Waffle Taco at Taco Bell
While a waffle shaped like a taco, filled with egg and sausage, and drizzled with maple syrup has the potential to be great, you'll never get there with highly processed ingredients, and that's exactly what Taco Bell is serving up. Erin's was prepared, wrapped in foil, and served in the same amount of time it took to fill a small cup with water. This may be the only fast food product in history that would be vastly improved by substituting the protein component—a rubbery, greasy, and questionably of animal origin sausage patty—with Taco Bell's seasoned ground beef.
Real Eggs on Breakfast Sandwiches at McDonald's
For those of us who love McDonald's breakfast sandwiches, the bread on the biscuit sandwiches and McGriddles far surpasses their nasty "bagels" or the English muffins used for the Egg McMuffin. Unfortunately, while the Egg McMuffin gets a real egg, the biscuits and McGriddles get some weird yellow foam patty. Ever wonder why that is? Now you don't have to! As Kenji divulged this year, if you ask the cashier for a "round egg" on your sandwich, you'll get the proper Egg McMuffin egg, fried in a ring-shaped mold, complete with soft yolk. It makes a world of difference, and it even shows up on your receipt.
Egg White Delight McMuffin at McDonald's
If you're eating breakfast at McDonald's, chances are you're either hungover, late for work, or possibly both. Regardless, dieting is not part of the equation. But let's say you could cut some of the fat and cholesterol out of breakfast with something that was just as tasty. No reason not to do it, right? That's the promise McDonald's is making with its new egg white-based breakfast sandwiches. With all that calorie and cholesterol cutting, we were prepared to be underwhelmed, so we were surprised when the sandwich was actually quite tasty. It was hot and moist, with a good mix of flavors and plenty of salt (key when you're in hangover-recovery mode), and famously un-messy to consume.
Premium McWrap at McDonald's
Available in three styles—Chicken & Bacon, Sweet Chili Chicken, and Chicken & Ranch—with a choice of crispy or grilled chicken for each, the Premium McWrap from McDonald's has its roots in the Snack Wrap line of flour tortilla roll-ups. Most bites of the Sweet Chili Chicken McWrap were very unbalanced, with relatively large chicken pieces, and a meager nine pieces, or 0.2 ounces of "spring mix." Some restaurants also sub the Creamy Garlic Sauce for Mayonnaise Dressing. Our McWrap was affected, which was a shame, because garlic might have helped balance the upfront sweetness of the chili sauce. At $3.99, the Premium McWrap is priced in line with other full-sized chicken sandwich offerings from national chains. It's a fine value, but it isn't going to blow you away.
Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich at Dunkin' Donuts
The new Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich from Dunkin' Donuts is, to be blunt, broken. Among the more gimmicky sandwiches in recent memory, it's the sort of item one can only imagine was born in the marketing department and fleshed out against the will and better judgment of Dunkin' Donuts'
food engineers corporate chefs. Eating it is unpleasant and leaves your hands covered in warm, half-liquefied glaze. The two puny bacon strips offer little texture contrast to the sandwich's otherwise soft components. The egg looks real, but something called "Natural Sautéed Flavor" is listed in its ingredients.
McLobster at McDonald's Canada
Until very recently, the McLobster ($6.50) was served only in the Maritime provinces, and was one of those regional curiosities, like McSpicy Paneer in India, or the Bulgogi Burger in South Korea. But the price of lobster has been declining fairly steadily in the last couple of years, so McDonald's Canada probably decided it was as good a time as any to expand the McLobster to Ontario. McDonald's describes the McLobster as containing "succulent lobster meat combined with celery, green onions, and light mayonnaise-style sauce with a hint of lemon, on top of a bed of shredded lettuce." The lettuce makes up about half of the sandwich, which makes it feel disconcertingly like a salad on a bun, but the lobster is surprisingly okay! It's a bit stringy, and its taste is overwhelmed by the bread and the celery and the mysterious "mayonnaise-style sauce," but it's not bad. There are no off flavors. It's legitimate lobster, not some kind of lobster-shaped mystery meat. Periodically available in Québec as the McHomard, or simply as the Lobster Roll in coastal New England.
Chicken Waffle Tenders at Popeye's
Popeyes' Chicken Waffle Tenders hit on quite a few levels. Surprisingly, the tenders retained their exterior crunch despite the 20 minutes traveled in-box from restaurant to dining room table. The aroma of maple syrup was present without being overpowering, and the chicken was acceptably succulent. An excellent chicken-to-coating ratio on all three pieces meant not having to ask the most hated question in fried chicken: "Does this count as one of the pieces?" Popeyes' introduction of the Chicken Waffle Tenders also signaled the debut of a signature sauce to accompany them. The Honey Maple Dipping Sauce joins six other sauces, and rises above them all.
Mighty Wings at McDonald's
A little over a year ago, McDonald's tested a new product, Mighty Wings, in the Atlanta market. And Atlanta-based Serious Eats columnist Todd Brock got his hands on them. His review of the then 'limited release' wings can be found here: McDonald's Debuts Mighty Wings in Atlanta, They're Actually Mighty Good. In September, McDonald's launched its Mighty Wings nationwide, so we felt a follow-up was in order. Everything Todd said about the crispiness, juiciness, meatiness, and spice still holds true a year later. In short, "Holy crap, those are really freakin' good."
Pretzel Pub Chicken Sandwich at Wendy's
As a sequel to their summer 2013 Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger blockbuster, Wendy's has introduced the Pretzel Pub Chicken Sandwich. Because #everythingonapretzelbun. But, as is the case with many sequels, this one fails to reach the same heights as its predecessor. Described as "a lightly breaded chicken breast topped with natural muenster cheese, honey mustard and a warm cheddar sauce all atop a soft pretzel bun," this sandwich, in short, just doesn't work. The bun was dense and rigid, while the yellow sauce was a weird nacho cheese, instead of the honey mustard it should have been. The sauce also served as a sort of lubricant, causing the sandwich to fall apart quite often$mdash;a definite momentum killer.
Fast Food Chicken Dippin' Sauce Showdown
In October, we held a taste test to determine the best fast food chicken dipping sauce among three contenders: McDonald's, Popeye's, and Burger King. Popeye's dominated the barbecue and mustard sauce categories, while Burger King's ranch, sweet and sour, and Buffalo sauces reigned supreme. McDonald's only winner was its sweet chili sauce. However, some of Popeye's best options, including the Blackened Ranch and Tartar Sauce, had no McDonald's or BK equivalents, and therefore went untested.
Triple Steak Stack and Cantina Double Steak Quesadilla at Taco Bell
The Cantina Double Steak Quesadilla dwarfed the Triple Steak Stack at every turn. The packaging and presentation is better (think "room service" compared to "the drive-thru at Taco Bell"), and the the quesadilla even comes with an bonus package of chips, salsa, and sour cream (actually, it wasn't entirely clear why the chips were in the box, but still, it's a nice surprise. Something about a gift horse?). Since the two menu items are both effectively meat, cheese, and bread, it's no surprise that the one featuring textured steak strips is a clear winner. The meat had a slightly smoky flavor, and while it was a little dry, they trounced the alternative (remember: Salisbury steak).
Avocado and Swiss Whopper at Burger King
The Whopper's 55th anniversary celebration continues over at Burger King with yet another variation on the chain's flagship sandwich. (Are we eventually getting 55 of them?) February's offering: the Avocado and Swiss Whopper. Aside from the overly cold avocado sauce, the rest of the AvSwiss was pretty decent once the temps evened out. The cheese got some melt, the spread didn't taste icebox-cold, the bacon maintained its crunch. The ingredient that seemed to get lost in the shuffle was that "zesty avocado aioli," which provided little flavor, but lots of unnecessary lubrication, making for a lopsided mess by the end. That being said, the Avocado and Swiss Whopper is still worth ordering, mostly because the avocado flavor is just different enough from the usual fast food offerings to be marginally appealing.
Hot Mess Burger at Jack in the Box
If you watched the Super Bowl in February, you might have noticed ads for the new Hot Mess burger ($4.29) from Jack in the Box. It's made with a seasoned beef patty topped with melted white cheddar, pepper jack cheese sauce, onion rings, and sliced jalapeños on toasted sourdough. Even though the burger doesn't visually measure up to the publicity shot, it's still one of the most promising burgers Jack has released in quite some time, even with some execution issues. The jumbo seasoned patty actually has some depth of flavor, the combo of jalapeño slices with the melted cheddar and gooey pepper jack cheese sauce is delicious, and the sourdough bread is a major improvement over the standard-issue bun, both in terms of flavor and how well it stands up to all the melted cheese. Speaking of which, they should ditch the onion rings. The coating is too scant to take on the gobs of hot cheese, and they quickly turn limp and soggy.
Jim Beam Bacon Thickburger at Hardee's/Carl's Jr.
You know what's been missing from the everything-bigger-and-crazier-and-more-extreme-than-everything-else fast food burger trend? Booze. In what the accompanying press release proudly trumpets (in the lead sentence, no less, so that's clearly what they're hanging their hat on here) as an industry first, Hardee's and Carl's Jr. have unveiled a mass-production burger "with the distinctive taste of a branded, distilled spirit." That's right. Now any underage carnivore can stroll on in and—with no fake ID required—belly up to the Jim Beam Bourbon Thickburger. It's not the prettiest fast food burger, but this one tasted better than expected. The sauce is, of course, the primary component, but it was far less overwhelming than barbecue sauce usually ends up being on a burger. It had a gentle heat and maybe just a slight astringent aftertaste that lingered a while too long. Not unpleasant...and interesting enough to hang with.
New Quarter Pounders at McDonald's
It looks like the Angus burger selection at McDonald's took a huge dump, because McDonald's recently voted them off the island and changed up their menu. They've been replaced by a new "premium" version of the ol' standby favorite, the Quarter Pounder. There's three types: The Bacon Habanero Ranch, Bacon and Cheese, and Deluxe Quarter Pounder. They'll all hit you in the wallet for $3.99 each, and they all ring in at approximately 600 calories (the Deluxe is less at 540). Honestly, it seems like McDonald's is trying to pull a Cher by constantly changing face these days, but under the hood, it's still, well, McDonald's. Despite the nice makeup job, that sad, tired beef is still showing through.
Fresh-Cut Fries at Shake Shack
We announced in August that, the Upper East Side location of Shake Shack would replace the chain's standard frozen crinkle-cut fries with fresh-cut fries. They have since expanded the fresh-cut fries to several other NYC locations. While there was much controversy leading up the release of the new fries, Kenji's initial reaction was "damn, these are some good fries." Salty, crispy, and intensely potato-ey, they're a new gold standard for what a fast food french fry can be—provided they manage to keep them consistent as they roll out to new locations.
French Fry Burger at Burger King
Hey, Burger King, we need to talk. I think it's time we both admit that this isn't working. I know we had some good—no—great moments together, but if we're both honest, I think we can agree that was many years ago. This fry burger ($1)? I don't know whether to laugh, cry, or just walk away. Is adding four measly fries to a burger (with nothing but ketchup, mayo and lettuce) your idea of a joke? Or, are you trying to send me a message, using an obvious lack of effort as some sort of passive-aggressive attack? Either way, Burger King, we're through. All those fries brought to the burger was another form of starch. I could barely distinguish them from the bun. There's really nothing else to say. It's just another example of your laziness.
Buffalo Blue Cheese Burger at Hardee's/Carl's Jr.
The Buffalo Blue Cheese Thickburger, which Hardee's and Carl's Jr. both rolled out at the end of August. Looks decent, and you know what you're getting right up front, based on the name. Planting your flag in someone else's backyard aside, somebody should tell Hardee's and Carl's Jr. to ease up a bit on their execution. On first glance, it seemed like the blue cheese would be overpower, but instead, the overpowering came from what seemed like a gallon of wing sauce. As hot sauces go, Frank's is quite tasty, palatable even to non-hotheads. But this was like doing a shot of straight wing sauce and then chasing it with an otherwise-nondescript-but-still-too-blue-cheesy fast-food burger. There's so much lubrication from the hot sauce and the now-melted blue cheese that one bite in, every slicked-up component of the burger makes a compete jailbreak.
Hot Pepper, Garlic, and Nacho Cheese Shooters from Steak 'N Shake
Steak 'N Shake has some screaming deals on their 4 Dollar Menu, including everything from a triple Steakburger and fries, to footlong hot dogs, to spaghetti topped with chili, but the new Hot Pepper, Garlic, and Nacho Cheese "Shooters" (Steak 'N Shake's term for mini burgers) were especially intriguing. You can get one of each with fries for $4.99. The main upside to the new shooters is they're fun to eat because they're unusual. The downside is because they're loaded with such strong toppings, the flavor of the beef disappears. Maybe the larger, double Steakburger versions are better, but even though we're glad we gave them a whirl, we don't think we'd order them twice. Stick with a double cheese Steakburger. Simple is what Steak 'N Shake does best.
The Big King at Burger King
Burger King has a history of creating bizarro versions of McDonald's food. These days, Burger King is pulling a one-two punch combination with a simulated rib sandwich creatively called the BBQ Rib Sandwich, and now, they've created the Big King, which is an alternate-universe Big Mac. Next to each other, the Big Mac and Big King don't look terribly different, which is good, if your goal is to copy the other shamelessly. There's a big flavor difference between the two burgers. The Big King's secret sauce is cloyingly sweet and pumped full of sugar, to the point where it gets overwhelming. Another difference is the flavor of the meat; Burger King's patties are "char-broiled" but end up tasting strongly like fake smoke, and the meat is gristly and dry. It's absolutely terrible. While neither sandwich is remotely near the definition of the word "good," the Big King comes off as a weird farce.
Crazy Cheesy Crust at Pizza Hut
The Crazy Cheesy Crust ($12.99 with 1 topping) features 16 detachable "pockets," resembling bite-size bread bowls, brimming with a gooey five-cheese blend. While the actual delivery pizza bore a strong resemblance to the one featured in the ads, that's where the similarity ends. The cheese pockets turned out to be firmly rooted to the rest of the pie, and didn't tear off easily at all. Once a pocket did come off, the cheese was rock hard and profoundly unappealing. The rest of the pizza tasted totally fine, in a room-temperature-Pizza-Hut sort of way.
Deep!Deep! Dish Pizza at Little Caesar's
The Deep!Deep! Dish Pizza ($8.00, one topping; $1.75 for additional toppings) is available Hot-n-Ready from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily. According to the website, this is "Detroit-style" pizza, with a combination of Muenster and mozzarella cheeses, cooked in two separate little squares to give you the optimum number of corner slices. Another selling point is the caramelized edges. When executed properly, caramelized edges on a pan pizza are coveted due to their slightly burnt but rich flavor. In the case of the Deep!Deep! Dish pizza (these exclamation points are killing me, by the way) the caramelized crust does indeed give some extra flavor. But this is a doughy pizza; the majority of it is greasy bread, and the gimmick loses its flair after a few bites. Save the $3 and go for the regular $5 Hot-N-Ready pizza if you absolutely have to have Little Caesar's. Oh, and go to Detroit for a Detroit-style pie.
Bread Bowl Pasta at Domino's
What you are staring at there is the Italian sausage variation of Domino's Bread Bowl Pasta. Introduced back in 2009 with the tagline "pasta so good you'll devour the bowl," it comes in four flavors—Chicken Alfredo, Italian Sausage Marinara, Chicken Carbonara, Pasta Primavera—with the option to build your own by adding ingredients from their pizza toppings lineup. The pasta is available on its own baked in a foil tray ($5.99), or for an extra buck, you can have it baked directly into a thick disk of pizza dough ($6.99). The breadbowl version was, unsurprisingly, far less successful that the foil one. Conceptually, the dish is a mess—the product, no doubt, of a boardroom meeting which consisted of asking "how can we make a new product using only ingredients that are already in the store and that require no new equipment, nor special training?"
Satisfries at Burger King
Burger King's new "Satisfries"($2.49 reg.) are crinkle-cut fries that are being promoted as having 40 percent less fat and 30 percent less calories than McDonald's fries, and roughly 20 percent less fat and 26 percent less calories than BK's standard fries. What makes the new fries different is their coating. According to The New York Times, Burger King spent the last two years working with McCain Foods developing a less porous coating that absorbs less oil during frying, resulting in fries with less fat and calories. Surprisingly, the flavor is actually quite good. The crinkle-cut spuds have a blonde, just barely fried exterior and a warm interior bursting with potato, making them taste like oven-baked fries, but with a crisp, flaky exterior that can only be achieved with hot, bubbling oil.
Munchie Meals at Jack in the Box
Each of the four Munchie Meal options (including a Brunch Burger, Stacked Grilled Cheese Burger, Exploding Cheesy Chicken, and Loaded Chicken Nuggets) comes with an order of "halfsies" (half curly fries, half regular), two hard-shell tacos, and a drink for $6. Munchie Meals are only available between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., and while no one at JITB has officially admitted they're aiming the meals at a specific segment of the population, saying only that the meals are "targeted at folks looking for indulgent treats," it's pretty obvious who the target market is. The fries and tacos were terrible and stale, the Exploding Cheesy Chicken sandwich was rubbery and dry, and the Loaded Chicken Nuggets were unbearably salty. The Stacked Grilled Cheese Burger was lopsided and loaded with something resembling Velveeta, but it was adequate. The only thing that worked was the Brunch Burger. Sure, the croissant was more greasy than flaky, and the hash brown fell apart halfway through eating, but with all of the salt and grease, this sandwich would be a great hangover cure/avoidance method. Here's hoping Jack adds this to the regular menu, and soon.