REVIEW: Taco Bell Black Bean Toasted Cheddar Chalupa

Taco Bell Black Bean Toasted Cheddar Chalupa Whole

“Vegetarians rejoice: now you too can join your meat-eating brethren by stuffing your gullet with Taco Bellian deliciousness!” feels like the kind of thing Taco Bell’s marketing department might want me to write with the release of its “new” vegetarian-friendly menu item, the Black Bean Toasted Cheddar Chalupa.

I won’t do it, though.

Why?

Because, despite what the taco chain wants you to believe, non-meat eaters have always been able to clog their arteries right along with everyone else. Its refried beans, in fact, are vegan. Its black beans have been around for years and, in this modern era of customization, can be subbed for just about any other protein on its menu.

Furthermore, the toasted cheddar chalupa shell isn’t a “new” item, either. When it was first introduced in September of 2019, Taco Bell proclaimed it “the biggest food innovation of the year,” which, sure, why not. I can’t disprove this statement, nor am I sure why I’d want to.

So, here we are a year later, and Taco Bell is cramming the aforementioned black beans into the reintroduced cheesy chalupa shell. Perhaps it’s hoping it’ll placate vegetarians enough to not riot over the fact that it recently did away with one of the other things they could eat: the fried potatoes.

And so, does it work? Maybe!

As one might expect, the chalupa shell (which Taco Bell suggests is ensconced in cheddar that has been aged for six months) does the heavy lifting. This was my first experience with the Toasted Cheddar Chalupa — with any kind of filling — and I was very pleased. Texturally, the cheese adds a nice crunch that then yields to the pillowed, buttery chew of the traditional chalupa shell. Could I tell the cheese had been aged six months? No. Was it a little like when shredded cheese falls out of the omelet you’re making, and it gets all crispy in the pan, and you eat it and think, “now this is allllll right”? Yes.

I could happily eat eight of these shells with nothing else in them and call it a day.

I didn’t, however, because that would make for a bizarre review. Also, the one I ordered was filled with black beans, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, shredded cheddar cheese, and sour cream.

Taco Bell Black Bean Toasted Cheddar Chalupa Shell

You might be wondering how the shredded cheese plays with the toasted cheese on the shell, and the short answer is…indistinguishably? The longer, more ridiculous answer is that they harmoniously — though indifferently — coexist, like an old cat and old dog who live together but mostly just stay out of each other’s way. In other words, if they forgot to add your shredded cheese, it probably wouldn’t detract from the experience.

Which leaves the seasoned beans. And the verdict? I mean, they’re black beans, and by default, not very jazzy in nature. They are also a bit soupier than say, Chipotle’s black beans, but they have about the same amount of flavor. (It is also very possible the sour cream adds to this soupiness; that said, it provides a much needed tang to the proceedings, and I’d be hesitant to leave it off.)

While the Black Bean Toasted Cheddar Chalupa probably won’t convince anyone to give up their meat-eating ways, it does provide existing vegetarians with a nice alternative to the regular bean burrito or whatever that thing is with pinto beans and cheese in a cup. At least until this heavenly shell is once again banished to fast food purgatory. Then it’s back to subbing in black beans to a normal chalupa like a common street rat.

Purchased Price: $3.39
Size: N/A
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 470 calories, 29 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 450 milligrams of sodium, 37 grams of carbohydrates, 6 gram of dietary fiber, 3 grams of sugar, and 15 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Popeyes Twisty Wicked Shrimp

Popeyes Twisty Wicked Shrimp Closeup

What are Popeyes Twisty Wicked Shrimp and Smoky Garlic Tartar Sauce

According to the webs, this takes the Cajun chicken chain’s shrimp (seasoned with a blend of salt, pepper, onion, garlic, cayenne pepper, and bay leaf) and jazzes things up by marinating the little buggers in sriracha. You know, for the promised wickedness. These caustic crustaceans are paired with a new Smoky Garlic Tartar Sauce, which is, well, smokier and more garlicky than any tartar sauce that came before it.

How is it?

NOT HOT. If you’re an avid capsaicinophile hoping that this new offering will set your mouth on fire, you’ll likely be let down. I can handle (and enjoy) a decent amount of heat, but perhaps more importantly to this review, I am sensitive to spice, and I can tell you, without fear of killing the weakest among you, that you will be able to eat this shrimp comfortably.

I was disappointed with the lack of heat, but not with the shrimp itself. The pieces were large, the seasoning familiar in its Popeyesicity (not sure I can detect the bay leaf buried deep in there, though), and the breading added the perfect amount of crunch.

Popeyes Twisty Wicked Shrimp Sauce

The real revelation was the Smoky Garlic Tartar sauce, which, oddly enough, seemed to pack a heat the shrimp did not. The dip was nuanced —- a light sweetness contrasted with a heavy dill-ness, imbued with the aforementioned punch that was… maybe the smokiness? I’m not sure. But in short, it provided a nice compliment to the straight-forward, not-that-wicked shrimp.

Anything else you need to know?

As you can see in the picture above, my sauce didn’t come in one of the pre-packaged sauce containers as shown in promo pics, and the first time I went, they didn’t have the sauce at all. So, I guess what I’m saying is: if you live far away from a Popeyes and you’re interested in this, maybe call ahead. Because, while the shrimp is decent, it’s the sauce that really completes the experience.

Conclusion:

If you’re an avid Popeye’s connoisseur, check it out. If you don’t get to Popeye’s all that often, get the chicken sandwich instead. Or the chicken. But seriously, the sandwich. Have you had that thing? Like Uncle Jesse always said, “have mercy.”

Purchased Price: $6.30
Size: N/A
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: Unavailable on Popeyes’ website

REVIEW: Hissho Sushi Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Roll

Hissho Sushi Cheetos Flamin Hot Roll Tray

What is the Hissho Sushi Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Roll?

A unique and insanely creative sushi experience where Eastern cuisine meets Western snacking in the form of a Cheetos Flamin’ Hot sushi roll. The red-hot roll features spicy krab, crushed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, a drizzle of hot mayo along with avocado, cream cheese, and cucumber.

How is it?

Hissho Sushi Cheetos Flamin Hot Roll Tray Closeup

Just like those Cheetos Rorschach tests where you try to come up with what your cheese puff looks like (Is that a beluga whale or Jesus Christ?) I’m having some trouble with this one. There are certainly some moments of divine intervention. The red color is spot-on and perfectly reminiscent of the spicy snack.

Hissho Sushi Cheetos Flamin Hot Roll Back

It has some great heat and the cooling trifecta of avocado, cream cheese, and cucumber was a genius idea. They are the perfect antidote to the spice that builds, especially from the hot mayo. Although it never gets as hot as the actual snack. The cucumber also offers a satisfying crunch, while the cream cheese has the most significant impact on flavor, really coming through amongst all the components with the krab and avocado occasionally showing up to the party in your mouth.

Hissho Sushi Cheetos Flamin Hot Roll Closeup

Hissho Sushi Cheetos Flamin Hot Roll Rice

However, there are also some shortcomings considering the crazy concept. For this dangerously cheesy mashup, I couldn’t detect any cheese. The mashed-up Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and cheetle (the official name of the Cheetos dust!) are visibly present as they provide the fantastic bright red hue. Because of that, you would expect they would shine, but as far as any flavor or crunch goes, they are mostly just rendered inert by unfortunately dissolving into the moist sushi rice or mayo. It’s like a disappointing prank from the sly Chester Cheetah.

Anything else you need to know?

Hissho Sushi Cheetos Flamin Hot Roll Sign

There is nothing bootleg here! This is an official collaboration between Frito-Lay and Hissho Sushi, and they are putting some serious money/resources behind it. Look at the sign that greeted me on my hunt for this. This is not at the sushi counter. This is at the front entrance to the entire grocery store!

Conclusion:

This is an absolutely delicious spicy sushi roll with good heat, a gorgeous hue, and a multi-layered and refreshing cool crunch. I gobbled it up pretty quickly, actually. However, the spicy mayo and cream cheese overpower the star ingredient. I wish there was a hint of cheesiness and a heavier-handed approach to how the snack is showcased.

Purchased Price: $5.55
Size: 8.1 oz
Purchased at: Giant
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1 roll) 510 calories, 29 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 1160 milligrams of sodium, 52 grams of carbohydrates, 4 gram of dietary fiber, 6 grams of sugar, and 10 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Dunkin’ Sourdough Breakfast Sandwich

Dunkin Sourdough Breakfast Sandwich Split

What is the Dunkin’ Sourdough Breakfast Sandwich

Introduced as part of the winter seasonal menu, the sandwich consists of two eggs, five half-slices of bacon, and white cheddar on sourdough toast. ?

How is it?

I find immense joy in all types of breakfast sandwiches, but with this one, I walked away and found myself saying, “I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.”

Dunkin Sourdough Breakfast Sandwich Whole

Unwrapping the massive sandwich, I was immediately greeted with a patchy toast pattern outside the sourdough bread. They aren’t toasting the bread and then putting the sandwich together. They assemble it and throw it in an oven to heat, which essentially acts like a broiler: the top is toasted, but the rest isn’t.

Dunkin Sourdough Breakfast Sandwich Eggs

The two eggs give the illusion of freshly cracked eggs, but ultimately fall into the category of “egg-like” discs. The bacon, while plentiful, reminded me of the thin precooked kind you’d get at the store. However, the cheese was a nice change from the normal processed “cheese product” you’d find on most sandwiches. ?
Dunkin Sourdough Breakfast Sandwich Bacon

The bread not being toasted evenly and thoroughly really took away from what could have been a fairly successful sandwich. Sourdough, in my opinion, is at its best when toasted. It is very chewy and doesn’t necessarily lend itself to being a good sandwich when it’s untoasted. This leads to uneven bites of bread without the middle ingredients. That said, the bread itself is high quality and has that rich, unmistakable sourdough flavor.

Anything else you need to know?

Right now, Dunkin’ is offering 2x Dunkin’ points on this item if you use the app until 12/01.

Conclusion:

While I applaud Dunkin’ for taking a big swing, this one didn’t really pay off as well as I had hoped it would. While not the worst, it’s definitely not something I’d get again. It could probably be halfway decent if you get home and throw it in your air fryer or toaster oven. But let’s be real: most of us are just looking for something to shove in our faces between sips of coffee.

Purchased Price: $4.19
Size: N/A
Rating: 5 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1 serving) 650 calories, 32 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 365 milligrams of cholesterol, 1360 milligrams of sodium, 58 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and 31 grams of protein.

REVIEW: California Pizza Kitchen BBQ ‘Don’t Call Me Chicken’ Pizza

California Pizza Kitchen BBQ  Don t Call Me Chicken Pizza Full

What is the California Pizza Kitchen BBQ “Don’t Call Me Chicken” Pizza?

It’s CPK’s Original BBQ Chicken Pizza, but with a plant-based chicken substitute. So it has the same smoked Gouda, red onions, fresh cilantro, and BBQ sauce as the original, but the bawk bawk meat has been replaced with a 100 percent meatless vegetarian product that’s made from soy and wheat.

How is it?

California Pizza Kitchen BBQ  Don t Call Me Chicken Pizza Closeup

Well, it tastes like a California Pizza Kitchen Original BBQ Chicken Pizza. Although, not EXACTLY like one. The flavors of the cheese, onions, cilantro, and especially the BBQ sauce do an admirable job at masking the fact that the protein is not chicken. Even when biting into the plant-based meat with the other ingredients, it’s difficult to tell it’s something other than chicken.

But, with the pizza I ordered, I thought the barbecue sauce flavor wasn’t as bold as what I’ve tasted with the many regular Original BBQ Chicken Pizzas I’ve had. Of course, maybe it was just with my order, and you may have a different experience. But, overall, I did enjoy it, and most eaters won’t be able to tell it’s faux faux meat.

California Pizza Kitchen BBQ  Don t Call Me Chicken Pizza Soy

However, that changes when one tries to eat the plant-based meat on its own. It looks marinated, but it tastes like what I imagine a soy and wheat product would taste like. In other words, it’s a bit bland. So, Public Service Announcement alert, don’t eat the plant-based chicken by itself.

Anything else you need to know?

Plant-based meats haven’t been about being a healthier option for us. It’s been about being a healthier option for our planet. Holy cow! I mean, holy faux cow! Did I write that? That is deep. Sorry. It’s about using fewer resources to produce the plants to make the meat substitute than what it would take to raise animals for meat.

California Pizza Kitchen BBQ  Don t Call Me Chicken Pizza Slice

But if you’re curious, a slice of this has roughly the same nutrition numbers as a slice of The Original BBQ Chicken, except the one with real meat has ten more calories, ten more milligrams of cholesterol, ten fewer milligrams of sodium, and one more gram of protein per slice.

Also, at least at my local CPK, a $1 premium over the original version.

Conclusion:

California Pizza Kitchen’s BBQ “Don’t Call Me Chicken” Pizza is a delicious vegetarian version of its classic menu item.

Purchased Price: $17.99*
Size: N/A
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1 slice) 180 calories, 5 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 490 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 3 grams of sugar, and 10 grams of protein.

*Because I live on a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, things are a bit pricier here. You’ll probably pay less than I did.

REVIEW: Pizza Hut Beyond Italian Sausage Pizza

Pizza Hut Beyond Italian Sausage Pizza Box

As I was going through the options to order my Pizza Hut Beyond Italian Sausage Pizza online, I thought about getting an order with half regular Italian sausage and half Beyond Italian sausage to compare.

But then I thought, “How will I know which is which if they’re supposed to be alike?” Also, I thought, “Why would I do this?” It’s not as if I don’t know what Pizza Hut’s Italian sausage tastes like. I’ve eaten my current body weight in it over my lifetime, so I’m pretty sure I know what it tastes like. So I went all in with the meat substitute.

Pizza Hut Beyond Italian Sausage Pizza Whole

The pizza features Pizza Hut’s usual cheese, sauce, and crust, but it’s topped with Beyond Meat’s plant-based Italian sausage. The meat substitute company has planted it plant-based flag in several fast food products over the past two years from Dunkin’, Carl’s Jr., and Del Taco.

After picking it up, the first thing I noticed was how it didn’t smell like a Pizza Hut pizza with Italian sausage. Even during my trip home in an enclosed 2003 Toyota Corolla and after peeling back the box’s lid when I got home, my nose couldn’t sense the familiar aroma of spices.

Pizza Hut Beyond Italian Sausage Pizza Closeup

While it lacks the aroma that accompanies Italian sausage, it certainly looks the part. I could even see dried rosemary peeking through some of the chunks. Wait. Is that dried rosemary or a tiny sunflower seed?

Update: I have been told on Twitter that it’s a fennel seed.

Pizza Hut Beyond Italian Sausage Pizza Closer Up

As for the flavor, I found the plant-based Italian sausage to be noticeably less flavorful than The Hut’s regular Italian sausage. All the right seasonings are there, but at 70-80 percent potency of the regular version’s flavor. But if I wasn’t someone who has eaten my body weight Pizza Hut Italian sausage, I probably wouldn’t have noticed a difference, especially when it’s swimming on top of cheese and sauce.

What was even more noticeable was the texture of the sausage substitute. Compared with the regular stuff, the pieces were slightly dried out after being in Pizza Hut’s proprietary super ovens. Also, and I don’t know if this has anything to do with what I mentioned above, the plant-based sausage seems a lot less greasy.

Despite the lack of aroma, being less flavorful, and having a slightly dried out texture, I enjoyed the Pizza Hut Beyond Italian Sausage. I guess all those issues aren’t complete dealbreakers to me. Although I recognize that for some (or many) of you, they might be.

Pizza Hut Beyond Italian Sausage Pizza Slice

How I feel about this is the same as how I feel about the Impossible Whopper. It’s not as good as the original, but it’s good enough that I’d order it again. At this time, I don’t expect plant-based meats to equal the real stuff, but I do expect it to come close, which this does.

Purchased Price: $16.99*
Size: Large
Rating: 6 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: Not available at time of publication.

*Because I live on a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, things are a bit pricier here. You’ll probably pay less than I did.

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