Chain Restaurants' Most Criminally Underrated Items

Popeyes: Apple Pie

S Alicia S./Yelp

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Under Orders

We mean no disrespect to the Big Macs of the world, but sometimes the most famous items on chain restaurants' menus are also the most yawn-inducing. Whether other choices just aren't what you expect from your favorite fast-food joint or suffer from a consistent lack of promotion, it's time to step out of the box. Unlike cult favorites that have been yanked from the menu, these gems are menu staples, including Wendy's often-overlooked French fries. If you haven't tried them lately, now might be the time: Wendy's says they're better than ever — and they even come with a guarantee. 

Editor's note: This story was updated in July 2024

French fries served at Wendy's
French fries served at Wendy's by RightCowLeftCoast (CC BY-SA)

Wendy's: French Fries

Poor Wendy's has always played second fiddle to McDonald's. While its "fresh, never frozen" burgers have earned some respect, some people still flock to the Golden Arches solely because of the fries. But Wendy's churns out some underrated natural-cut fries that actually taste like potatoes — in the best way. And if you're over soggy fries, we have good news: Wendy's reformulated its fries to stay hot and crisp for up to a half-hour, a change largely driven by growth in takeout orders. The secret: a precise thick-thin cut and a new coating that Wendy's says has helped the fries outperform McDonald's in testing.  

Taco Bell Cheesy Roll-Up
Taco Bell

Taco Bell: Cheesy Roll-Up

"I never hear anyone talk about this thing nor do I know anyone that has ever ordered it, yet it has remained steady in its little spot on the dollar menu for years," notes one Redditor. "It seems so criminally simple, just a tortilla with melted cheese in it." Indeed, and that's the beauty of Taco Bell's cheesy roll-up. On a menu filled with crazy, gimmicky items (think the ever-popular Doritos Locos Taco or Naked Chicken Chalupa) sometimes you — or your picky kid — just want a tortilla with some cheese melted inside.

Related: Live Más: 20 Spicy Secrets Behind Taco Bell's Success

Vanilla Cone, Mcdonald's
A. H./Yelp

McDonald's: Vanilla Cone

We know, we know: Half the time the ice cream machine is down. But when it's not, it's hard to beat one of those twisty soft-serve cones when you want to cool off. We don't know if we'd go as far as saying its "ice cream in its most perfect form," but for $2.59 you can't miss. They're also just 200 calories, so you could almost argue that this sweet treat qualifies as health food ... by McDonald's standards, anyway.

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Chipotle: Queso
Claudia C./Yelp

Chipotle: Queso

Yeah, we said it. After taking a beating (even from us) as one of the worst menu items around, the chain listened to criticism from diners and started tweaking its recipe, hoping to prove to devotees that there is life beyond guacamole. The new, creamier queso is actually a pretty good complement to Chipotle's lime-dusted tortilla chips, and it even beats out Taco Bell's old-school nacho cheese sauce in a Business Insider taste test.

Chocolate Lava Crunch Cakes, Domino's
Amy S./Yelp

Domino's: Chocolate Lava Crunch Cakes

Who knew Domino's could make a decent dessert? Thrillist, for one, which puts the Chocolate Lava Crunch Cakes at the top of its list of the pizza chain's best non-pizza items. Brand Eating agrees, saying "They taste like a freshly baked Oreo cookie but with warm, thick, sweet chocolatey syrup in the center instead of vanilla cream." They've also been on the menu since 2009, which is pretty good staying power for something that isn't doused in cheese or tomato sauce.

Popeyes: Apple Pie
S Alicia S./Yelp
Pizza Hut: Breadsticks
Pizza Hut/Yelp

Pizza Hut: Breadsticks

If you called up Pizza Hut and ordered only breadsticks, we wouldn't judge you — the pizza just isn't that good. Neither would the internet, which has busily churned out copycat breadstick recipes. What puts them over the top? That dusting of parmesan and garlic on top — and the cup of warm marinara ready for dunking.

Related: Best Cheap Delivery Pizza

Grilled Cheese, Five Guys
Lissa E./Yelp

Five Guys: Grilled Cheese

Devotees may argue that nothing can be underrated on a menu as limited as Five Guys', but the grilled cheese comes close — and it may even qualify as eating "light" here. For just a few bucks, you can sink your teeth into a gooey sandwich made with toasted, inside-out burger buns that offer a "maximum white, spongy surface to get griddled," Serious Eats raves. Best of all, toppings such as tomatoes, grilled onions, jalapeños, and hot sauce are free, so you can customize all you want.

Chick-Fil-A: Greek Yogurt Parfait
Macy R./Yelp

Chick-fil-A: Greek Yogurt Parfait

No doubt some Chick-fil-A devotees would consider it sacrilege to order anything other than a chicken sandwich and waffle fries. That's cool: more yogurt parfaits for us. Topped with berries and either granola or cookie crumbs, they're satisfying for anyone with a sweet tooth, but pack in 14 grams of protein, and half the calories of a large order of waffle fries.

Arby's: Mozzarella Sticks

Arby's: Mozzarella Sticks

Sure, you don't come to roast beef and curly fry mecca Arby's for mozzarella sticks. But this fried, cheesy goodness has been a bit of a sleeper hit on Arby's menu for a while now, and let's just say the chain has done a better job with its mozzarella sticks than a certain burger giant down the street. You'll also pay a lot less for them than you would at Applebee's.

Jack in the Box Tacos
Jennifer M./Yelp

Jack in the Box Tacos

While most people don't head to Jack in the Box for Mexican food. But they may be missing out. "Jack in the Box tacos are America's finest meal," says one Redditor. "Where else are you going to get a single meal with all six of the classic food groups represented plus the seventh, unknown food group...all for 2 for a buck-seventy-nine?" While they might have been joking, enough people chimed in to add weight to the taco's popularity.

Olive Garden: Shrimp Scampi
Sajag K./Yelp

Olive Garden: Shrimp Scampi

We're not sure Olive Garden's shrimp scampi qualifies as underrated — it's now one of the chain's bestsellers. But at just 490 calories, this lightly sauced angel-hair pasta dish doesn't represent the gluttony the chain is known for (think never-ending breadsticks and gut-busting bowls of chicken Alfredo or lasagna). "I honestly would not have known this was a low-calorie dish if the menu hadn't told me," raves a reviewer from "Today."

Blue Cheese Wedge Salad, Outback
Caitlin T./Yelp

Outback: Blue Cheese Wedge Salad

If you're at Outback for the iconic Bloomin' Onion and a juicy sirloin, we can't blame you. But don't miss out on the unsuspecting wonder that is Outback's Blue Cheese Wedge Salad. Doused in blue cheese dressing and balsamic glaze, then topped off with chopped bacon, it's not exactly healthy. But it's so crave-worthy that even the Food Network has published a copycat recipe.

Pike Place Roast, Starbucks

Starbucks: Pike Place Roast

How is it that Starbucks' signature item — its "everyday" medium-roast coffee — could possibly be underrated? Because after an avalanche of press about seasonal squealing over Pumpkin Spice Lattes and the introduction of fussy cold brews, a simple cup of joe seems like the most rebellious thing anyone can order at Starbucks. So give us our coffee without any foam, whipped cream, or sparkly pink dust, and get off our lawn. 

Related: Things You Didn’t Know About Starbucks

In-N-Out Animal-Style Fries
In-N-Out Animal-Style Fries by Andrea (CC BY-NC-ND)

In-N-Out Animal Fries

Though the animal-style burger is part of the restaurant chain's Not-So-Secret Menu,  it should come as no surprise that diners have orderd fries the same way. While the heavy dose of burger spread along with cheese and grilled onions may be messy, one Redditor says, "This is the only way the fries are good."


McDonald's Filet-O-Fish

While the humble fish sandwich has been on the McDonald's menu since 1965, it's largely seen as an option for pescatarians and Catholics avoiding meat on Friday instead of a go-to option. But fans don't agree. "Most haters say they won't even try it. it's my favorite thing on the menu," says one Reddit devotee.