It was a busy year in the fast-food world. Throughout 2023, consumers welcomed the release of countless new menu items, along with the return of previous fan favorites. Burgers, chicken nuggets, tacos—you name a fast-food category and there were several menu additions to match it. Some were sweet. Some were salty. Others were just plain unique. Remember Baskin Robbins' Chick'n & Waffles ice cream?
While some new food and drink items were only available for a limited time, others scored a permanent spot on menus. With 2024 kicking off in two days, what better way to reflect on the past year than by revisiting some of the items that filled fast-food fans with joy?
McDonald's Grimace Shake
Launched in June, the Grimace Shake generated so much attention this year that it earned a spot on Google's top trending food searches of 2023. Released as part of a limited-time meal to celebrate the birthday of McDonald's beloved purple mascot, Grimace, this berry-flavored beverage ultimately became a TikTok sensation. Across the social media platform, people shared videos of themselves pretending to dramatically pass out or die after taking a sip of the purple shake.
In a July earnings call, McDonald's CFO Ian Borden said Grimace's birthday "quickly became one of our most socially engaging campaigns of all time."
McDonald's Bacon Ranch McCrispy Sandwiches
In March, McDonald's rebranded its Crispy Chicken Sandwich by changing its name to the "McCrispy." Along with this minor tweak, the fast-food giant rolled out two new limited-time sandwiches: the Bacon Ranch McCrispy and the Bacon Ranch Deluxe McCrispy.
Both sandwiches featured a crispy chicken filet, applewood smoked bacon, and a creamy ranch sauce on a toasted potato bun. However, the Bacon Ranch McCrispy included pickles, while the Deluxe was topped with Roma tomatoes and shredded lettuce.
Borden noted in an earnings call that although there was "no change to the chain's core product," the new name and sandwich options "helped drive double-digit sales growth in the market."
Wendy's Ghost Pepper Ranch Chicken Sandwich & Ghost Pepper Fries
Wendy's packed some heat this year with the May rollout of its Ghost Pepper Ranch Chicken Sandwich and Ghost Pepper Fries. The sandwich featured Wendy's spicy chicken, ghost pepper-infused American cheese, ghost pepper-seasoned crispy onions, lettuce, tomato, and a creamy ghost pepper ranch sauce. Meanwhile, the fries were simply coated in a spicy fry sauce. These new menu items earned high marks this past spring during an Eat This, Not That! taste test.
Wendy's Frosty Cream Cold Brew
What's a trip to Wendy's without ordering the famous Frosty? In July, the chain gave the iconic frozen dairy dessert a caffeinated twist by adding it to cold brew and serving the combo over ice—aka the Frosty Cream Cold Brew. The hybrid menu item is currently available in chocolate, vanilla, and caramel, along with the seasonal peppermint flavor, which launched last month. The new drink lineup replaced the chain's Frosty-ccino, which also featured cold brew blended with Frosty mix and served over ice.
Burger King's Spicy Chicken Fries
Like McDonald's and Wendy's, Burger King dropped its own version of spicy fries this year—but potatoes weren't the starring ingredient. Instead, the menu item was a spin on the chain's signature chicken fries. Back in March, Burger King released Spicy Chicken Fries, which were covered in a blend of spices.
These "fries" drew rave reviews, with a previous Eat This, Not That! taste tester highlighting the item's "good crunchy texture," "tender chicken," and notable spice that "could be too much" if you take a big bite. In October, Burger King spiced up its chicken fries once again by launching its new Ghost Pepper Fries.
Burger King's Snack Wraps
For those still mourning the discontinued McDonald's snack wraps, Burger King set out to fill the void this year. In August, the burger chain introduced a new limited-time line of Royal Crispy Wraps, which currently come in three flavors: classic, spicy, and honey mustard. Each wrap is made with a soft flour tortilla filled with crispy white meat chicken, tomato, and lettuce, along with a choice of sauce.
Taco Bell's Nacho Fries
Throughout 2023, Taco Bell announced multiple new iterations of its beloved Nacho Fries, including Yellowbird Nacho Fries, Vegan Nacho Fries, and the recent Grilled Cheese Nacho Fries. This cheesy potato item has such a fan base that Taco Bell even launched its first-ever Nacho Fries Lover's Pass last month. Like the popular Taco Lover's Pass, this limited-time subscription service allows customers to unlock 30 consecutive days of free Nacho Fries.
Taco Bell's Toasted Breakfast Tacos
It might come as a surprise to customers that the chain known for its tacos released breakfast burritos long before its breakfast tacos. Taco Bell recognized this, too, and tapped comedian Pete Davidson for a recent campaign, in which he joked about the chain's glaring oversight: "It's like going to a shoe store and they only sell socks. It's like a convenience store that's at the top of the mountain. It's like parachute pants that are tight."
However, fans yearning for breakfast tacos could finally rejoice in October when Taco Bell debuted its Toasted Breakfast Tacos. The breakfast item includes eggs, melted cheese, and a choice of bacon, sausage, or potatoes.
Chipotle's Fajita Quesadilla
After two TikTokers shared a hack for ordering a quesadilla that tastes like a Philly cheesesteak, the trend went viral, resulting in Chipotle making the popular "Fajita Quesadilla" a permanent digital menu offering in January. The hack solely consists of ordering fajita veggies with any quesadilla. According to Chipotle, this simple ingredient combination "nearly doubled Chipotle's quesadilla business at launch and resulted in two of the brand's top digital sales days of all time."
Popeyes' Chicken Wings
In November, Popeyes' expanded its fried chicken offerings with the permanent addition of five wing options. The flavors include Ghost Pepper, Sweet 'N Spicy, and the brand-new Roasted Garlic Parmesan, Honey BBQ, and Signature Hot. The chain previously sold the Ghost Pepper and Sweet 'N Spicy wings for a limited time this year.
In a May earnings call, Sami Siddiqui, president of Popeyes North America, said the Ghost Pepper Wings sold out in just two weeks during a limited-time launch in January. Then, in November, Popeyes shared in a press release that the Sweet 'N Spicy Wings became its most successful product since the release of its famous fried chicken sandwich.
Chick-fil-A's Spicy Chicken Biscuit
After a seven-year hiatus, Chick-fil-A's Spicy Chicken Biscuit finally returned to menus in June. The breakfast sandwich features a boneless chicken breast that's seasoned with a "spicy blend of peppers," hand-breaded, and pressure cooked in 100% refined peanut oil. Like its non-spicy predecessor, the chicken is also served on a buttermilk biscuit.
When compared to other fast-food chicken breakfast biscuits in a taste test, Chick-fil-A's came out on top, with an Eat This, Not That! taste tester writing, "This is the only chicken biscuit that left me wanting to take another bite. And I not only took another bite of this sandwich, but I happily devoured the whole thing."
Domino's Loaded Tots
America's largest pizza chain introduced a new cheesy item in February—and no, it wasn't another pizza. Available as a permanent menu item, Dominos' Loaded Tots feature crispy tater tots topped with cheese and various toppings. Customers can choose from three different options: Cheddar Bacon, Philly Cheese Steak, and Melty 3-Cheese.
In an April earnings call, Domino's CEO Russell Weiner said the chain was "really pleased" with the launch of the Loaded Tots, adding, "Early signs point to Loaded Tots performing even better than our last two product launches, Dips & Twists, and the Chicken Taco and Cheeseburger specialty pizza."
KFC's Chicken Nuggets
Less than two months after adding chicken nuggets to its menu, KFC said the chain sold over 100 million of them. While the chicken giant didn't share whether this matched expectations, a company representative told Nation's Restaurant News, "We're very excited with the success we've seen to date."
These nuggets are made with 100% white meat chicken, which is hand-breaded with KFC's Original Recipe—aka the famous 11 herbs and spices. Customers can score these nuggets in five-, eight-, 12-, or 36-piece orders.
Starbucks' Pistachio Cream Cold Brew
Starbucks won over pistachio lovers at the beginning of 2023 with the debut of its new, limited-edition Pistachio Cream Cold Brew. Launched alongside the returning Pistachio Latte, this new iced beverage combined the chain's cold brew with vanilla syrup, topping it off with pistachio cream cold foam and salted brown-buttery sprinkles. Among its many rave reviews, Eat This, Not That! highlighted the drink's "gorgeous-looking appearance" and "deep vanilla flavor."
Starbucks' Oleato Beverages
Intriguing drink releases are nothing new for Starbucks, but the olive oil-infused coffee has to be one of the most unique offerings. Following an initial launch in Italy, Starbucks added its "Oleato" line to select locations across the United States in February. As expected, adding olive oil to one's go-to coffee drink proved to be quite polarizing among customers. While some shared that they enjoyed this new beverage, others reported stomach issues after drinking it.