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Some folks are dedicated to the Taco Bell Beefy 5-Layer Burrito, while others live and die by the McDonald’s McNugget. While we all have favorite fast food menu items, some inspire more passion than others, and that’s when they rise to the level of cult favorite.
While exact sales numbers aren’t available for the majority of these items, these are the fast food dishes that get people talking online, excited for annual releases and enraged when there is chatter of discontinuation (or petitions when they have been discontinued). These are the fast food menu items that have inspired trends. Can you imagine a KFC/Cheetos collaboration without the Doritos Locos Tacos? We think not. So read on to find out the 30 fast food menu items with cult followings.
Plenty of fast food chains serve double bacon cheeseburgers, but few feel more indulgent than the Wendy’s Baconator. First introduced in 2007 to appeal to a younger audience, this half-pound beef burger with two square-shaped patties, cheese, ketchup, mayonnaise and six slices of bacon achieved that goal.
There are your average sodas, and then there is Taco Bell’s Mountain Dew Baja Blast. This bright blue tropical pop will hit store shelves from time to time, but if you want to get it on the regular, you have to hit up your local Taco Bell. This menu item is so beloved, the Tex-Mex chain has also rolled out the Baja Blast Freeze, a slushie version of the drink that pairs perfectly with burritos and tacos.
For over 50 years, McDonald’s signature burger has been the Big Mac, which famously features two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame seed bun. The Big Mac has its hardcore devotees, including Don Gorske, who holds the Guinness World Record for the most Big Mac burgers eaten in a lifetime. As of 2018, the Wisconsin man had eaten over 30,000 of these burgers, all while maintaining a clean bill of health.
Courtesy of Starbucks
Starbucks first introduced cold foam nationwide in April 2018, allowing fans of foamy drinks to get their airy dairy fix with iced lattes and cold brews. The runaway hit of the cold foam launch is the Cascara Cold Foam. The aerated topping is sweetened with cascara, a natural sweetener that tastes similar to maple brown sugar. Cascara cold foam is a natural topper for the coffee chain’s nitro cold brew, a chocolatey, creamy coffee that actually has no chocolate or cream in it. It’s a decadent drinking experience that got such a cult following that Starbucks plans to have nitro taps in all of its company-operated U.S. stores by the end of 2019.
Courtesy of White Castle
Not all fast food joints have such massive cult followings that movies have been made about them, but White Castle (and its fans Harold and Kumar) has reached that status. Founded in 1921, White Castle is largely considered to be the first-ever hamburger fast food chain, and it’s anchored by its sliders, which come with square, steam-grilled beef, chopped onion and a slice of pickle. Real fans of the chain know this slider is even better when you upgrade it with cheese. How popular is White Castle? Well, it’s become a cult favorite destination for Valentine’s Day, with over 30,000 people making reservations at White Castle restaurants in 2019. That’s not the only White Castle-friendly holiday — people will even make Thanksgiving stuffing using the sliders.
Courtesy of Sonic Drive-In
If you’re looking for a retro drive-in restaurant with a cult favorite fizzy beverage, head to your local Sonic. The Cherry Limeade is the fan favorite item here, and this fruity, fizzy beverage is indeed the perfect blend of sweet, tart and bubbly. People are so obsessed with this drink that a quick Google search reveals dozens of copycat recipes, most of which feature Sprite, limes and cherry syrup.
Burger King’s Chicken Fries are such a fan favorite that the fast food chain’s website even labels them as such. Chicken Fries were first introduced in 2005 and were a hit, but were eliminated from store menus in 2012. A rabid online campaign was launched to bring this cult item back to Burger King menus nationwide, including a change.org petition begging then-President Barack Obama to bring the seasoned, breaded and fried, thin white meat pieces of chicken back to life. Chicken Fry lovers succeeded — the item returned in 2015, and this time around, the fries are a permanent menu item.
A fast food menu item doesn’t have to be old to have a cult following. Popeyes launched its first-ever chicken sandwich in August 2019, and the seasoned, fried chicken breast with pickles and mayonnaise or a spicy Cajun sauce on a soft brioche bun was an instant sensation. The fried chicken chain actually sold out of its chicken sandwiches nationwide less than three weeks later.
Courtesy of Chick-fil-A
While Popeye’s may be the newest cult-favorite chicken sandwich on the block, it’s far from the first. Chick-fil-A has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years and is now America’s third most-profitable chain, thanks in no small part to its signature chicken sandwich. The boneless chicken breast is seasoned to salty perfection and served simply on a buttery bun with pickle chips. What’s the secret? Copycat recipes and copycat products posit that it’s a pickle juice-based brine, which helps to explain that subtle tang that’s made Chick-fil-A go from a simple food court staple to a fast food giant.
Courtesy of Chipotle Mexican Grill
There’s something particularly addictive about the guac at Chipotle. In fact, the chain claims that it sells nearly 50 million pounds of guacamole per year and goes through 450,000 avocados. People are so crazy about Chipotle’s guac that the standard 4-ounce isn’t enough. In September 2018, the fast casual Mexican chain launched a large size of its chips and guac. The 8-ounce serving reportedly is meant for three people, but you know folks are diving into this creamy, slightly tangy supersized dip all by themselves.
There are a lot of great bagels across America, and one of the most popular is found at Panera Bread. What the Cinnamon Crunch bagel lacks in holes, it makes up for in sweet, satisfying flavor with a cinnamon sugar crunch on top that’s so decadent it almost feels like more of a dessert than a breakfast. It pairs wonderfully with raisin cream cheese or honey cream cheese.
Courtesy of Subway
No meal is complete without a little bite of dessert at the end, and this is something that Subway knows well. That is why its stores have a small case of fresh, soft cookies right by the register. The best flavor is highly debatable if Twitter is any indication. Some swear by the classic chocolate chip, while others go nuts for the white chip macadamia nut, raspberry cheesecake or double chocolate. While prices and cookies available vary by store, we can probably all agree that there aren’t many better ways to finish a meal than with a soft, warm cookie.
While Taco Bell’s signature menu item may be its classic crunchy taco, ask a die-hard fan what their go-to order is and they’re likely to tell you that it’s the Crunchwrap Supreme. And it’s easy to see why people constantly tweet about their love of this item. It’s the best of both worlds, with a giant flour tortilla enveloping a crispy taco shell, ground beef, sour cream, lettuce, tomato and nacho cheese sauce. Vegetarians can easily get into the Crunchwrap Supreme game now too. In summer 2019, Taco Bell launched a new vegetarian menu, the star of which is the Black Bean Crunchwrap Supreme.
Courtesy of Arby’s
Arby’s isn’t your typical fast food restaurant. It doesn’t serve burgers or chicken nuggets, and it doesn’t serve standard shoestring french fries. Instead, the default shape of Arby’s fries is arguably the best french fry shape: curly. Arby’s curly fries are loaded with paprika, cayenne pepper, onion and garlic and offer up a zesty, punchy flavor that’s wholly unique to this chain. Amp up your curly fries with some of Arby’s Horsey Sauce.
When Doritos and Taco Bell joined forces in 2012 to create Doritos Locos Tacos, the tacos were an instant, massive hit. This genius combination of junk food and fast food started a massive trend of chips and chains coming together as one. Since the launch of Doritos Locos Tacos, we’ve seen similar combinations including KFC and Cheetos, Sonic and Fritos and Pizza Hut with Cheez-Its. But none of those products can compare to the Doritos Locos Tacos; according to a Taco Bell representative, 2.4 billion of them have been sold since the product launched.
One of the worst-kept secrets about In-N-Out is its “secret menu.” The most famous item on this so-called secret menu is the Double Double Animal Style. Let’s break down what this means. The burger patties at In-N-Out are quite thin, so hacking your order to make it a “double-double” means you’ll get two patties. Meanwhile, “Animal Style” means your burger will come dressed with a sauce made of Thousand Island dressing mixed with grilled onions.
Though the Double Down, which features bacon, cheese and a zesty sauce between two pieces of boneless fried chicken breasts, is not currently on the American KFC menu, it’s still one of the most notorious and over-the-top fast food menu items of all time. According to a 2014 report on CNNMoney, the Double Down was purchased over 10 million times upon its launch in 2010. Though the item hasn’t been on the menu in years, it still inspires online chatter nearly every day as people wait for a comeback.
Every Lent, Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays, and it's a tradition for many observers to head to their local McDonald’s and pick up a Filet-O-Fish. It’s a simple sandwich, featuring a fish patty, bun, tartar sauce and slice of American cheese, but that is what makes it so popular. It’s also one of the few pescatarian-friendly items on the menu. According to USA Today, McDonald’s sells 25% of its Filet-O-Fish sandwiches every March for the Lent season, making it a bonafide seasonal fan favorite.
Starbucks has had Frappuccinos on its nationwide menus since 1995, but these blended drinks got more popular than ever starting in 2017 when the coffee chain rolled out the highly Instagrammable Unicorn Frappuccino. Since then, Starbucks has been steadily releasing limited-time Frappuccinos, including (but not limited to) the Midnight Mint Mocha Frappuccino, Zombie Frappuccino, Christmas Tree Frappuccino and Tie-Dye Frappuccino.
When the first Wendy’s opened in Columbus, Ohio, in 1969, it had just five items on its menu, one of which was the frozen Frosty Dairy Dessert. Another original menu item, of course, was french fries. We don’t know what brave soul first dipped his or her crispy fries into the chocolate milkshake-like dessert, but the salty and sweet combo is one for the ages. It perhaps works so well because Wendy’s Frostys are so thick, you really can’t sip them with a straw. Instead, you need to use a spoon — or a fry.
Starbucks holiday cups are so anticipated every year, there are entire websites dedicated to counting down the days until these festive vessels return to stores. But what’s a jolly red cup without a seasonal beverage? A fan favorite Starbucks coffee drink is the Gingerbread Latte, a spiced drink that has all the best holiday flavors mixed with espresso and milk. The holiday decadence is then topped with gingerbread whipped cream and a crunchy wafer, which is oh-so comforting come November.
There’s a joke about Dunkin’ (formerly known as Dunkin’ Donuts) being so popular in Massachusetts that there’s one on every corner, but in one area of Revere, Massachusetts, there really are two Dunkin’ locations across the street from each other. The state’s obsession with Dunkin’ has inspired 'SNL' sketches and songs. So what are people ordering at Dunkin’? As of 2017, the chain’s most popular mobile order item was an iced coffee, we assume with plenty of cream and sugar.
McDonald’s McRib can be a bit of an elusive beast, but it tends to come back every year in October or November. This cult favorite item is so popular, McDonald’s has even launched a McRib finder online so fans of this barbecue-inspired sandwich can easily find one. Often imitated but never duplicated, the McRib is a boneless pork patty in the shape of a rack of ribs that is then slathered in tangy barbecue sauce and topped with onions and pickles. If you know the wonders of this addictive sandwich, then you know why it’s a favorite.
Courtesy of Taco Bell
Taco Bell has always been different because it’s a major fast food chain without classic sandwiches or fries. But that all changed in January 2018, when it launched Nacho Fries. They were an instant sensation as the restaurant sold over 53 million orders of Nacho Fries in just five weeks. For now, Nacho Fries, while a fan favorite, are an elusive item, constantly disappearing and reappearing on Taco Bell menus. So, if you want to catch this seasoned potato side, you better keep your eyes peeled.
It’s not often that a drink gets upgraded from secret menu item to regular, year-round, everyday menu item, but that’s what happened to the Pink Drink at Starbucks. The pretty millennial pink beverage is made with coconut milk, Strawberry Acai Refreshers and a scoop of strawberries. The coffee-free, dairy-free drink first got a cult following on social media as a beverage customization, but was added to the official menu board in April 2017. That’s a real glow-up, folks.
Courtesy of Starbucks
While there is no shortage of pumpkin spice products on the market, Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte may be the standard for the fall season. They do own the trademark on PSL, after all. The Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks has its own official Facebook group and devotees who anxiously await the release of this creamy, seasoned squash beverage every year. Starbucks seems to know it has a seasonal hit on its hands because the drink keeps coming back to Starbucks locations earlier and earlier, and while haters will keep hating on it, you can’t argue with the cult of the PSL.
There aren’t a lot of great things about March. You want it to be spring outside, but it’s still technically winter until late into the month, and thus this month can frequently be gray and sad. But one great thing about March is the annual release of McDonald’s Shamrock Shake. Fans of this annual menu item wait all year for another taste. Originally introduced in 1970, this vanilla-based milkshake with a hint of mint and whipped cream has a light green color tied to St. Patrick’s Day that also just screams, “Spring has sprung!”
Courtesy of Wendy’s
Wendy’s has kind of a wild online presence, and that means that this fast food chain’s chicken nuggets have gone viral numerous times over the past few years. One of the latest examples of this is when musician Chance the Rapper publicly wondered why the spicy nuggets were pulled from the menu and then got them to come back. Wendy’s spicy chicken nuggets have a cult following for a reason — they have just the right amount of heat, a peppery yet crispy exterior and tender interior. Other nuggets quake in their presence.
Courtesy of Chick-fil-A
Chick-fil-A may be most famous for its sandwiches, but according to the chain, its waffle fries were the top-selling item of 2018. The crisscross cut of the fries is really what makes this particular potato shine. There’s a lot of surface area to a waffle fry, allowing for an optimal amount of crispy exterior and space for salt and ketchup, while keeping the inside perfectly pillowy. Whether you’re eating a chicken sandwich or Chick-fil-A nuggets, you need waffle fries to complete your meal.
Whoppers inspire a lot of passion in Burger King customers. Remember those mid-2000s ads where people freaked out when they were told the flame-grilled burger with pickles, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise, ketchup and a sesame seed bun was discontinued? Not every burger inspires that sort of passion, especially a no-frills one like the Whopper. But then again, not every fast food burger ranks among the most famous fast food menu items of all time.
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