Pretty much everyone who likes fast food can agree that the Popeyes chicken sandwich is extraordinarily good — a culinary bit of bioluminescence in a sea of bland fast food options. It isn’t a lunch break compromise or something that you eat simply because it’s convenient. Eating this fried chicken marvel is an event unto itself.
But the Popeyes phenomenon has led to a terrible plague. One in which every fast food establishment on earth decides to try their hand at at fried chicken sandwhich… to varying degrees of success. This year we got new entries from Carl’s Jr., McDonald’s, and Burger King — though in BK’s case it was really more of a chicken SADwich (Zing! “I’m here all week,” etc.).
A few of the entries are solid. None of them hold a candle to Popeyes.
Last week Taco Bell entered the fray. Yes, a chicken sandwich from a chain restaurant that urged us to “think outside the bun.” This is unarguable proof that the chicken sandwich wars have finally gone too far. I mean, they could’ve brought back the Mexican pizza — they have ALL of the ingredients — but instead, they’re f*cking around with fried chicken. Again.
To save you time, money, and the possibility of an unsatisfying meal, we naturally had to try the thing. Our review can be found below along with a menu hack that makes this average dish into a star.
The Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco/ Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco
The Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco features two tiny chicken tenders marinated in jalapeño buttermilk seasoning and breaded in a mix of flour and crushed tortilla chips, served inside of a thick flatbread with a generous slathering of creamy chipotle sauce smeared inside. Altogether, it’s surprisingly good.
With just three ingredients, everything pulls its weight here. The chicken breast — while by no means a top three chicken tender — is really flavorful and juicy, with notes of garlic, white pepper, and chili powder. It’s certainly one of fast food’s most interestingly seasoned fried chicken offerings. The chipotle sauce, which is made from buttermilk and spices, brings a tangy sort of brightness that mellows into a nice bit of mouthwatering heat. It’s not “spicy” but it does linger on your tongue between bites. The flatbread… gets the job done. I can’t say that a tortilla would’ve been better. Or worse.
All in all, a very solid, if not at all inspired, entry into the fried chicken sandwich pantheon.
Alas, the spicy version of this sandwich has got to be the laziest attempt to make something spicy I have ever witnessed. It’s the same exact thing, only they toss two, yes, just two, tiny slices of jalapeño into the mix. And they think that makes it spicy. Sorry, it doesn’t.
Sure, you should get the jalapenos because more flavor is a good thing, but if you’re looking for a spicy sandwich, this isn’t that. Not unless you douse it in FIRE sauce.
This is my main problem with Taco Bell’s new crispy chicken sandwich flatbread taco thing: it’s such a lazy missed opportunity. It’s good but not thrilling. And here’s the crazy thing: Taco Bell has all the ingredients to make this actually something worth ordering. They just didn’t trust their audience enough to take a real risk.
So? We did it for them! Check out our (much improved) menu hack, below:
Introducing The Uproxx Crispy Chicken Flatbread Torta
Why Taco Bell didn’t see this as an opportunity to make a torta is something I just don’t get. We won’t go as far as to ask for a second flatbread, but we can make this three-bite sandwich into something a lot better by thinking about it like a torta. The creamy chipotle sauce that comes in the sandwich is good, it adds a lot of flavor, but we don’t need it, so ditch the sauce and add some beans instead (ask for a nacho cheese cup side, they’ll likely hand it over for free).
Let’s also add a three cheese blend on top of that chicken, as well as guacamole (the only add that will cost you anything — again, you just need the nacho cheese cup size), the jalapeños, and your favorite Taco Bell hot sauce (we went with FIRE).
Feel free to add lettuce. I didn’t, but you do you.
“I’ll have the chicken sandwich-taco thing with a small side of guac and a small side of beans, please!”
Tear the flatbread in half and now you have something that’s bursting with flavor, has a considerably more pleasing mouthfeel, and is a lot more indebted to Mexican food than whatever the hell Taco Bell is trying to sell you. Don’t do Popeyes Taco Bell, do Taco Bell.
Our version gives you the crunch of the chicken, an umami bomb of earthy flavors via the avocado and beans, delicious melted cheese, the pleasing burn of hot sauce and jalapeños, and a thick flatbread to hold it all together. Hell, if you really want to, you still have room for the creamy chipotle sauce in there.
Had Taco Bell given us something this good, it would’ve been worth revamping our chicken sandwich ranking. But we’re not doing that. As it is, it just feels like Taco Bell made a menu item for the novelty and the internet clicks.
If clicks are their strategy, they should take our advice and make our menu hack official. It’s tastier than their version and a whole lot more inspired.
The Bottom Line:
Don’t order the Taco Bell Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco (though it’s not terrible, by any means). Order our torta instead.