We Tasted Taco Bell's New Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco to See if It's Any Good

The chain wants you to think it's both a sandwich and a taco.

Tony Merevick/Thrillist

After teasing that it would somehow leap into the ongoing chicken wars earlier this year, Taco Bell's entry into the fast food fray is finally here: the Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco. The company officially unveiled the new menu item on Monday, saying that it's somehow both a sandwich and a taco. Such a wild claim isn't exactly surprising coming from a chain that served breakfast tacos with egg on the outside, but we obviously had to eat one and find out what it's like.

T-Bell said the Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco will debut in just two cities—Nashville, Tennessee and Charlotte, North Carolina—on March 11 before a nationwide rollout sometime "later this year," but we got our hands on both the regular and spicy versions of the so-called sandwich at an early tasting event in New York City last week. To recap, the regular version features a piece of Taco Bell's new Crispy Tortilla Chicken that's topped with creamy chipotle sauce and served on a circular piece of bread that's folded like a soft taco. The spicy version is all of the above, but with pickled jalapeños. They'll set you back around $2.50 apiece.

We went into the tasting experience with a lot of questions. Is this thing a taco or a sandwich? Can it be both a sandwich and a taco as Taco Bell claims? What's the bread like? Is that just a big chicken tender? How does this stack up to the actual chicken sandwiches in the fast food arena? Some were easier to answer than others. Here's what we found out.

5 First Impressions

  • They're small—you'll need to order two (around $5) to get about as much food as one chicken sandwich.
  • Where are the toppings? The regular version looks a bit naked and could use some lettuce at the very least.
  • The bread is super soft and fluffy as Taco Bell promised, but folding it too tightly causes the bottom to blow out.
  • Wow, the chicken. I could eat 10 of these things.
  • More jalapeños, please!

Tony Merevick/Thrillist

The Chicken

Taco Bell said it makes the chicken with all-white meat that's marinated in jalapeño buttermilk, seasoned with Mexican-inspired spices, and rolled in a breading made with tortilla chips. Yes, it's basically a Taco Bell-style chicken tender, and while it's not the full-size chicken breast fillet you're getting in a traditional fried chicken sandwich, it's a great chicken tender that checks all the important boxes. Crispy? Check. Juicy? Check. Flavorful? Check. This shouldn't be much of a surprise, considering Taco Bell shares a parent company—Yum! Brands—with KFC.

Honestly, Taco Bell should offer it as four- or six-piece orders of tenders. It's good in the sandwich-taco and it's good on its own. Throw some Fire Sauce on 'em—maybe some nacho cheese for dipping—and you'd be all set.

The Bread

Using a shell made out of bread is the key to Taco Bell's claim that the Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco is both a sandwich and a taco. As we pointed out when the menu item was first unveiled, the bread kind of looks like a super-thick Chalupa shell or what you'd get with a pork bun. Upon first taste, we can confirm that it's not quite like either in terms of flavor and texture, though maybe it should be.

Yes, the bread is "fluffy," as the chain promises in the menu item's description. It has the flavor of white bread (not a lot) and more or less the structural integrity of a grocery store pita. As I mentioned in the first impressions section, the bottom does tear when you fold it too tightly around the chicken, but neither the chicken nor the toppings fell out (phew!) while eating our samples.

All in all, the bread serves as a vessel for the chicken and toppings, but that's about all it is. Stack it up against the buttery, toasted brioche buns of competing fast food fried chicken offerings—integral parts of the delightful eating experiences many of them offer—and it ends up feeling like a missed opportunity. Maybe baking some cheddar or jalapeños (or both!) into it could help here. It needs a little extra something.

Tony Merevick/Thrillist

The Toppings

The standard Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco comes with just one topping: creamy chipotle sauce. While we certainly appreciate the simplicity (some of the best fried chicken sandwiches are the simplest, after all), it could use some shredded lettuce on top to round it out and make it at least feel a bit more substantial. 

The spicy version comes with a few a few pickled jalapeños on top and they actually go a long way in terms of making it feel more like a fried chicken sandwich. Fried chicken sandwiches typically sport crisp dill pickles, so it’s fitting that T-Bell’s take features equally crunchy jalapeños. The added texture and, of course, the heat makes this the better of the two versions, and not by a small margin. Order the spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco and don't look back.

The Verdict

Taco Bell's new Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco will be a tasty addition to the national menu when its wider rollout arrives later this year, largely thanks to the flavorful, Crispy Tortilla Chicken tenders (again, hopefully, the chain will also offer them separately with some sort of delicious dipping sauce). The bread, and to a lesser extent, the lack of toppings, however, are holding it back from greatness.

Does the Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco live up to the company's posit that it's both a chicken sandwich and a taco? I think that debate is a distraction from the bigger, more complicated question here: Is a menu item that tries to be both better than one or the other? The simple fact that it's coming from Taco Bell makes the former concept fun and appealing in theory, and fans are going to eat it up in droves. But with a bread/shell that falls short of great, it's hard for me to imagine anyone choosing this hybrid over one of the many delicious fast food fried chicken sandwiches available today. 

Though I will say that the spicy version—with its flavorful chicken and delightful jalapeños—makes for a damn good fried chicken taco, if that's what you're seeking.

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Tony Merevick is the Managing Editor at Thrillist. Follow him on Twitter @tonymerevick and Instagram @tonymerevick.
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