If you’ve been reading these for a while, you know that I rarely leave the immediate two-block radius of my apartment to source all the latest (questionably greatest) fast food concoctions, because with a Little Caesars, Burger King, McDonald’s, Taco Bell AND (now) Popeye’s just inches away, why would I go elsewhere? Well, I guess we can time-travel back to Sunday morning, when I was hungover AF and somehow stumbled upon Taco Bell’s Twitter account, where they’d tweeted that if people called a 212 number, then they could sign up to try the latest menu monstrosity: THE NAKED CHICKEN CHALUPA, which apparently launches nationwide today, and is basically the Double Down of fake Mexican food.
I’d heard about this creation before (thanks, Internet!) but had kind of shrugged it off as a possible joke, so NOW (again, hungover AF) I decided it was the perfect opportunity to investigate by dialing up the number on my screen. (So just to recap: I called Taco Bell. I called them. On my phone. It actually doesn’t get any sadder than that, so we are already living up to the column’s name beautifully.) Nobody answered, and eventually an automated recording came on. I don’t actually remember what the recording said because I got bored and hung up, but a few minutes later my phone started ringing. IT WAS TACO BELL. I felt a little spooked, TBH, and I hesitated to answer it, but (obviously) I eventually did, and found myself speaking to a real live human representative!
Real Live Human Representative: Hi, did you just call?
Me: Umm…yes. Yeah, that was me.
RLHR: Would you like to sign up for a time to try the Naked Chicken Chalupa?
Me: Umm…yes. Yeah, I would.
RLHR: When’s good for you? We have slots on the 24th and 25th.
Me: I mean, any of them. All of them. Anytime is fine. I will go.
RLHR: Okay, let’s say the 25th at 6pm. And how big will your party be?
Me: Oh…no, no. You’ve misunderstood. No, just me. Just one person. Alone.
RLHR: …okay, well someone will call or text you the morning of the 25th to confirm. See you then!
When the day actually came, I did received the promised confirmation text, which asked me again how large my party would be. (They just really want me to have friends, I guess.) I texted back that no, it would still just be me, although I momentarily considered saying there would be sixteen of us, just so that I could eat sixteen Naked Chicken Chalupas by myself.
The “speakeasy” (as they kept calling the pop-up spot) was located at 399 Broadway, aka that events space located right by Joe’s Pub. (SUCH CULTURAL JUXTAPOSITION AMIRITE?!) The text had also mentioned to look for a purple fridge, so I tried to envision what that might translate to IRL…would there be color-coded fridges with our food inside that was meant to be grabbed and swiftly consumed? Would I be walking through a purple fridge into a secret Taco Bell universe on the other side? Like Crif Dogs with more hot sauce? There were a lot of possibilities, so I just stopped imagining them altogether.
As it turns out, everything I had dreamed up was incorrect. I got to the space, had my ID checked by two security guards who then branded my wrist with ye olde Taco Bell bells, and then entered into a room full of women dressed as fifties housewives. It was terrifying, but I played it cool by smiling and edging my way along the farthest wall towards where the other non-fifties housewives had formed a small entry line into what I assume was anywhere but here. Unfortunately, I was spotted fairly immediately, and one of the fifties housewives began speaking to me about fried chicken in a southern accent. I don’t remember the exact dialogue, but she basically was like, “What Taco Bell is doing is an abomination to the longstanding tradition of fried chicken, and we hope you will not go through those doors and eat that thing.” While I agreed with her that it was an abomination, I would have preferred to be lowered into a shark tank than to stay in the weird Taco Bell version of Sleep No More one second longer. I took the pamphlet she handed me (which said, “So You Just Found Out Your Loved One Ate A Naked Chicken Chalupa…Now What?” in the style of “So You Just Found Out Your Child Is A Big Stoner/Homo/Other Controversial Thing…Now What?”) and got the fuck in line to get out of there.
Once I’d gotten to checkpoint numero dos, where they asked me my name and (again) how many were in my party (and, again, I said “JUST ME I’M LIVIN’ ALONE, YA HEAR ME?! I’M LIVIN’ ALONE!”), I was escorted into a room they’d turned into a cocktail lounge, with a bright neon sign that said “TACO BELL SPEAKEASY” in case you were confused about where you were. I was seated at a “communal table” with four seats, two already taken by a girl and a guy who’d come together. “HOW’S IT GOING, GUYS?!” I said in my most “PREPARE TO BE THIRD WHEELED, BITCHES!” voice. “Great!” said the guy with genuine enthusiasm, though the girl seemed less amused. (Don’t worry, I was a real hit!)
While we waited for the Naked Chicken Chalupas to be procured, a waiter came around with a tray of cocktails. “We’re not in that shithole Taco Bell below my apartment anymore, Toto!” I said in my brain. Shortly thereafter, the NCC’s appeared on a platter, one for each of us at the table. DRUM ROLL PLEASE, AMIRITE?!
And so I unwrapped the foil to reveal exactly what I had expected: a slightly less-good-looking version of the press photo I’d see floating around online of a taco shell made entirely of chicken housing lettuce, tomato, cheese, and avocado ranch sauce.
So how’d it taste? Well, first off, I am disgusted with the satisfaction I got out of sinking my teeth into a folded chicken patty, but here we are. And the taste…well, I didn’t hate it, and I wasn’t even intoxicated. So that’s alarming, but potentially good for those of you who are cool with being seen ordering Taco Bell during daylight hours.
It’s basically exactly what you’d expect…very meaty and very cheesy, and surprisingly not overly-greasy, though I imagine some of the speakeasy standards are different to those of your run-of-the-mill Taco Bell. Also, everything’s well-seasoned, and despite my apprehensions about the avocado ranch sauce, it’s actually pretty dope. So would I get it again? I mean, yes, probably, though I’m not trying to make a habit of it because sometimes I care about whether or not I die prematurely and/or with dignity.
But back to my surroundings! While I was eating, I noticed that the guy was nearly finished with his. “Do we only get one?” he asked. No one knew the answer, so he inquired with a waitress. “Sorry, just one per person.” SUCH STINGINESS! But it was probably for the best. (I felt sorry that I hadn’t lied about my party size so that I might have shared some of the spoils with him. Oh well.)
“I think they should have put a flour tortilla inside the chicken shell,” said the girl, who had mostly been quiet. The guy disagreed. I said that I thought they should have made a Crunchwrap Supreme encased in chicken. (They probably tried that, but it’s hard to do origami with fried poultry.) We all agreed that the possibilities for meat shells were potentially limitless, though. Then we got quiet again, housed our drinks, and parted ways forever.
AND SO, here are my main takeaways: immersive Taco Bell experiences are weird and kind of scary, I make a great third wheel and am available to destroy your relationships, and I am sad to say that I liked this post-apocalyptic creation.
(In sum, a party of one can be a party of fun when you are eating things that are sad. Sometimes.)