Fast food chains had some major menu modifications this year, from a wave of trendy meatless offerings to sandwiches that challenged America’s spice tolerance. The Takeout was lucky enough to taste some of the best products released nationwide in 2022—and some of the worst.
Some of these fast food items were limited-time-only offers that made a swift exit, while others were permanent additions to the menu or revivals due to popular demand. Although not every sandwich and side was a winner, the following items certainly were.
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The Jalapeño McChicken and Jalapeño Double came back to the McDonald’s menu for a limited time this summer. Both sandwiches featured their typical bases—a fried chicken patty and hamburger patties, respectively—and were topped with American cheese, pickled jalapeños, fried jalapeño chips, and ranch sauce. The pickled jalapeños were a sturdy contrast to the salty and crispy chicken patty, and while the fried jalapeño chips didn’t have much flavor, their crunchiness made the Jalapeño McChicken a little more interesting.
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Little Caesars Old World Fanceroni Pepperoni Pizza debuted in August as a limited-time-only offer, but is still available on the menu as of November 2022. It’s basically just a pepperoni pizza with a shitload of pepperoni on top—100 slices, to be exact. Specifically, the pizza makes use of cupping pepperoni, the kind that curls up as it bakes, creating little crunchy cups of cured meat with tender centers atop the pie. While it’s exciting to see a fast food chain make use of this delicious pepperoni, the Old World Fanceroni will likely leave you with some sodium fatigue after just a few bites.
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Popeyes Banana Cream Cake, on paper, is reminiscent of Nilla Wafer banana pudding. The dessert features a simple vanilla cake topped with banana-flavored cream, and Nilla wafer crumbles sprinkled on top. It results in a product that is moist and a little dense, and tastes like it was made from a boxed cake mix—in a good way.
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Pollo Campero’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich came fashionably late to the fried chicken sandwich party, but boy, did it show up, with a sauce that absolutely slaps. The sandwich is offered in a grilled or fried variety with zesty Habanero Mayo and three sweet pickles on a buttered brioche bun. It also has fewer calories, weighing in at 554 (grilled, surprisingly) and 424 calories (fried) than most other fried chicken sandwiches on the market.
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Wingstop technically added 12 new chicken sandwiches to its menu, which was a fantastic move. Translation: the chicken sandwich can be ordered with any one of Wingstop’s 12 signature wing sauces, meaning you can choose your own adventure every time you go. A sandwich retails for $5.49 a la carte (with your choice of ranch, bleu cheese, honey mustard, or cheese sauce on the side), or can be ordered as a combo meal with fries and a drink for $7.99. The filets are sauced up, but not soggy. The poultry is undeniably moist, that’s for sure; you will never find a dry bit of poultry at Wingstop.
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The Beyond Meat Orange Chicken at Panda Express is another limited-time offer you can still get your hands on. The faux meat offering comes in roughly round nuggets, whereas the real chicken is shaped much more irregularly. The Beyond product is pretty dense, with some bounce to its chew. That chewiness wasn’t off-putting at all, though, and doused in its sticky sweet signature sauce, this new spin on a classic holds up well to the original.
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If you’re looking for a hot and spicy fast food bite, you’ve found it—no more bland disappointment for adventurous palates. Shake Shack’s recently released Hot Ones menu, despite a limited run, is still available. Both the burger and the chicken sandwich are topped with bacon, monterey jack cheese, and spicy ShackSauce, designed with extra spice in collaboration with the Hot Ones pepper-focused YouTube show. The burger is slightly underwhelming, but the chicken sandwich and the fries are both clear winners, and unafraid to bring the heat.
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The limited-time Ultimate Beer Cheese Breakfast Pizza from Casey’s is topped with beer cheese sauce, smoky bacon, savory sausage, ham, fluffy scrambled eggs, onions, green peppers, mozzarella, and cheddar cheese. The two main factors that make this offering the most “beakfasty” are the scrambled eggs (obviously) and then the crust, which is light and fluffy enough to almost resemble a giant English muffin. Although tasty, the pizza is a lot, so get ready to start your day off with something heavy.
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White Castle’s 1921 BBQ Bacon slider and Ghost slider are a way to pay homage to the chain’s century-old roots but also deliver a twist. The BBQ burger comes topped with caramelized onions, smoked cheddar, bacon, onions, lettuce, and Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce. The Ghost slider features caramelized onions, ghost pepper cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes. The ghost pepper cheese is exactly what makes this little slider so tasty, as it has an impressive kick to it. Next time it comes back around to the menu, it’s worth cheating on your regular order to try this.
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Still available on Qdoba’s menu, the Brisket Birria features slow-cooked and finely shredded beef brisket in chiles and garlic, served up in both burritos and quesadillas. The birria is juicy, flavorful, moist, and full of beefy flavor. Although it doesn’t match the quality of the birria from, say, family-owned restaurants in Chicago, it’s still excellent and evokes comfort food in a way that chains often fail to.
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Shake Shack’s Buffalo menu from earlier this year featured a Buffalo Chicken Sandwich and Buffalo Spiced Cheese Fries. The sandwich is a big helping of fried meat; it’s thick, juicy, and well-seasoned with crisp and light breading. The buffalo aspect of this special menu comes twofold, not only in the tangy sauce covering the fried chicken, but also the powdered spice sprinkled on the French fries. Getting two different servings of spice makes for a satisfying flavor experience.
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The Pizza Hut Spicy Lover’s Pizza offering is no longer available, but it made quite an impact when it was. The pizza, which ran as a February promotion, was available in three varieties: a Spicy Double Pepperoni, a Spicy Hawaiian Chicken (chicken, pineapple), and a Spicy Veggie (green bell peppers, red onions, mushrooms). Each came with a spicy marinara sauce, sliced red chili peppers, and a seasoning mix called Fiery Flakes. The main reason the Spicy Lover’s Pizza is good is because the seasoning, which has a tolerable amount of heat, also has dehydrated garlic and herbs added, which makes an otherwise inoffensive base pizza more fragrant and more distinct.
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Jimmy John’s Zesty Garden club unexpectedly delivered feelings of nostalgia. The turkey sandwich was layered with herb aioli, bacon, roasted tomatoes, pickled red onions, provolone, and cheesy panko crumbs, served on the chain’s signature French bread. Although not a revolutionary concept, it was a decent sandwich, and what set it apart was the herb aioli. It’s made in-house, adding a layer of fresh flavor that you don’t get in any of the other sandwiches on the Jimmy John’s menu.
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Chipotle has consistently done chicken well, and its Pollo Asado offering introduced this year is no exception. Though it may be hard to pick out individual flavors in each bite of the chicken, its overall seasoning is bold and flavorful enough to stand out when you dig into a bite, with a twinge of heat added in. The asado is all dark meat, which means it’s moist, too.
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Burger King messed with its menu a lot over the past year. The Whopper Melt is a good demonstration of this, featuring specialty toasted bread and two Whopper Jr. Patties that together amounted to a quarter pound of flame-grilled beef. The sandwich also featured melted American cheese, caramelized onions, and BK’s signature Stacker Sauce. Despite its small size, the Whopper Melt packed some heft. The cheese was gooey but not overbearing, and the meat patties seemed fresher and juicier than their standard Whopper counterparts.
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As the originator of the Chicken Sandwich wars, Popeyes adding a new chicken sandwich to its menu was a risky move. However, the Buffalo Ranch Chicken Sandwich doesn’t try to fix what isn’t broken. Just like the sandwich that put Popeyes on the map, this one has a ridiculously fresh, squishy bun, impressively moist chicken, crunchy crags of breading, and pickle slices of an almost confounding diameter with a healthy smattering of Buffalo Ranch sauce.
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The first-ever vegan hot dog at Portillo’s is a creation of plant-based protein production company Field Roast. Compared to other plant-based dogs, it’s the smokiness that sets the garden hot dog apart. Portillo’s serves up this meatless dog Chicago-style, of course, topped with the traditional mustard, relish, chopped onions, tomatoes, celery salt, pickle spear, and sport peppers on a steamed poppy seed bun. This dog needs its toppings to succeed, but assuming you have all the condiments in play, you won’t taste the slightly vegetal notes of the vegan dog itself.
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Starbucks’ Chocolate Cream Cold Brew is an offering with one pump of vanilla syrup and a chocolate cream cold-foam topping. The desserty drink offers the perfect balance for those who want something a little sweet but might be put off by the sugar content of iced lattes or Frappuccinos. Overall, the drink’s chocolate accents are subtle, made richer and deeper by the intermingled cold brew.
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Arby’s Wagyu Steakhouse burger made a brief appearance in May, then left, but is back on the menu right now for anyone curious to try it. There’s no question this is a big burger: that patty is thick, thick, thick. It was still juicy and delicious despite its lack of a pink center, slathered generously with sauce, which probably contributes to the perception of juiciness—whatever the case, each bite was more than satisfactory. The sauce has a creamy but lightly tangy flavor that pairs well with the wagyu.
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Simple and delicious, Wendy’s Strawberry Frosty didn’t try to be gimmicky when it debuted this summer. Instead, it delivered on flavor without going overboard. The new flavor had the same creamy texture of the classic, with strawberry notes that were medium-subtle without any of the chemical taste that’s so common in other restaurants’ milkshakes.
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The Jimmy John’s Thai Chicken Wrap is pretty darn good—but if it ever returns to the menu, just don’t overthink it. The chicken itself was a large piece of chicken breast with “carrot noodles,” which were not carrot sticks, but rather fried crispy carrot bits without a ton of flavor. They mostly just provided a nice crunch. The satay sauce, though, was the highlight of this wrap, with notes of peanut butter and soy sauce that brought the whole wrap together.
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Fast food ice cream is not known for being the highest quality, but Krispy Kreme’s Original Glazed Soft Serve doughnut-flavored ice cream changed that expectation. The ice cream is available as a Chocolate Iced Cone and Strawberry Iced Sprinkled Cone, and an original glazed (as well as in milkshake form). This product is rich and smooth and tastes like it came from a cow rather than a lab. Each cone is drizzled with a shell topping and dehydrated Original Glazed Donut sprinkles. It’s not often that a chain restaurant knocks it out of the ballpark its first time up to bat, but Krispy Kreme managed it.
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Unlike other offerings on this list, Taco Bell’s Crispy Chicken Wings were absolutely a limited-time deal, lasting only a few weeks. Although they weren’t necessarily the ideal chicken wing, each wing was still moist and tender, despite not having ton of meat on the bone. Their closest analog is convenience store chicken wings, like the ones at 7-Eleven, and around here, we consider that a compliment.
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Arby’s Diablo Dare sandwiches can be ordered as either crispy chicken or brisket. The Diablo has five layers of spice, including Diablo BBQ sauce (containing habanero, cayenne, chile, and chipotle pepper), Fiery seasoning (cayenne, habanero, and capsicum powder), Ghost pepper jack cheese, fire-roasted jalapeños, and Diablo Bun (a red bun with chipotle pepper flakes). You can always pair it with a vanilla milkshake if you’re worried about burning your mouth, but whatever you do, make sure to order the chicken sandwich, since it’s the best vehicle for all the flavors layered on top.
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