Editor's Note: As part of America Week -- Thrillist's annual celebration of all things U, S, and/or A -- we dispatched a writer to investigate what is quite possibly the most American of American phenomena: stunt fast food.
From maybe 10ft away, the Naked Chicken Chalupa looks like a regular taco. The crispy shell might be a little thicker than normal, but the crown of shredded lettuce and diced tomato gives it a distinct air of quasi-Mexican legitimacy. Get a little closer, though, and you'll see that the taco shell is not a shell at all: it's a piece of fried chicken. Flattened, folded into a cardboard holster, and loaded down with taco fixings, it beckons your taste buds like a mythic meat-siren smothered in avocado-ranch sauce.
I'm at Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine, California, in a room called the Innovation Forum. It's set up like a small college lecture hall, with a few rows of stadium-style seating at the back and a long counter lined with stools at the front. I'm hunched over said counter with not one, but two Taco Bell public relations envoys, eyeballing a tray of bizarre foodstuffs. I'm running my mouth at top speed, asking all kinds of questions about these things in front of me, when publicist Alec Boyle, a slim, attractive woman with brown hair and a blindingly white smile, cuts me off gently.