You’re the first one," said the mystified cashier. I beamed with pride, not realizing that this presaged several minutes of confusion followed by a brief but intense argument behind the prep station. Eventually, a bag appeared with two paper-wrapped tacos buried under a ceremonious shower of sauce packets.

How much can one reasonably expect from anything costing $2.49 these days? I submit that it’s more than a 4-inch bready shell "shaped in an iconic taco form," in TB’s highfalutin words, dressed with two oversize chicken nuggets and a squirt of sauce.

At any rate, my sandacos ($4.49 for two) arrived looking like neither sandwiches nor tacos but largish canapés, the sort of thing they pass around at engagement parties for couples who aren’t going to make it, or perhaps the snack a host might quickly rig up for guests who show up unexpectedly, just to make sure they never do that again.

A few early reviews have suggested that the chicken itself is the sandwich’s breakout star, so good it ought to be sold on its own. Uh-huh. According to the company, the meat is marinated in "jalapeño buttermilk," then coated with ground-up tortilla chips, then deep-fried. All of which is to say, T-Bell went to a lot of trouble only to produce something that Ronald himself might mistake for a McNugget.

The bread is soft but airless, like someone slashed the tires on a bao bun, and the taste is simple and flavorless.

The taco’s best part (it’s all relative) is the creamy chipotle sauce, which has apparently impressed enough of the right people to earn a place on supermarket shelves. Yes, it conjures images of a summer evening in Tijuana as imagined by a jar of mayonnaise, but at least it’s trying.

And that’s it. Oh wait. While both sandacos cost the same, the spicy one distinguishes itself, barely, by a couple of rings of jalapeño garnish. The peppers look shriveled and dull, as if ashamed that it’s come to this. Peppers, I feel you.

Taco Bell’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco is available at locations Islandwide starting today. Prices are $2.49 for one, $4.49 for two. tacobell.com

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