Well, 2023 is almost over, and that means it's a time for reflection. While some of us are looking at career goals, financial standings, and bucket list items, I'm looking at the best fast food items released this year. In the ever-evolving landscape of fast food, 2023 has proven to be a year of culinary innovation and delight. From mouthwatering chicken options to re-released favorites, the fast-food industry has once again raised the bar, leaving enthusiasts eager to savor the latest creations.
This year's offerings not only showcase the industry's commitment to flavor and creativity but also highlight its responsiveness to changing consumer preferences and feedback. From my own personal experience to an array of online reviews and taste tests, I've scoured the nation for the items that gave us gastronomic hope and a satisfied smile. Let's take a look at the standout delicacies that have taken the fast food scene by storm. Get ready to indulge your taste buds, because 2023 has shown us that the world of fast food is anything but predictable.
Wendy's Ghost Pepper Ranch Chicken Sandwich And Ghost Pepper Fries
Wendy's new ghost pepper items have been the talk of the town since they were released in May, with an array of online reviews written by everyone from notable food publications to your professional Reddit users. First up is the Ghost Pepper Ranch Chicken Sandwich — an elevated twist on the company's signature Spicy Chicken, boasting ghost pepper-infused American cheese, crispy onions seasoned with a blend of ghost pepper and ranch, fresh lettuce, tomato, and ghost pepper ranch sauce with an infusion of fresh herbs. While the ghost pepper may be haunting you in four of the items within the sandwich, the bread and ranch expertly cut the heat and balance out the meal for a truly exciting eating experience. This is one of the only items this year that many consistently say really brought the spice.
As if that's not enough, you can get an extra kick of spice with the company's Ghost Pepper Fries. These are still the Wendy's natural-cut fries you know and love, but they're coated in a one-of-a-kind spicy fry sauce. If you're a lover of all things spicy, get your hands on one or both of these items.
Chick-Fil-A's Spicy Chicken Biscuit
Chick-fil-A's Spicy Chicken Biscuit was released in June, offering fans of the chain and people who are on the go in the morning a new way to fuel up. This breakfast sandwich features Chick-fil-A's renowned boneless chicken breast, seasoned with a zesty blend of peppers, meticulously hand-breaded, and pressure-cooked to perfection in 100% refined peanut oil. You'll find all of this good stuff nestled inside a freshly baked buttermilk biscuit — that's right — freshly baked in-store.
Reddit users are raving about this sandwich, adding varying types of cheese and hash browns into the mix, too. Some even wish they could get these as a late-night snack. You won't even find a bad review on TripAdvisor either! While most feel this isn't a spicy sandwich that packs a huge punch, it seems the majority of people are happy with its heat level. It's a great option for those who love a little spice without reaching for the milk.
Taco Bell's Nacho Fries
Nacho Fries are back at Taco Bell and fans couldn't be happier. This latest release is Taco Bell's first-ever nationwide vegan limited-time offering — Nacho Fries with a Vegan Nacho Sauce. Now everyone can enjoy this delicious afternoon or late-night snack.
These crispy seasoned fries are tossed in Mexican spices and are served with a side of warm nacho cheese dipping sauce. The combination of seasoned fries and the savory cheese sauce creates a flavorful and satisfying snack that has gained a cult following — this is a love or hate situation in the fast food world. The fries can be enjoyed on their own or paired with other Taco Bell menu items. Some people like to add them to their burritos or tacos for an extra layer of crunch and flavor.
Every time Taco Bell reintroduces its Nacho Fries, fans go nuts, and social media creates a buzz around their limited-time offerings. However, this time around may be different. Fans and food publications are saying the fries are here to stay, but it seems Taco Bell isn't calling out that truth. We'll have to wait and see if these fan favorites are leaving us as we roll into the new year.
Chipotle's Fajita Quesadilla
In February, Chipotle released a new Fajita Quesadilla that took the fast-food world by storm, complete with your preferred protein, Monterey Jack cheese, and a medley of fresh fajita veggies. At this time, they also released the option to get its Chipotle-Honey Vinaigrette dressing as one of your three dipping sides.
However, the real news about this fast food addition was based on the online hype surrounding a hack that made a custom quesadilla taste like a Philly cheesesteak. Alexis Frost took to TikTok to give it a try, ordering a steak quesadilla with extra cheese and the fajita veggies. She and many others say this is a definite yes! This hack went so viral, that Chipotle had to update their online ordering system by creating a new quesadilla to ensure they could handle the massive outpouring of orders for this specially requested meal. The result is a new fan favorite and a must-try at Chipotle. Have it as-is or see if you can make it even better!
Chick-Fil-A's Honey Pepper Pimento Chicken Sandwich
The Honey Pepper Pimento Chicken Sandwich from Chick-fil-A was only available from August 28 through November 11, 2023, but it left its mark on the fast-food world. First tested in North and South Carolina, this southern twist featured the iconic chicken filet drizzled with honey, adorned with creamy pimento cheese, and served on a toasted bun alongside mild pickled jalapeños, striking the perfect balance between sweetness and spice. This thing is loaded with flavors, and people ordered more than one when they were first released to enjoy this new addition over and over again.
Plenty of people felt the sandwich was a solid creative choice, with one Reddit user saying it "might be one of the best fast food sandwiches on the market." A local radio host commented on X, formerly known as Twitter that the flavors "all work perfectly together," which is what you want to hear when honey, pimento cheese, and chicken are just some of the flavors in the mix. Throw in the new Caramel Crumble Milkshake, and you have yourself the perfect meal.
Panera's Toasted Baguettes: Green Goddess Caprese Melt
Kicking off the year in the first few days of January, Panera released three new toasted baguettes: The Green Goddess Caprese, the Pepperoni Mozzarella, and the Smoky Buffalo Chicken. The verdict from the masses is that the Green Goddess Caprese is a clear winner.
This delectable and healthier of the fast food options features Panera's signature baguette, stuffed with Peppadew peppers, fresh mozzarella, grated parmesan, basil, arugula, green goddess dressing, garlic aioli, salt and pepper. These delicious ingredients are melted together to form a heart-warming harmony of flavors and textures within a warm bread hug.
Critics and Panera fans alike say the flavors work well together and whether they tried all three or just the goddess, everyone seems to lean the same way, favoring one way more than the others. "Top tier," "bussin'", and "so good," are just some of the rave reviews on Reddit. Who knew a healthy sandwich option would be a fast food star?
Taco Bell's Crispy Melt Taco
In February, Taco Bell re-released its Crispy Melt Taco. With a plant-based protein option, this one took the vegetarian world by storm. This taco features a lot of your typical Taco Bell ingredients with their fried white corn shell tortilla which is stacked with layers of assorted cheeses and smothered in warm nacho cheese sauce. From here, you can pick the brand's new plant-based soy and pea protein combo or that quintessential seasoned beef. Then, you'll get this killer taco topped off with sour cream, diced tomatoes, lettuce, and a little more shredded cheese. Who's hungry now?
While, per one Reddit user, these tacos can be a "mess to eat," fans love this option because you won't find a soggy shell in the bunch, making them a crispy delight to eat and savor. Fans also think this new version of the taco matches the original release, while some think they've even improved the recipe. Overall, the fans have spoken — this one is a must-try while supplies last.
Starbucks' Frozen Lemonade Refreshers
There is nothing better than a cold drink on a warm day, and Starbucks stepped up to answer that call this summer. At the end of June, the company unveiled their Frozen Lemonade Refreshers in three flavors: Frozen Pineapple Passionfruit Lemonade, Frozen Strawberry Acai Lemonade, and Frozen Mango Dragonfruit Lemonade. These tropical drinks, reminiscent of beachside cocktails, feature Starbucks Refreshers beverages blended together with lemonade, real fruit, and strawberry puree. The thought alone puts me on a beach in Bali.
Fans feel these drinks are reminiscent of everything from Slurpees to tropical cocktail drinks, but the consensus is that these new Refreshers are the perfect way to beat the summer heat. While there doesn't seem to be a clear winner for favorite or standout, each drink seems to bring its own personality and strengths to the table. When the heat starts to rise, make your way to Starbucks and grab one, or all, of these drinks to cool down.
KFC's Kentucky Fried Chicken Nuggets
In March, KFC dove into the fast-food chicken nugget war with its Kentucky Fried Chicken Nuggets. These hand-breaded nuggets are made with KFC's Original Recipe and its top-secret blend of 11 herbs and spices. With competition from big names like Chik-fil-A and fast-food stars like McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's, these nuggets had to be done right. After trying them, one TikTok user thinks they are going to "give Chick-fil-A a run for their money."
Since there are so many options out there, some didn't feel they could be won over by another chicken option, but many were surprised with the taste and texture of juicy, real meat chicken and the balanced chicken-to-coating ratio. This means a new chicken nugget king has arrived, tempting you to find a new favorite at KFC. Did you make the switch in 2023? There's a new game in town.
Popeyes' Ghost Pepper Wings
Early in the year, Popeyes re-released one of their previous creations: Ghost Pepper Wings. These hand-battered and breaded wings are marinated for at least 12 hours with ghost pepper chili, adding a firey twist to the regular chicken mix. So, did they hold up in the world of heat?
When talking mainstream spice, we know it can be difficult to please all consumers, and that's why a lot of these fast food items aren't super spicy and displease those diehard fire fans. These companies know they have to please a wide range of palates. But Popeyes seems to have found that Goldilocks level, where some find these pretty spicy while others feel the heat but can eat through the flavor. While some people thought they weren't super spicy, consumers enjoyed the juicy chicken nonetheless. There's a reason these were brought back as a limited edition item, because the Popeyes chicken that everyone knows and loves is always a winner, especially with a little added heat.
McDonald's Peanut Butter Crunch McFlurry
Okay, so there are a lot of jokes about the McDonald's ice cream machine always being broken, but forgetting that scary thought, August brought us the arrival of the Peanut Butter Crunch McFlurry. Fans everywhere were excited to give it a try. This limited-time sweet treat features the classic creamy vanilla soft serve we all know and love with crispy cereal and chocolatey peanut butter cookie pieces. What's not to love?
With the taste of real peanuts, this one was a clear winner. Fans did differ when it came to their opinion of the mix-ins in the new McDonald's McFlurry, but you can't please everyone. What seems to work with this option is that it's not as decadent as some of the other McFlurry flavors, making it the perfect dessert after an indulgent McDonald's meal. If you're looking for a sweet palate cleanser, the Peanut Butter Crunch McFlurry should be your next go-to.
Burger King's Fiery Nuggets
This June, Burger King made a fiery version of their beloved chicken nuggets, "coated with an irresistible spicy glaze" containing cayenne peppers, bird's eye chili, and black pepper. The company upped the ante with the addition of a $1 Frozen Fanta Kickin' Mango to complement the sweet and spicy flavor profile.
Like some other spicy contenders, these nuggets may not knock your socks off, but people sure do like the electric flavors and pizazz these nuggets bring to the table. And for a fast food offering, they also seem to showcase a bit of complexity, with a sweetness at the front end of the profile and that fire building in the back. One reviewer at NJ.com was even "taken aback by the kick," leading us to believe that depending on your tolerance, you might get a run for your money with these nuggets. Don't take our word for it; give them and try and see for yourself.
Wendy's Strawberry Frosty
Having made an impressive debut in 2022, the fans have spoken, and Wendy's listened — this summer, Wendy's brought back its Strawberry Frosty, a cool way to relax in that July heat. The Chief Marketing Officer at Wendy's said the decision was "a no-brainer" to bring this dessert back, as fans were adamant they enjoyed the dessert. Staying on the strawberry theme, the company also brought back its Summer Strawberry Chicken Salad to pair with the sweet treat.
While some re-releases change the recipe, this classic has stayed tried and true, giving us a taste of nostalgia after our Junior Bacon Cheese Burgers and chicken nuggets. Some fans are bummed that this option took the place of the Vanilla Frosty, but the addition of strawberry with that classic chocolate has been a welcomed change overall. However, we're not promising this one is here to stay, so get to Wendy's and enjoy a taste of the past with a Strawberry Frosty.
Read the original article on Daily Meal.