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25 Best Limited-Time Fast-Food Items of All Time

From green-tinted shakes to pumpkin spice everything, these limited-time offers are Americana at its finest.
FACT CHECKED BY Erin Behan

Weather isn't the only thing that changes with the seasons. Just peep the menus at your go-to drive-through or coffee chain, which are as ever-changing as the forecast. While America's most iconic fast-food chains are well-known for their evergreen staples, like Big Macs and Crunchwrap Supremes, they're equally beloved for their recurring and/or occasional seasonal specials, which often become as famed as the holidays and seasons they're linked to.

That's assuming, of course, that "finest" equates to guilty pleasures and unabashed indulgence. In the pantheon of seasonal menu items, past and present, fast-food fixtures run the gamut from sweet to savory, hot to cold, and summery to festive. Some are downright healthy, while others come slathered in nacho cheese or shaped like ribs.

All of these 25 singular items, however, deserve top billing on a list of the ultimate seasonal fast-food items of all time.

Nacho Fries at Taco Bell

Taco Bell Large Nacho Fries
Courtesy of Taco Bell
Nutrition (Per Order):
Calories: 320
Fat: 18 g (Saturated Fat: 2 g)
Sodium: 620 mg
Carbs: 35 g (Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 2 g)
Protein: 4 g

While many seasonal fast-food items are tied to holidays, others are more of a cat-and-mouse game. Just ask Taco Bell, a chain that likes to toy with its menu and tease customers with fleeting items and cult cravings. Chief among the teasers is Taco Bell's Nacho Fries, an item that seems to disappear and reappear seemingly at random, like a submarine emerging from nautical slumber to bestow its fans with molten queso. Initially launched in 2018, the fries quickly became one of the most popular menu items in Taco Bell history, leaving diners ravenous each and every time they'd go into hibernation. They're straightforward, in that spiced fries are served with hot nacho cheese sauce. Simplicity—in this case—is golden.

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Frozen Hot Chocolate at Dairy Queen

dairy queen frozen hot chocolate
Dairy Queen
Nutrition (Small Size):
Calories: 630
Fat: 29 g (Saturated Fat: 14 g)
Sodium: 240 mg
Carbs: 86 g (Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 75 g)
Protein: 10 g

Dairy Queen is a chain typically associated with hot weather and summery sweets, which is what makes its frozen hot chocolate such a unique standout. Yes, it's technically still as cold as the chain's ice cream. And yes, it's a recurring summer special. But it's distinct in that it's nothing like anything else on the menu, comprising a fudgy base of cocoa blended with soft-serve ice cream and topped with a plume of fluffy whipped cream and chocolate drizzle. It conjures those familiar hot cocoa flavors associated with winter, albeit in a chilled summer form worth screaming for.

Autumn Squash Soup at Panera Bread

Panera Bread Vegetarian Autumn Squash Soup
Courtesy of Panera Bread
Nutrition (Per Bowl):
Calories: 210
Fat: 11 g (Saturated Fat: 5 g)
Sodium: 800 mg
Carbs: 27 g (Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 22 g)
Protein: 5 g

Not all of the most loved seasonal fast-food fare is inherently decadent. Some of it is simply a puree of root vegetables and autumnal spices. Come fall, pumpkin spice tends to dominate the conversation. One of Panera Bread's answers to the season is its autumn squash soup, an item that's as crave-able as it is healthy. A recurring character in the fall months, the silken soup is a blend of butternut squash and pumpkin, along with carrots, onions, apple juice, honey, cream, and a smattering of spices.

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Carne Asada at Chipotle

a photo of Chipotle's carne asada bowl
Chipotle
Nutrition:
Carne Asana Burrito Bowl (Per Bowl):
Calories: 250
Fat: 14 g (Saturated Fat: 5 g)
Sodium: 740 mg
Carbs: 1 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 0 g)
Protein: 29 g

Another seasonal menu item that has nothing to do with seasons is the carne asada at Chipotle. The fan-favorite steak has been a fleeting menu option. It seems a little cruel that the chain keeps yanking it away, but it's worth ordering whenever it inevitably, occasionally returns. The marinated meat is seasoned on the grill with spices and herbs, like cumin and oregano, then finished with a spritz of fresh lime and chopped cilantro, making it wholesome, hearty, and wildly popular.

Elote Bowl at Sweetgreen

sweetgreen elote bowl featuring colorful veggies and quinoa.
Sweetgreen / Facebook
Nutrition (Per Bowl):
Calories: 515
Fat: 29 g (Saturated Fat: 7 g)
Sodium: 770 mg
Carbs: 48 g (Fiber: 8 g, Sugar: 7 g)
Protein: 17 g

Few ingredients conjure summer sensations quite like fresh corn. At Sweetgreen, the salad-centric chain employs corn as the star of one of its recurring seasonal staples, the Elote Bowl. This healthy win-win toes the line between nourishing and indulgent, thanks to its soulful medley of roasted corn, peppers, heirloom tomatoes, shredded cabbage, cilantro, goat cheese, sunflower seeds, tortilla chips, quinoa, arugula, and lime-cilantro-jalapeño vinaigrette. At once spicy, crunchy, salty, sweet, and juicy, it's the rare-breed dish that ticks all the boxes every time it comes around.

Holiday Turkey and Stuffing Sandwich at Starbucks

holiday turkey stuffing sandwich from starbucks.
Starbucks
Nutrition (Per Sandwich):
Calories: 540
Fat: 13 g (Saturated Fat: 4.5 g)
Sodium: 1,420mg
Carbs: 74 g (Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 11 g)
Protein: 30 g

As the progenitor of the pumpkin spice phenomenon, Starbucks has really cemented itself as the end-all-be-all of seasonal menu items. But it's not all PSLs that have earned the chain that reputation. Come November, a special sandwich pays homage to Thanksgiving leftovers in a way that conveniently scratches that seasonal itch. The holiday turkey and stuffing sandwich combines sliced turkey breast with herbed stuffing and turkey gravy on warm sage-infused bread for a whole feast in handy grab-and-go form. And it pairs perfectly with a you-know-what…

Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks

starbucks psl and pumpkin cream cold brew
Courtesy of Starbucks
Nutrition (Per Grande Latte):
Calories: 390
Fat: 14 g (Saturated Fat: 9 g, Trans Fat: 0.5 g)
Sodium: 230 mg
Carbs: 52 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 50 g)
Protein: 14 g

It seems far-fetched to recollect, but there once was a time when the letters PSL didn't immediately conger cozy images of Starbucks coffee cups. Those days are long gone, thanks to the chain's veritable vice grip on culture with arguably the most famed—and perhaps, infamous—seasonal menu in all the land. Nowadays, the pumpkin syrup-infused lattes are so wildly in demand that the chain releases them in August, along with a spate of other PSL-related specials and snacks. No matter where you fall on the PSL debate, it's hard to argue with its inescapable influence.

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Smokehouse BBQ Bacon Sandwich at Chick-fil-A

chick-fil-a smokehouse bbq bacon sandwich
Courtesy of Chick-fil-A
Nutrition information unavailable at this time.

Many seasonal menu items tend to arrive around the holidays, as things get cozy and spicy, but summer has its fair share of limited-time cravings, too. Take the Smokehouse BBQ Bacon Sandwich at Chick-fil-A, for instance. The sandwich combines summer cookout flavors on a bun. After debuting in 2017 and reaching critical mass in the ensuing summers, the sandwich went (semi) dormant in April 2022, only to return in spring and summer on merciful occasions that the chain deemed appropriate. Made with grilled chicken, sweet-and-spicy barbecue sauce, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and a sweet bun, it's summer in sandwich form—and a periodic dish you should seek out.

Shamrock Shake at McDonald's

shamrock shake and oreo shamrock mcflurry
Courtesy of McDonald's
Nutrition (Per Small Shake):
Calories: 500
Fat: 14 g (Saturated Fat: 9 g, Trans Fat: 0.5 g)
Sodium: 230 mg
Carbs: 82 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 51 g)
Protein: 11 g

St. Patrick's Day isn't necessarily a huge occasion for fast-food specials. Unless, of course, you're at McDonald's, a chain that's capitalized enormously on the late-spring holiday with a bright-green drinkable dessert that customers either love or hate. The Shamrock Shake, which tends to arrive in February and linger through March, is the ultimate spring snack, channeling rebirth and renewal via cloying mint flavor, whipped cream, and neon-red cherries. No matter where you land on the love-it-or hate-it debate, its influence—and annual omnipresence—is undeniable.

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Fish Sandwich at Popeye's

Popeyes Flounder Fish Sandwich
Photo: Popeyes, Design: Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition (Per Order):
Calories: 681.4
Fat: 35.4 g (Saturated Fat: 8.6 g, Trans Fat: 0.8 g)
Sodium: 2385.9 mg
Carbs: 65.7 g (Fiber: 2.9 g, Sugar: 8.1 g)
Protein: 25.6 g

A relative newcomer by comparison, and one of the biggest surprises among seasonal menu sensations, is the fish sandwich at Popeye's. A chain otherwise known for its crispy chicken, Popeye's dipped its toes in the seafood waters back in 2021 with the debut of its Cajun flounder sandwich. What started as a Lenten spring-season experiment—dredged in smoldering Cajun seasonings and fried—caught on quickly, and it's become a recurring tradition in February, March, and early April.

Shrimp Nibblers at White Castle

white castle shrimp nibblers
White Castle
Nutrition (Per Small Order):
Calories: 430
Fat: 29 g (Saturated Fat: 4.5 g)
Sodium: 910 mg
Carbs: 31 g (Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 2 g)
Protein: 12 g

Another Lenten original that quickly amassed a fan following was the Shrimp Nibblers at White Castle. In 2023, the slider-centric chain offered the popcorn-esque shrimp dish as a spring-y snack (also in a Sriracha-spiced variety), but this recent arrival became so popular that the company brought them back in 2024 for a rerun through March 31. And just like that, a new seasonal tradition was born.

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Peach Milkshake at Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A Peach Milkshake
Chick-fil-A
Nutrition (Per Serving):
Calories: 620
Fat: 20 g (Saturated Fat: 13 g)
Sodium: 400 mg
Carbs: 101 g (Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 98 g)
Protein: 11 g

Chick-fil-A is nothing if not merciful. Each time it taketh away, it brings something new—or, in the case of its summery Peach Milkshake, it brings it roaring back. First debuted in 2009, the shake is made by hand-spinning vanilla ice cream with juicy peaches and adorning it with whipped cream and a requisite cherry. The warm-weather sipper has remained an annual fixture ever since. The chain is so kind as to offer insights about its return on its customer support page.

Hot Chicken Sandwich at Shake Shack

shake shack hot honey chicken sandwich
Shake Shack / Facebook
Nutrition (Per Serving):
Calories: 570
Fat: 31 g (Saturated Fat: 9 g)
Sodium: 1270 mg
Carbs: 39 g (Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 8 g)
Protein: 34 g

In recent years, hot chicken has taken the fast-food world by storm, popping up on menus nationwide and lending its signature smolder to all manner of snacks and sandwiches. One chain that hit a bullseye with its own version is Shake Shack, a burger-focused brand that put the spotlight on the pastime with a full-blown spicy menu. Featuring a Nashville-style hot chicken sandwich, the menu saw the coveted return of the scorching dish for the first time in three years, along with a spicy burger, spicy fries, and spicy cheese fries. Typically revived around late summer, the hot chicken sandwich is the perfect way to sunset the season on a fiery note.

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Pumpkin Spice Latte at Dunkin'

Dunkin PSL
Photo: Samantha Boesch, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition (Per Medium Latte):
Calories: 420
Fat: 14 g (Saturated Fat: 8 g)
Sodium: 220 mg
Carbs: 59 g (Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 55 g)
Protein: 12 g

As omnipresent as Starbucks' PSLs have become, it's important to remember that the coffee giant isn't the only chain filling coffee cups with pumpkin syrup come fall. The chain's biggest competitor, Dunkin', serves its own variation that's earned a rightful fan following all its own. Made with espresso, milk, sweet pumpkin syrup, vanilla, fall spiced, whipped cream, caramel drizzle, and cinnamon sugar, there's a lot happening here—and while potentially cloying, it deserves top ranks on any seasonal bucket list. Like Starbucks, Dunkin' also apparently thinks that fall begins in August.

Pumpkin & Creme Pie at McDonald's

mcdonald's pumpkin and creme pie
McDonald's
Nutrition (Per Serving):
Calories: 280
Fat: 15 g (Saturated Fat: 8 g)
Sodium: 180 mg
Carbs: 33 g (Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 12 g)
Protein: 3 g

Come fall, pumpkin arrives to fast-food land in potable form. McDonald's has dabbled in various pumpkin treats over the years, but few have withstood the test of time like its Pumpkin & Creme Pie. An annual tradition brought back each year in the more appropriate month of September, it's yet another winner among McD's various beloved hand pies, this time made with a warm pastry crust enrobing layers of pumpkin and vanilla creme filling.

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Pumpkin Frozen Custard at Culver's

Culver's pumpkin spice custard
Culver's/Facebook
Nutrition information unavailable at this time.

Of all the various pumpkin specials on menus, one of the most exciting and refreshing is the Pumpkin Frozen Custard doled out at Culver's. A masterclass in brand-building, the sweetly spiced confection is a way for the chain to serve its signature dessert in autumnal form without merely bending to the whims of latte connoisseurs. Blended with real, fresh pumpkin, vanilla frozen custard, and cinnamon, this early-fall special also earns points for tasting like real pumpkin—whodathunk!

Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon Rolls at Cicis

cicis pumpkin spice rolls
Cicis
Nutrition information unavailable at this time.

The pumpkin spice train occasionally veers off the rails, but it's hard to quibble when the results are as undeniably delicious as the Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon Rolls at Cicis. Known for pizza, the comeback chain proves that it knows its way around sweet dough as well, as evidenced by its inaugural pumpkin-infused cinnamon rolls in 2022. Simple yet delish, they're fluffy, sweet rolls glazed with icing infused with notes of nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove. Keep your eyes peeled come late August for their return.

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Pumpkin Spice Howie Bread at Hungry Howie's

Hungry Howie's pumpkin spice bread
Hungry Howie's/Facebook
Nutrition information unavailable at this time.

Another love-it-or-hate-it, off-the-rails fast-food tradition is the Pumpkin Spice Howie Bread at, you guessed it, Hungry Howie's. It turns out that pizza isn't the only thing that this chain does over-the-top. For dessert, this means 16 pieces of buttery, doughy breadsticks dredged in aromatic pumpkin spices and served with a warm, gooey icing for dipping. Breadsticks for dessert? You bet.

Pumpkin Spice Frosty at Wendy's

wendy's pumpkin frosty.
Wendy's
Nutrition (Per Medium-Sized Drink):
Calories: 200
Fat: 3.5 g (Saturated Fat: 2 g)
Sodium: 85 mg
Carbs: 36 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 31 g)
Protein: 4 g

Not to miss the pumpkin spice bandwagon, Wendy's follows in Culver's tracks by offering its own icy rendition of the autumnal staple. While the chain, for the longest time, only sold its classic Frosty in chocolate flavor, Wendy's has tinkered in recent years with more innovative offerings, like this Pumpkin Spice version wafting with notes of cinnamon and nutmeg.

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Pumpkin Pie Blizzard at Dairy Queen

dairy queen pumpkin pie blizzard
Dairy Queen
Nutrition (Per Small-Sized Dessert):
Calories: 560
Fat: 20 g (Saturated Fat: 13 g, Trans Fat: 1)
Sodium: 330 mg
Carbs: 86 g (Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 68 g)
Protein: 11 g

And don't forget about Dairy Queen, the ice cream chain that follows Frozen Hot Chocolate season with Pumpkin Pie Blizzard season. Released in 2022 to much fanfare, the dessert is far thicker and more indulgent than its latte counterparts. It's made by blending real pieces of pumpkin pie (!) with vanilla soft-serve, fall spices, and whipped cream. It's a pumpkin pie that melts in your mouth, and the audacity commands respect.

Curderburger at Culver's

Courtesy of Culver's
Nutrition (Per Order):
Calories: 770
Fat: 42 g (Saturated Fat: 17.5 g)
Sodium: 1,355 mg
Carbs: 59 g (Sugar: 4 g)
Protein: 35 g

Sometimes, the greatest successes start with unexpected origins. Such is the case with the hilariously dubbed Curderburger, an extra-cheesy burger that Culver's initially rolled out as an April Fool's joke in 2021. The joke was on them because the sarcastic special was a smash hit, only to return in a less-comical manner in 2022 and again in the fall of 2023. It's a deluxe ButterBurger topped with a whole patty of fried cheese. Why Culver's thought that was a joke, and not something to be taken seriously, is a mystery.

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Cranberry Bliss Bar at Starbucks

starbucks cranberry bliss bar
Starbucks
Nutrition (Per Serving):
Calories: 290
Fat: 15 g (Saturated Fat: 10 g)
Sodium: 240 mg
Carbs: 39 g (Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 28 g)
Protein: 3 g

Beyond PSLs, Starbucks continues to prove its penchant for seasonal innovations. There's the holiday turkey and stuffing sandwich. For another kind of sweet treat, wait until Halloween is over for the annual return of one of the most unique seasonal desserts on the market. Come November, the Cranberry Bliss Bar is a blissful beauty of a pastry—a blondie bar frosted with cream cheese icing, infused with orange zest, and flecked with chewy dried cranberries for a kiss of tartness. It's come to be a requisite on Starbucks' holiday menus, and rightfully so.

McRib at McDonald's

McDonald's McRib
Shutterstock
Nutrition (Per Order):
Calories: 520
Fat: 28 g (Saturated Fat: 9 g)
Sodium: 890 mg
Carbs: 46 g (Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 13 g)
Protein: 24 g

Easily the most infamous and polarizing of all the seasonal fast-food items that exist, the mighty—or maligned, depending on who you poll—McRib is an unavoidable icon in terms of audacious restaurant innovations and mystery meat whimsy. Its origins are murky, its seasonal availability is unpredictable, and its ingredients are baffling. But there's something almost comically Americana about the McRib, a salacious sandwich that refuses to apologize or adhere to societal norms. More comical is that, like Cher, the McRib has gone on "Farewell Tours" that seemed to indicate its permanent disappearance … only to return months later. Never change, McRib.

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Grilled Chicken Wrap at Wendy's

wendys chicken wrap
Courtesy of Wendy's
Nutrition (Per 1 Wrap):
Calories:270
Fat: 11 g (Saturated Fat: 3.5 g)
Sodium: 620 mg
Carbs: 24 g (Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 3 g)
Protein: 20 g

It might seem odd to rank something as modest as a grilled chicken wrap among the 25 greats, but if there's one thing Wendy's has proven, it's to never underestimate modesty. This is, after all, a chain that made a name for itself with square-shaped burger patties and baked potatoes. Right in step is Wendy's Grilled Chicken Ranch Wrap, a recurring on-again, off-again feature that the chain employs as a token of spring. Because nothing says "spring" like ranch dressing. Regardless of its oddity, the sandwich is a wholesome, tasty medley of diced grilled chicken, shredded cheese, and creamy ranch in a warm flour tortilla.

Holiday Pie at McDonald's

McDonald's Holiday Pie
Photo: Kaley Roberts, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition (Per Serving):
Calories: 260
Fat: 13 g (Saturated Fat: 7 g)
Sodium: 150 mg
Carbs: 33 g (Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 12 g)
Protein: 4 g

Never underestimate the power of a rainbow sprinkle. Of all the seasonal specials and absurd menu innovations, McDonald's sometimes commands the biggest followings for its simplest creations. Case in point: The festive Holiday Pie, a vibrant and candy-colored confection that's dominated end-of-year cravings since way back in 1999. In theory, it's as straightforward as desserts come—a flaky hand pie with custard filling and rainbow sprinkles. But it's been a recurring sensation for far longer than most seasonal staples could dream of, more than earning its place among the ranks of the all-time greats.

Matt Kirouac
Matt Kirouac is a travel and food writer and culinary school graduate, with a passion for national parks, all things Disney, and road trip restaurants. Read more about Matt