Photo: Kate Bernot

At first blush, you could have taken Taco Bell’s new Toasted Cheddar Chalupa for a phone-it-in “innovation.” Start with a beloved menu item, add cheese. Boom—innovation. But, upon biting into its cheesy, shatter-crisp exterior, I can say: Sometimes the most beautiful things in life are the simplest.

The new chalupa debuted nationally September 12 as part of Taco Bell’s larger menu shake-up that also saw the untimely death of the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos and the introduction of a dedicated vegetarian section. At the Taco Bell I visited, the new Chalupa’s arrival was heralded with proper fanfare: A big menu display and a new combo that pairs one Toasted Cheddar Chalupa with two crunchy tacos and a drink for $5 (at participating stores, some restrictions may apply, see store for details, forever and ever amen).

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I ordered my Toasted Cheddar Chalupa alongside a standard Chalupa because I know how a control-based study works. Maybe I received the very last Chalupa before the new batch was fried because my standard one was a letdown: no crunch at all, just a sad, pitalike dough sleeve. I thought I loved Chalupas. Did my memory fail me? I subsequently took a bite of the Toasted Cheddar Chalupa, and the Chalupa category totally redeemed itself.

The Toasted Cheddar Chalupa’s exterior is encrusted with a layer of extra-crunchy cheese, reminiscent of the cheese discs produced when you’re broiling something and cheese drips onto the baking sheet or the satisfying frico of melted-hard cheese that sticks to the bottom of a delivery pizza box. The end of the cheddar Chalupa shattered when I bit it with a tempura-like crispiness, yet the rest of the shell held its form.

Not only does the toasted cheese add a double layer of crunch, but it’s perceptibly cheddary, even when covered in Fire sauce. That initial cheddar bite synchs up with the shredded cheese inside the Chalupa, creating a cheese-flavored echo.

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Fans of the original Chalupa are almost guaranteed to have a new favorite on their hands: the toasted cheddar version improves on the O.G. both in terms of texture and flavor. It’s almost enough to make me forget all about the Cool Ranch Doritos Loco Taco.