Chow Town

I tried McDonald’s and Taco Bell’s new fried chicken — and they weren’t bad

Taco Bell’s new Naked Chicken Chips come with a side of warm nacho cheese sauce.
Taco Bell’s new Naked Chicken Chips come with a side of warm nacho cheese sauce.

If you’ve been through a drive-thru recently, you probably noticed a sizzling-hot summer trend: Fried chicken is everywhere.

Chicken chains such as Zaxby’s, Raising Cane’s and Slim Chickens are flocking to the Kansas City metro — and fast food giants Taco Bell and McDonald’s are adding new or improved fried chicken menu items to attract customers who are bored with burritos and burgers.

Recently I taste-tested four new offerings from fast food chains that are not traditionally known for fried chicken. Some were surprisingly good — others, not so much. I’m looking at you, Burger King Chicken Fries.

Taco Bell’s Naked Chicken Chips

When these triangle-shaped chicken nuggets debuted last month, my first thought was “No way.” But after trying them last week, I have to admit — they’re not that bad. The chips ($1.99 for six) are crispy, golden and lightly spicy on the outside, with soft white meat chicken on the inside.

The triangle shape is a constant reminder that the chicken is processed, but it’s still fun to dip the chips in warm nacho cheese sauce. I liked the Naked Chicken Chips more than Taco Bell’s other new menu item, the Chickstar ($2.99), which is essentially a grilled chicken wrap sandwich with Naked Chicken Chips inside — but I don’t think they’ll replace my go-to bean burrito with Fire sauce.

The verdict: Three out of five feathers

Burger King’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Burger King recently retired its Tendercrisp sandwich and replaced it with a Crispy Chicken Sandwich ($4.59). I never tried the Tendercrisp, so I can’t say which is better, but I’m not a fan of the Crispy Chicken. The fillet I tried was flat, overly salty and too dense and crispy. The potato bun looked glossy and appetizing, but it was slathered with mayonnaise, so I couldn’t eat the whole thing.

I also tried Burger King’s Chicken Fries ($2.89), spears of white meat chicken coated in seasoned breading. I liked the fresh flavor of the herb-flecked breading, but the chicken itself tasted overly processed, and the stick shape was just too weird for me.

The verdict: One out of five feathers

McDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken sandwich

McDonald’s also upped its fried chicken offerings recently by adding a line of Signature Crafted Recipes sandwiches that includes an all-breast, buttermilk-battered chicken fillet. The Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich comes in three flavors: Pico Guacamole, Maple Bacon Dijon and Sweet BBQ Bacon.

I tried the Sweet BBQ Bacon version ($6.99 with fries), which comes topped with barbecue sauce, smoked bacon, white cheddar and two kinds of onions: grilled and crispy. The sandwich’s quality was a cut above typical fast food — it reminded me of something I would get at a sports bar — and the thick chicken fillet was definitely filling.

My only complaints: The artisan roll was a bit bland and the barbecue sauce a little too sweet. Midway through the meal, I ditched the bun and went straight for the juicy chicken and flavor-packed toppings.

Overall, the sandwich exceeded my expectations, but it’s still no Big Mac.

The verdict: Three out of five feathers

Arby’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Last summer, Arby’s upgraded its chicken sandwich with a 100 percent breast fillet coated with sweet and savory buttermilk batter. The new sandwich comes in four variations: Buffalo, Bacon & Swiss, Cordon Bleu and a classic version with shredded lettuce, sliced tomato and mayo.

I went with the Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich ($7.29 with a side and Jamocha shake) and did not regret it. The chicken was crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, and perfectly seasoned. The sliced tomato wasn’t very ripe, but even so, I thought the toppings complemented the chicken without overpowering it, and the star-cut bun was soft and fresh.

I split the sandwich with my husband, and as soon as it was gone we wished we’d ordered two. Who knew a chain famous for roast beef could do fried chicken so well?

The verdict: Four out of five feathers