Chalupas have a long history as a traditional Mexican dish. But they’ve also been a crave-worthy staple for Tex-Mex lovers for at least the past 20-some years, ever since Taco Bell added them to the menu in 1999 and made them nationally famous more than 30 years since the chain was founded in 1962 (per the official website).
While Chalupas are a permanent staple on the Taco Bell menu, and undeniably a long-running fan favorite, they’re also often reinvented in special varieties for limited-time periods, a facet that really causes a stir amongst the Bell Heads (a name we just made up for Taco Bell enthusiasts). A more modern update came along with the introduction of the Naked Chicken Chalupa in 2017 (via Refinery29), and earlier this year TB unveiled that fried chicken shell delight once again, aiming to take a stake in the chicken sandwich wars, says Business Insider.
But whether you’ve chomped hundreds of Chalupas in your life or have yet to try one, we’re betting there are a few things you may not know about this gotta-have-it indulgence. And these quick and fun facts might actually help make your next Chalupa experience even more enjoyable.
Taco Bell Chalupas differ from authentic varieties
Like the rest of Taco Bell’s menu, their Chalupas are American-ized, fast-food-ized interpretations of Mexican dishes. Cheesy Gordita Crunches, for example, aren’t exactly authentic, but there’s an authentic inspiration in there somewhere … just wrapped in more layers of taco shell and smothered in more cheese. Similarly, it’s not that Chalupas are unrecognizable from the original dish, but they are undoubtedly reinvented by TB for an American audience.
According to Garlic and Zest, a "chalupa" is the Spanish term for a kind of boat, and chalupa shells, rounded up a bit at the edges, form a sort of boat or ship’s hull vessel for all the tasty ingredients inside. These shells are made from masa, a dough created from a mixture of masa harina and water — masa harina is a flour made from ground hominy or dried corn kernels, writes The Kitchn. Traditional chalupas are filled with salsa while they’re still being fried, and then they’re topped with cilantro, queso fresco, shredded lettuce, and meat.
When Taco Bell unveiled Chalupas at its locations in 1999 (as noted by Nation’s Restaurant News), they’d made a key change from the authentic Mexican dish. Taco Bell’s Chalupas are instead notably made from flatbread shells that have been fried until they’re crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside. Basically, they’re thicker and doughier than the real-deal chalupas. They’re then filled with meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and sour cream (per Taco Bell), so it’s not too wildly different from the O.G.
The Naked Chicken Chalupa is maybe the most popular
Taco Bell basically broke the internet when the chain introduced the Naked Chicken Chalupa in 2017. Then, it broke a lot of hearts when it removed this hyped item from menus that same year (per the AV Club).
Intended only to be a limited-time item, the Naked Chicken Chalupa simply swapped out the doughy exterior for a fried chicken cutlet shaped like a taco shell. Pretty genius if you ask us. The only similarity to a regular Chalupa, though, lies within the shell’s thickness, plus the toppings of lettuce, tomato, and cheese. It’s one of those over-the-top, crazy items that gets people talking, but it actually tastes good too, so it’s really no wonder Taco Bell has had a hit on their hands with this one.
In May of 2021, the chain announced that they’d be resurrecting the Naked Chicken Chalupa once again as a way to keep up with the fast food’s industry "chicken sandwich wars," yet while doing so in Taco Bell’s own unique way. There may not be much that’s "chalupa"-y about this item, yet it’s arguably the most famous iteration on the TB menu. Sadly for fans, this item has once again flown the coop, but we’re sure we haven’t seen the last of it.
There have been even more Chalupa reinventions over the years
The Naked Chicken Chalupa might be the most popular twist, but it’s not the only one. While the standard Chalupa Supreme is a menu staple, the chain seems to love popping in from time to time to tease a special iteration, only to remove it again and make fans even more excited when it returns. For example, in the fall of 2020, Taco Bell spoke to cheese lovers’ hearts by bringing back the Toasted Cheddar Chalupa, which had first debuted a year earlier, says Delish. With its second coming, though, the restaurant added a veggie option with black beans (per The Takeout).
Then there’s the Quesalupa. While the Toasted Cheddar Chalupa has cheese toasted to a crisp finish on the outside of the shell, the Quesalupa has a shell that’s filled with ooey, gooey melted cheese. The Quesalupa first premiered in 2016 and showed up on menus again in the spring of 2021, with 50% more cheese, writes Thrillist. Another Thrillist article reported on the latest appearance of another on-again, off-again favorite, the Bacon Club Chalupa, which most recently appeared in December 2020. This one is basically a chicken and bacon sandwich but better … because, well, Chalupa.
The beloved dish has even gone to appear at breakfast-time, though in an even more limited capacity than usual. Only certain locations saw the French Toast Chalupa, which — you guessed it — had a French toast shell (via Food & Wine). We don’t think anyone would complain if Taco Bell wanted to bring that one back.
Taco Bell is experimenting with a plant-based Chalupa
Taco Bell has been called the best chain for vegetarians (per Insider). The company has always seemed sensitive to dietary restrictions and needs, offering beans as a protein right alongside chicken and steak, and making all of the menu items extremely customizable. Ordering ahead online only makes it even faster and easier to basically build any Taco Bell dish from scratch to your liking. The chain is still pushing forward with innovations to provide vegetarians and even vegans with more options.
In June of 2021, Food & Wine reported that Taco Bell was experimenting with a plant-based version of the Naked Chicken Chalupa — simply called the Naked Chalupa. The crispy chicken shell is said to be entirely plant-based, made from a proprietary pea-centric blend that’s crafted in-house. The Naked Chalupa had a limited test run in California, so we’ve yet to see if it will become a permanent option at other locations. If so, it would join the Black Bean Chalupa as a way for non-meat eaters to enjoy this crispy, doughy delight.
How much Taco Bell Chalupas cost
The easiest way to order a Chalupa from Taco Bell, especially if you plan on making customizations, is on the chain’s website or app. But of course, it’s simple enough to order the Chalupa Supreme when you drive up to a Taco Bell drive-thru window or walk up to the counter. Here too you can ask to switch the beef filling to chicken, steak, potatoes, or beans, or make it altogether vegetarian by changing the sauces or adding nacho cheese. And you can even change the toppings like nixing tomatoes or adding jalapeño peppers.
The limited Chalupa varieties will have slightly different prices — the plant-based Naked Chalupa was $3.49, for example (per Food & Wine). The standard, ever-present Chalupa Supreme is $3.39, with a $3.29 price tag for the Black Bean Chalupa Supreme. Modifications mean a varying total, too Adding nacho cheese also adds $0.65 to the total cost, while other sauces and toppings tend to range from an additional $0.30 to $0.50.
Basically, if you make a few changes, you could pay anywhere from $3.49 to close to $5.00 for a Chalupa. There’s also the "2 Chicken Chalupas Supreme Combo," which comes with a large drink and a Crunchy Taco for $9.39, per Taco Bell’s website.
The nutrition of a Chalupa
In yet another show of good faith for those trying to stick to certain diets or routines, Taco Bell has a host of handy guides and tools so people don’t have to sacrifice indulgences when choosing items from the menu. The nutrition section of the company’s website helps customers know where they can skip gluten, keep an eye on calories, avoid meat, watch out for allergens, and more. And the Nutrition Calculator helps track what you’re ordering even as you customize your meal.
The standard Chalupa Supreme, made as is and filled with beef, has 350 calories, 18 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, and 0 grams of trans fat. It has 560 milligrams of sodium, 33 grams of carbohydrates, and 13 grams of protein. If you look at benchmarks like the Mayo Clinic‘s estimation for how many grams of carbs we should get a day, the Chalupa isn’t too terrible.
A simple swap to grilled chicken cuts down the calories, fat, and carbs, and adds protein. A switch to black beans is pretty similar but with more carbs and less protein. Of course, the sky’s basically the limit in terms of customizations, making the Chalupa relatively friendly to stay within the boundaries of any health routine.