Here’s the thing about Taco Bell’s new chicken nuggets: They’re not really nuggets.
Fried in a buttermilk jalapeño batter, they’re made with what Taco Bell calls “whole muscle” chicken breast — and as far as I can tell, they’re not lying. Bite into one and you will find the trademark intact white meat of a chicken tender or finger. Nuggets are usually made with an engineered meat mash that’s reshaped into bite-sized pieces, and they have a softer texture and thinner breading. These T Bell nuggets are small, true — but a small chicken tender does not a chicken nugget make.
I’m not complaining, though! These babies are good. They hit all the right salty, crunchy, marvelously neutral notes. The jalapeño buttermilk breading isn’t spicy, exactly, but it functions as a flavorful, crusty shell. (I accidentally dropped a nugget on the floor and it made a satisfying little thunk sound, like an acorn falling.) The nuggets come with a choice of two sauces: a “signature Bell sauce,” which tastes like a mild salsa crema, and a jalapeño honey mustard, which tastes like regular honey mustard until the third or fourth bite, when a little heat builds in the back of your throat.
Taco Bell is using the Twin Cities — and only the Twin Cities — as a test market for the chicken nuggets. They’re available at 80 locations throughout the metro area, according to Bring Me The News, though the chain has been tight-lipped about which ones, so they’re a little tricky to track down (tho Reddit has some intel to that end). For what it’s worth, I got mine at the Lake Street Taco Bell, and there can’t be that many more than 80 total locations around here anyway.
How does Taco Bell choose its test markets, and which items appear in which cities? That mystery endures. I emailed them to ask; no solid answer quite yet. The chicken nuggets aren’t the chain’s first foray into the chicken world — in the past few years, it has rolled out a crispy chicken sandwich taco (now restyled as just tacos), crispy tortilla chicken tenders, and ultra-limited chile crisp chicken strips, which it tested at just one California location this summer. This is (arguably) the world’s most innovative fast food chain we’re talking about here.
But Taco Bell seems to have a certain affinity for the Twin Cities. It built the country’s first Taco Bell Defy — a two-story, vaguely futuristic T Bell that uses a vertical conveyor belt like a bank drive-thru — in Brooklyn Park last year. It also tested its “grilled cheese dipping” (aka quesabirria) tacos here, and the dish became a nationwide menu staple this summer. I have a good feeling about these chicken escapades, too. Taco Bell might be giving McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, and Popeye’s a run for their money. If the nuggets go nationwide, remember: we loved them first.