Culture Fast Food Features

Why Items Like The Naked Chicken Chalupa Could Someday Hit The Permanent Menu

The Naked Chicken Chalupa was one of Taco Bell’s most successful product launches, and yet, it was only available for a brief six weeks before disappearing.

It’s back now, but will only be available for a couple of months. Even with such initial success and hype over the Naked Chicken Chalupa, whether it will ever become a permanent menu item or not is still in the air.

hype fast food item

Photo courtesy of Taco Bell

It turns out that fast food chains in general, including Taco Bell, have complex systems that determine whether an item can stay for good or come back in periodic intervals. Taco Bell’s Manager of Product Development, Rene Pisciotti, broke down his company’s process:

“Everything that goes on menu for permanency or LTO (limited time only) has to serve a purpose. It has to fill a consumer need or gap. What we [also] need to make sure is that the consumer experience is the same with that product day in and day out. If there’s any jeopardy of it being different, not being made right or executed properly, unfortunately we have to take it out of consideration for permanency. The second consideration is where this product lies from a sales standpoint. Meaning, if I buy that, am I choosing to buy something different, or am I buying that alongside what I usually order. If they can both live in harmony, that’s fine, but if there’s an impact to ingredients and their quality, then it becomes problematic.”

With the Naked Chicken Chalupa, Pisciotti’s biggest concern is that the fried chicken shell makes it a tough product for Taco Bell staff to make. The extra labor and ingredients make it a little more challenging, but if the demand rises and operators can consistently punch them out, the Naked Chicken Chalupa could merit consideration for a spot on the permanent menu.

sonic signature slingers

Photo courtesy of Sonic Drive-In

Taco Bell’s not the only chain going through some considerations with their most buzzworthy items.

Sonic Drive-In just brought their Signature Slingers onto the national menu for a short period, and the next steps for them is to consider whether it’ll be a permanent item or not. Culinary Director Scott Uehlein told Foodbeast that the Slinger will “have to earn its way” into that spot.

For the Slinger to hit the full-time menu, it needs to sustain sales once the advertising campaigns around the mushroom-blended burger subside, Uehlein said. That will establish proof that the burger can be successful on its own, making it worthy of consideration for a continual duration on the menu.

The Slinger is unique for Uehlein’s team because of how groundbreaking it was upon launch. Nobody in fast food had considered a blended burger up to that point.

Uehlein said that the Slinger will have some extra, in-house considerations when the team decides whether to give it an indefinite spot in their lineup.

Photo courtesy of California Tortilla

While Taco Bell and Sonic tend to launch items for a limited run prior to permanent consideration, other businesses look at current items to see if they should be continued or not. This is the case for California Tortilla, an East Coast fusion burrito chain. CEO Keith Goldman’s menu concept merits the more continuous cycle of LTOs, as his restaurants bring in flavors from all over the world, like Korean BBQ or Chicken Tikka Masala.

Goldman is continuously rotating new LTOs through his lineup every 12-18 months to keep customers excited, but also utilizes it as a testing ground for permanency. “About 60 percent of our current menu was a limited-time item,” he divulged. He does have some criteria outside of success that are evaluated when he’s thinking about making an item permanent.

Simplicity in operations and recipes is a big one, so that staff across all of his locations can replicate the product perfectly. Seasonality can also be a factor for Goldman, who runs a Bangkok Shrimp option on his menu throughout the summer for something customers can look forward to annually. It helps him build customer loyalty while maintaining a constant stream of new customers enticed by the latest limited-time offering.

Across these three chains, a consistent pattern of success, functionality, and ease of operations exists when considering whether to make hype fast food items permanent.

Nonetheless, customer demand continues to be a huge factor on all accounts, so if your favorite item keeps leaving and coming back, just know that there is hope for it to stay on the menu for good one day. The chains just have to figure out how to manage demand, and flawlessly incorporate them into their systems first.

Fast Food

ALERT: Popeye’s Chicken Waffle Tenders Return for a Limited Time

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Last summer, Popeye’s Chicken stumbled on a minor bit of genius when it decided to fry its chicken tenders in waffle batter and serve them with maple syrup. Now Popeye’s is bringing back its hybrid spawn.

Just like before, the waffle tenders will be available with a biscuit and Popeye’s Sweet Honey Maple dipping sauce for $4.99. I was supposed to pick some up for lunch today, but chickened out and decided to go with quinoa instead. Don’t make the same mistake as me, especially since this limited time offering is only available until June 29.

Fast Food

Jack in the Box Whips Out Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cream Pie


Peanut butter cup desserts are nothing new. From cheesecakes at The Cheesecake Factory to Reese’s Blizzards at Dairy Queen, the only thing Reese’s fans could want more is maybe a peanut butter blood transfusion. But say you need your PBC fix super late at night, alongside a helping of cheesy bacon ranch chicken nuggets and halfsie fries. Chill, Jack in the Box’s got your back.

For a limited time, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Pies are making their way to everyone’s favorite munchie menu. Jack in the Box’s take features a cookie crust, Reese’s peanut butter filling, crumbled Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and chocolate and peanut butter sauce drizzles, reports Brand Eating. Like most fast food pies, the Reese’s is a little visually underwhelming, but not nearly enough to outweigh the buttery fatness of the cream, or the $1.99 price tag.




A Look at El Torito’s New Comida Clásica Menu Including A Pasilla Red Mole Carne Asada


Back in September, El Torito stunned Foodbeast staff by offering a new, limited time ‘Flavors of Baja’ menu that not only tasted good, but seemed to finally break the stale mold of Chain Mexican Restaurant dining. This time El Torito is back at it again, successfully introducing more traditional Mexican flavors not typically seen at your average taco shop. The vehicle is through its new, carefully-crafted Comida Clásica menu that swayed toward the conservative but could boast tradicional roots without destroying the facade of “Mexican Flavors’ the American palette has been trained to love (for better or worse).

In a utopian world, established restaurants with Research and Menu Development budgets, similar to El Torito, would be able to take grandiose and most importantly aggressive steps to introduce new flavors and finally shift the American palette to Mexican cuisine outside of the Asada Taco, Carnitas Burrito and Cheese Enchilada. It’s true, the metropolitan palette in the US has already been shifting due to the success of mainstream ‘Mexican’ like Chipotle/Taco Bell and the Asian-Fusion popularity that took us all by storm (and is still delicious). But will that direction last? Would we want it to?

The Comida Clásica menu takes baby steps in the right direction toward new flavors based in Mexican cultural relevance. Case in point, the Enchiladas de Huitlacoche include a creamy almond Nogata sauce (typically popular during the holidays) and sautéed Huitlacoche, otherwise known as mushroom of the corn or corn smut. By itself, when boiled and sautéed, Huitlacoche could be described as having an intimidating taste, virtually unknown to everyday stateside flavors. However, when delivered through a popular menu item like the enchilada and combined with chicken, manchego cheese and roasted pepitas, the flavor and also therefore its chances for mainstream acceptance — come to life. Of all the dishes, the enchiladas took the most confident step into the unknown, for which I give the Real Mex Executive Team a ton of credit. Branding a new Huitlacoche menu item isn’t easy nor is executing it at 60+ restaurants.

One will start to feel the conservatism expressed through the remaining menu items: Queso Fundido Appetizer, Mahi Mahi Veracruz, Street Taco Trio and the Carne Asada con Mole Tradicional. Of the remaining items, the Carne Asada dish is worth a specific mention because of its attempt to present Mole in a new light. Mole Poblano is the most popularized type of sauce outside of Mexico. If you’ve had Mole in the past, and can’t remember what kind – odds are you ate a Poblano. The Comida Clásica menu twists that script by introducing a traditional Red Mole from the state of Guanajuato, a state smack-dab in the middle of the country. The Red Mole is less sweet than its Poblano counterpart, mainly because less chocolate is used. Red Mole also uses the Pasilla pepper versus the darker Mulatto chiles. For someone opposed to the sweetness of the Pablano, but still interested in Mole flavors — this Red Mole might be the perfect combination. The sauce still adds significant flavor to the seasoned asada without completely overpowering it.

Overall the menu still impresses even if my personal hope would be to see a more aggressive set of food options. Still, I have come to terms with how a new menu item’s success is still dictated by its sales (for the most part). And boy, us Americans — we’re a tough crowd to please.

Check out the photos and menu descriptions of the full Comida Clásica menu below including its featured cocktails: the Margarita Toreada and the Fire Chata. Photos by Peter Pham.


Queso Fundito Appetizer


El Torito’s Queso Fundito uses a hybrid of Chihuahua and Manchego Cheeses as the primary ingredient. Chihuahua Cheese was originally brought to Mexico by European Mennonites and can be compared to a mild cheddar. Manchego, originally from Spain, traditionally is a white, sheep-milk cheese but has since been adapted to a cow cheese here in North America. The combination of these cheeses, lean chorizo, sautéed mushrooms, and a roasted pepper salsa proved to be more than worthwhile.


Enchiladas de Huitalacoche


As previously mentioned, if there’s one menu item you should try — it should be these enchiladas. Similar to many contemporary independent restaurants El Torito also found a good way to implement the ever-popular squash blossoms that sit at the bottom of the plate. Try this dish for the almond Nogata sauce and most likely your first bite of sautéed huitalacoche.


Street Taco Trio


This entree serves a variety set of tacos on corn tortillas including steak, grilled chicken breast and carnitas. The pickled nopalitos add an interesting flavor but the real standout is the side dish. The tacos are served with a restaurant adaptation of esquite de maiz, similar to a Mexican creamed corn. At stands off the highways in Mexico, one can buy the street version of this food: sliced corn off the grill thrown into a cup with lime juice, hot sauce and mayonnaise. The El Torito version has been classed up, but you’ll get the idea.


Mahi Mahi Veracruz


Loreto Alacala, Manager of Training and Development at El Torito, specifically noted the seafood rivalry between two coastal states of Mexico — Veracruz v. Sinaloa. The Mahi Mahi Veracruz ironically combines a Pacific fish that could technically be caught in Sinaloa with the Veracruz culinary style by using roasted vegetables, citrus and tomatoes. Perhaps this was a subconscious decision by Alcala that ends up politically pleasing countryman from both states. The fish itself is light and refreshing, but I’m going to guess most patrons don’t frequent El Torito for it’s lighter fare.


Margarita Toreada and Fire Chata Cocktails



The Margarita Toreada includes Maestro Dobel Tequila, sweet & sour and jalapeño toreado chiles. The Fire Chata brings similar heat with Fireball Cinnamon Whisky and Rum Horchata.


Loreto Alcala, Training & Development – El Torito


No, Mr. Alcala isn’t on the LTO menu, but his worldly expertise and graceful manner in which he communicates should be properly noted. El Torito, he’s a keeper. And the crew is excited to get our hands on his new Mexico City LTO menu.


Olive Garden Brings Back Never Ending Pasta, Deal Ironically Ends Late September


Let’s be real, the only reason most of us go to Olive Garden is for the unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks deal at $7.99.  Now, Olive Garden is upping the ante and bringing back the Never Ending Pasta Bowl, available through September 29, 2013.

This $9.99 deal includes unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks and lets you mix and match between seven pasta options (Spaghetti, Linguine, Whole Wheat Linguine, Fettuccine, Angel Hair, Penne and Cavatappi Corkscrew) and six sauces (Marinara, Five Cheese Marinara, Meat Sauce, Alfredo, Asiago Garlic Alfredo and Sausage Pomodoro).

While this is all wonderful news, hurrah hurrah hurrah, we’re still wondering where the Never Ending Pasta Bowl went in the first place? If the special is truly “Never Ending,” this should be a 24/7, 365-days-a-year sort of thing. We’re just sayin’.


If the overload of delicious carbs isn’t enough to fill you up, you can add unlimited meatballs, Italian sausage or Chicken Fritta for $2.99.

PicThx Olive Garden

Fast Food

Popeyes Brings Forth New Deep-Fried, Waffle-Battered Chicken Tenders

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So, what happens when plain ol’ chicken and waffles just aren’t cutting it anymore? You go all cronut on ’em and smash the two together for the ultimate hybrid meal. Well, kinda.

Popeyes is rolling out a “new twist on a southern favorite” and bringing the masses limited-time Chicken Waffle Tenders. The new item features deep-fried, waffle-battered boneless chicken strips served with Cajun fries, a biscuit and honey maple dipping sauce. The whole lot rings in at $4.99.

According to AdAge, Dick Lynch, the chain’s Chief Global Brand Officer, explained that the Chicken Waffle Tenders were inspired by the “the dietary habits of jazz musicians in Los Angeles during 1940s and 50s.” Apparently, players finished at such late hours that fried chicken and waffle batter were the only things left by the end of the night.

Apparently, of course.

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Either way, we’re more concerned with how delicious this sounds. Juicy chicken coated in sweet, crunchy waffle batter, then dipped in syrupy honey?

Well played, Popeyes. Well played.

The Chicken Waffle Tenders are set to make their debut at Popeyes this coming Monday, July 29th.


Whataburger Launches a Plethora of New Limited Time Only Items

Whataburger, the privately held burger chain with nearly 700 units is flexing a new wave of limited-time only menu items for the beginning of the 2011 year. According to the friends over at BurgerBusiness, we’re now savvy to the brand’s region-specific deals. Locations in the Arizona, New Mexico and western Texas will get to try a new Green Chile Double burger (1,020-calories, 64 grams of fat, two beef patties, Monterey Jack and American cheese and green chiles) plus two new spicy morning items in the form of a Chorizo Taquito (scrambled eggs, chorizo, American cheese jalapeño and picante sauce in a rolled tortilla) and a Breakfast on a Bun (fried egg, chorizo, American cheese and jalapeño on a bun).