This week, I reached out for a Toasted Cheddar Chalupa, new from America's No. 1 Mexican-style chain, Taco Bell, with 7,000 restaurants stretching from sea to sea and running for the borders. It's a wide mouthful and one of the more expensive items on the Bell's ever-expanding menu board.
Here's the Toasted Cheddar Chalupa breakdown: seasoned ground beef, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, and reduced-fat sour cream stuffed inside a chalupa shell with six-month-old Cheddar cheese baked onto it. It's something old (everything inside) and something new (the baked-on cheese).
This is Taco Bell up to its old trick of throwing everything from the fridge into a Yahtzee cup, shaking it up real good, and creating a new item. The only thing missing from this Chalupa is Doritos chips.
Total calories: 450. Fat grams: 30. Sodium: 550 mg. Carbs: 29 g. Dietary fiber: 2 g. Manufacturer's suggested retail price: $3.49. Your mileage may vary.
The cheesy exterior is the big news here. Taco Bell takes a lightly deep-fried gordita shell, coats it with aged Cheddar and toasts the whole thing nice and crunchy. The Cheddar does pop the finished product. Otherwise, what you have here is a regular ol' Chalupa Supreme, which costs the same as this new cheesed-up model. If you're a Taco Bell fan, the Toasted Cheddar Chalupa delivers all the familiar tastes, textures and aromas of, well, practically everything on the menu. The Toasted Cheddar Chalupa bonus is the Cheddar exterior, which does ring the bell.
More importantly, Taco Bell has introduced two new vegetarian items, Black Bean Crunchwrap and Black Bean Quesarito. In both of these items, black beans step into the role normally played by seasoned ground beef.
Both veggie items are certified by the American Vegetarian Association, although smart alecks might argue that Taco Bell's beef tacos contain so little meat they practically qualify as vegetarian, too.
Taco Bell keeps proper distance between its vegetarian items and meat selections, unlike Burger King, which admits that it cooks its plant-based Impossible Whopper on the same grill as its all-beef Whoppers. Taco Bell has always offered vegetarian items, but now they've carved out space for its vegetarian selections on the menu boards inside the restaurant and in the drive-thru.
It's a symbolic gesture, but gestures do make a difference.
Ken Hoffman reviews a new fast food restaurant item every Wednesday. Have a suggestion or a drive-thru favorite? Let Ken know on Twitter.