Fast-food might have originated from the simple burger-and-fries model, but it’s come a long way since then. Sure, people still love the classics, but other, crazier and sometimes more colorful menu items have also begun to appear on menus everywhere. From pumpkin spice lattes to shamrock shakes, some of these foods and drinks have even gained cult followings. These are the foods people just can’t get enough of.
McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich all began because of the Catholic tradition of Lent, where Catholics give up meat on Fridays. One Cincinnati McDonald’s took a huge hit in sales because of it, so the owner brought a fish sandwich to headquarters, got it approved and changed the game, both for his franchise and McDonald’s at large. That was in 1962.
The sandwich is nothing fancy — it’s a fried fish patty on a regular bun with tartar sauce and a slice of American cheese. Even so, McDonald’s sells 300 million Filet-O-Fish sandwiches every year, and a quarter of those sales are during Lent alone.
Doritos Locos Tacos
Taco Bell and Doritos came together in 2012 to create Doritos Locos Tacos, and they were an instant favorite among Taco Bell customers. Since their launch, 2.4 billion of these things have sold. Who would have thought that combining a snack food with tacos would create such a massive craze?
Originally, you could get Doritos Locos Tacos in three flavors: Nacho Cheese, Cool Ranch or Fiery. In 2019, they eliminated everything but the Nacho Cheese flavor, the best-seller of the three, in an attempt to simplify their menu.
Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich
It only took Popeyes two weeks to sell out of its chicken sandwich after it launched on August 12, 2019. Chic-Fil-A, claiming to be the originator of the chicken sandwich, didn’t take Popeye’s new sandwich craze very well and started a bit of a feud between the two companies on social media.
That battle only fueled the craze for Popeyes’ chicken sandwich, which led to a lawsuit, a stick-up and even a stabbing. Popeyes customers were begging for the return of the sandwich until that day finally arrived months later on November 2, 2019.
Burger King’s Impossible Whopper
With vegetarianism on the rise thanks to diners’ concern for the planet, the fast-food industry had to get in on the trend. Burger King partnered with Impossible Foods, one of the largest companies of faux-meat products, to give plant lovers what they wanted.
The Impossible Whopper launched in late 2019, and it was all the rage. It gave Burger King a sales boost of five percent during the final quarter of 2019, a jump the restaurant chain has not seen since 2015. While sales have plateaued recently, experts say the meatless craze is here to stay.
McCafe Donut Sticks
In February 2019, McDonald’s began offering McCafe Donut Sticks on its breakfast menu for a limited time only. Whether it was the limited-time-offer or the Donut Sticks themselves that led to their popularity is unclear, as they only show up on the menu intermittently.
Thanks to popular demand, McDonald’s brought the Donut Sticks back in November 2019, this time with a chocolate dipping sauce. They were available through the holiday season. If and when they come back again is a question that only time will tell.
Little Caesars Impossible Supreme
The meatless trend sweeping the United States has also come to the attention of Little Caesars Pizza. Partnering with faux-meat giant Impossible, Little Caesars decided to provide a plant-based supreme pizza, called the Impossible Supreme, containing Impossible’s meatless sausage, mushrooms, green peppers and caramelized onions.
The craze for meatless foods began because of the carbon cost of the meat industry, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere. Little Caesars’ CEO David Scrivano even said that this is likely just the first of many plant-based items at Little Caesars.
KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken
The first fast-food chicken chain to launch a plant-based protein option was KFC with their Beyond Fried Chicken, and it was a huge hit. It was so popular, it sold out in only five hours after launching in January 2020. Its wild success at just 100 of its stores means the meatless chicken will eventually be released nationwide.
Beyond Fried Chicken was developed exclusively for KFC by Beyond Meat, a major competitor of Impossible. They used the signature flavors KFC customers already knew and loved in their plant-based alternative.
Pizza Hut’s Cheesy Bites Pizza
Pizza Hut originally launched its Cheesy Bites pizza back in the summer of 2006 for a limited time only. Customers loved it, leading to the novelty item coming back every summer since. The Cheesy Bites pizza includes 28 cheese-stuffed breadstick bites along the outside of the pizza.
Those who fell in love with this weird Pizza Hut sensation look forward to its return every summer. Withholding it for most of the year only makes people want it more when it is seasonally available.
Taco Bell’s Crispy Tortilla Chicken Strips
Taco Bell’s Crispy Tortilla Chicken Strips are a unique take on chicken fingers, a fast-food classic, that first appeared in December 2019. The restaurant chain took the fried chicken fast-food craze that began with Chic-Fil-A and brought a Mexican twist to it.
The all-white-meat chicken is breaded in tortilla chips and panko crumbs after being marinated in a jalapeno buttermilk sauce. Served with an additional dipping sauce, they’ve become all the rage since their debut.
The Seasonal McRib
People seem to either love or hate the McDonald’s McRib sandwich, a menu item that has been around since 1981. It was originally offered for a limited time only, and the company hasn’t changed its marketing plan for the McRib since.
No one seems to know exactly when the McRib will next return, although return it always does. Die-hard fans of the McRib await news of its return each year. Some even maintain websites dedicated to tracking the sandwich’s appearance each year.
The Cheetos Sandwich From KFC
Combining junk food with fast food might seem like a health nightmare to some, but to others, it’s a dream come true. KFC clearly sided with the latter group when it debuted its Cheetos Sandwich in July 2019. It’s the orangest sandwich around, featuring Cheetos paired with a crispy chicken filet on a bun topped with a special Cheetos-flavored sauce.
The Cheetos Sandwich was only available for a month, and it’s hard to say whether the limited-time-only item will ever come back. Putting fast food and junk food together is certainly trending, but who knows if that trend is around to stay.
Wendy’s Fries Dipped in a Wendy’s Frosty
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the first person dipped fries into their Wendy’s Frosty, but this crazy combo has been around for at least a couple decades. Maybe it’s the salty, savory deliciousness of the fries combined with the cold sweetness of the ice cream, or maybe it’s the outlandishness of this pairing that gives it so much power.
Whatever it is, people are hooked. The strangest thing, however, may be that the trend hasn’t spread to other fast-food chains. Dipping McDonald’s fries into McDonald’s ice cream is just not a thing people do.
St. Patrick’s Day is known for leprechauns, four-leafed clovers, and to some, the McDonald’s Shamrock Shake. This seasonal mint-flavored milkshake is sold around the United States, Ireland and Canada in honor of this Irish holiday. The year 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of when it was originally introduced in March 1970.
The longevity of the Shamrock Shake likely has a lot to do with its perpetual short-term stay on the McDonald’s menu. Every year, it’s only available for about a month around March 17th.
Naked Chicken Chalupa
The Naked Chicken Chalupa made its first appearance on the Taco Bell menu in 2017. It replaced the hard-shell taco with a crispy fried chicken-shell taco. Inside of the “taco” was the standard, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes topped with an avocado ranch sauce.
When it launched, the Naked Chicken Chalupa was only available for a short time. However, because of its instant popularity, Taco Bell has brought it back a few more times. Fanatics of the Naked Chicken Chalupa might want it permanently on the menu, but Taco Bell clearly has other plans.
Cherry Limeade From Sonic
Sonic has about 20 kinds of lemonades or limeades available, but nothing beats its cherry limeade, which is by far its most popular beverage. Many customers go to Sonic specifically for their cherry limeade fix even though the fast-food restaurant offers plenty of food items on their menu.
The infamous drink is exactly what it sounds like. It contains the juice of two limes, cherry syrup and water blended over semi-crushed ice. Sometimes, it’s the simple things that garner the most traction.
Chic-Fil-A’s Waffle Fries
There is no doubt that Chick-Fil-A has become such a fast-food hit because of its chicken sandwiches. However, in 2018, its number-one hit was waffle fries. They’re just potatoes cut into a criss-cross shape, but apparently that’s enough to create a craze.
The waffle shape maximizes the surface area of the fries, which means they can get crispier on the outside than a typical fry. It may be true that people arrive at Chic-Fil-A for the chicken, but it seems they don’t leave without those glorious waffle fries.
Pumpkin Spice Latte
Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte has brought the company well over a billion dollars in sales since its launch in 2003. Since then, they’ve relaunched it every autumn for a limited time, sending pumpkin spice and coffee lovers alike into a frenzy. The latte is by far its most popular seasonal beverage.
The coffee drink is so pervasive, it has now become associated with autumn culture at large, alongside colorful changing leaves and knit scarves for the cooler weather. Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Lattes have even influenced a wider trend of pumpkin spice in fall seasonal foods across the board.
Subway’s Meatless Meatball Sub
Subway jumped on the vegatarian trend with their Meatless Meatball Marinara sub sandwich, a collaboration with the faux-meat brand Beyond Meat. They use Beyond’s vegan meatballs with their traditional and highly sought-after marinara sauce. To make the sandwich fully vegan, you can opt to eliminate the cheese that comes on the sub.
Subway has had other vegan options before, but this is the first one with a plant-based protein, as the others are mainly whole vegetable subs. Customers were relentlessly asking for a meatless version of their highly popular meatball sub, so they finally got what they asked for.
KFC’s Double Down
KFC’s Double Down may be one of the country’s least healthy sandwiches, but no one goes to a fast-food restaurant because they want to eat something that’s good for them. This popular addition to KFC’s menu consists of lots of bacon, lots of cheese and Colonel’s sauce between two breasts of deep-fried chicken.
The chicken replaces the bun in this “sandwich,” in case that wasn’t clear. Originally, the Double Down was meant to be an April Fool’s joke only intended to be available for a short time, but its massive popularity has kept it around.
From the proud owners of the Pumpkin Spice Latte came the Unicorn Frappuccino. While some people seem to hate this very Instagram-friendly beverage, Starbucks remains unapologetic about their creation. It’s a social media dream product, after all, and probably more popular for its looks than its taste.
It’s not a bad marketing strategy to create a colorful product whose very existence encourages photography and sharing. Marketing is not cheap, so if you can get it for free, why not?
White Castle’s Seasonal Sweet Potato Fries
White Castle only releases its sweet potato fries seasonally in the fall and winter months. They might not seem like a cold weather thing, but White Castle has nonetheless made them into one. A sugary cinnamon dipping sauce accompanies them, and that mix of sweet and savory really hits the spot.
Creating a seasonal appeal for sweet potato fries was a genius moved that turned an underutilized root vegetable into a real craze. White Castle fans everywhere now have sweet potatoes on their minds as the weather starts to cool.
People who love Arby’s love their unapologetic, meat-on-meat-on-meat sandwiches and famous cheesy curly fries. The Arby’s Arbynator takes things even further, combining two things their customers love and making them one. It’s a sandwich with lots of roast beef, curly fries and cheese unrepentantly combined in a bun.
This fan-favorite sandwich comes and goes, which is also part of its appeal. Because people can’t have it all the time, when it is available, people make sure to get their fill before it inevitably disappears from the menu again.
Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Nuggets
For a while, the Spicy Chicken Nuggets were a regular part of Wendy’s menu. However, they took them off in 2017, and if it hadn’t been for Chance the Rapper, who tweeted about them in May 2019, perhaps they’d be gone forever.
When Wendy’s saw the tweet, they responded with an offer to bring those sought-after Spicy Chicken Nuggets back for a limited time if they reached two million likes. It took less than two days to reach their goal, and in August 2019, those nuggets returned, albeit not to stay.
Waffle Taco by Taco Bell
The fast-food industry has had to be innovative to keep up with the times, and part of that innovation includes making very photographable food. For Taco Bell, that meant bringing the Waffle Taco into existence. While it stretches even Taco Bell’s dubious definition of Mexican food, it looks made for Instagram.
Such photos certainly boosted the launch of the new breakfast menu. The Waffle Taco comes with sausage or bacon, scrambled eggs, syrup and cheese, all inside a waffle folded into a taco.
The Angry Whopper
Calling a food item angry may not seem like something that would create a craze. Regardless, the name has not kept Burger King’s Angry Whopper off people’s minds. It’s a ridiculously spicy burger, thanks to being topped with both jalapeno and “angry sauce,” which claims to pretty much set your mouth on fire.
For people who can’t get enough of spicy food, the Angry Burger is all the rage. This is especially true because even if they can’t get enough, they are forced to, as it’s only available once in a while for limited periods of time.
Taco Bell Nacho Fries
In 2018, Taco Bell joined the fast-food french fries frenzy that has existed since the beginning of fast-food time with their Nacho Fries. What made them special was not the fries themselves, but the delicious nacho cheese sidecar that came with each order.
The Nacho Fries took the world of fast-food by storm, perhaps because no one imagined a taco place could create such a french fry frenzy. Another part of their appeal was that they’re only available for short stints, keeping demand high when they are around.
Wendy’s Bacon Maple Chicken Sandwich
At the end of 2018, Wendy’s introduced the Bacon Maple Chicken Sandwich, a limited-edition breakfast item that was on the menu all day long during the Christmas holiday season. This winter comfort food became an instant favorite, particularly among those who love combining savory with sweet
The Bacon Maple Chicken Sandwich came with a fried chicken patty, Swiss cheese and smoked bacon topped with maple glaze and served on a croissant bun. It was a big hit, which is probably why a similar version is now on Wendy’s recently-debuted breakfast menu.
Beyond Sausage Breakfast Sandwich at Dunkin’ Donuts
Dunkin’ Donuts has joined the ranks of fast food chains dipping their toes into the world of meatless protein with its Beyond Sausage Breakfast Sandwich. The plant-based patty comes from the faux-meat giant Beyond Meats and is served with egg and American cheese on an English muffin.
Dunkin’ Donuts is the first chain to go with a plant-based protein on a breakfast sandwich, which unsurprisingly is a lot healthier than a traditional, meat-based breakfast sandwich. The rising trend toward plant-based meat substitutes plus the health factor have likely both helped its popularity.
Chipotle’s Lifestyle Bowls
Chipotle launched its Lifestyle Bowls in early 2019 in conjunction with diet trends that encouraged people to go easy on the carbs. In their case, it means skipping the tortilla and putting all the typical burrito fillers into a bowl. Because carb-free diets, such as Keto and Paleo, are wildly popular these days, the Lifestyle Bowls have been a real hit.
There are four bowls available, including two that don the names of the diets themselves, the Keto Bowl and the Paleo Bowl. They’re packed with meat, cheese and vegetables, with no carbs in sight.
McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce
McDonald’s Szechuan sauce was first released in 1998 to promote the release of Disney’s Mulan. It wasn’t particularly noteworthy, and under ordinary circumstances, it would have been forgotten.
However, after the sauce made a bizarre appearance in the hit science-fiction show Rick and Morty in 2017, fans suddenly clamored for McDonald’s to produce more of it. They did that same year, but they wildly underestimated how many people wanted the sauce, leading to long lines, angry fans and even scalpers selling the sauce online. More was made in 2018, although given its rough reception, it may not appear again.