Taco Bell is re-inventing one of its most beloved dishes with a vegetarian-friendly twist. After first introducing the Naked Chicken Chalupa in 2017, a move that "changed the fried chicken game forever," and returning it to menus earlier this year, the beloved Mexican-style fast-food chain is testing a vegetarian version of the Naked Chicken Chalupa, aptly dubbed the Naked Chalupa with a Crispy Plant-Based Shell.
Currently being tested in California, the new plant-based item forgoes the traditional crunchy fried chicken shell. Instead, the masterminds of the Taco Bell Test Kitchen created a breaded pea-protein-based shell that is certified vegan by the American Vegetarian Association. The shell is shaped into the traditional Chalupa form and is filled with lettuce, cheddar cheese, diced tomatoes, avocado ranch sauce that Taco Bell says offers “a mouthful of deliciousness.” Like other Taco Bell menu items, the Naked Chalupa with a Crispy Plant-Based Shell can be made vegan-friendly, as customers can customize their order to remove ingredients that contain dairy or egg.
"We've long been a food disruptor, and this time is no different," Liz Matthews, Taco Bell's Global Chief Food Innovation Officer, said. "We've seen our industry follow patterns of sameness, but we understand that consumers are looking for creativity and craveability in this space. So whether someone is craving plant-based protein or crispy chicken or gooey cheesiness, we have something that's not only flavorful, but also uniquely Taco Bell."
Getting your hands on the Naked Chalupa with a Crispy Plant-Based Shell won't be easy, though, as it is currently only being tested at one restaurant in California – 222 Barranca Pkwy in Irvine, California — until June 27. Given that this is a test run, should the item do well, it is possible Taco Bell could bring the vegetarian-friendly dish to locations across the country, but only time will tell.
The test run comes after Taco Bell promised in March to expand its vegetarian and vegan offerings in 2021. At the time, Matthews said has "long been a leader in the vegetarian space, but this year, we have more meatless options in store that vegetarians, veggie-curious and even meat-eaters will love." As part of that promise, Taco Bell returned the fan-favorite Spicy Potato Soft Taco and the Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes to the menu. The items, which were removed in 2020, had been favorites among vegetarian and vegan Taco Bell fans, who used the certified vegan potato bites to swap out meat on various menu items. Taco Bell also announced in March that it partnered with Beyond Meat to create an innovative new plant-based protein to be tested in the next year.