Popeye's Classic Fried Chicken Sandwich
Popeye's Classic Fried Chicken Sandwich by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC)

Fast Food Dishes With Downright Obsessive Followings

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McDonald's
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Fast Food With Cult Followings

McRib fans, get ready for your heart to skip a beat. It's official: Your favorite sandwich is returning to McDonald's this November, the chain recently announced. And while the McRib inspires unmatched devotion, it's far from the only fast-food favorite that has tantalized a disproportionate share of taste buds. Here's a look at some menu items both common and obscure that have inspired stronger-than-normal feelings among hungry patrons.


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McDonald's
David Paul Morris/Stringer/Getty Images

McDonald’s McRib

Look up the definition of “cult favorite” in the dictionary: If it’s not illustrated with a picture of the McRib, it darn well should be. This polarizing pork sandwich has been delighting its fans and disgusting its detractors since its widespread introduction in 1982, and McDonald's recently said it will be back on menus nationwide starting Nov. 1. As any McRib lover knows, the 70-ingredient wonder is not a permanent menu item, which makes its annual return a buzzy event. Last year was the first that the McRib was available nationally — previously, McDonald’s customers were inspired to track “sightings” on websites like the McRib Locator


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Pizza Hut The Edge
Pizza Hut, LLC.

Pizza Hut The Edge Pizza

Over a decade since the pizza chain last dropped it, The Edge returned to Pizza Hut for a limited time in June. The thin-crust pizza “packed with toppings all the way to the edge” cut into 16 squares instead of slices came out in 1997 and has four varieties, including a vegetarian pizza. Previously, the most recent re-release of The Edge was all the way back in 2009, but to jog the memories (and appetites) of consumers, Pizza Hut priced the pizza right at $13.


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Burger King Crown Nuggets
Burger King Corporation

Burger King Crown-Shaped Nuggets

Burger King knows how to tease its fans: by dangling the reappearance of a menu item that has been dormant for a decade. Crown-shaped nuggets recently returned to select restaurants in Miami, where the chain started in 1954. Customers have been clamoring for their return for years, but whether they'll be added to menus nationwide is uncertain. "Stay tuned," the chain says. 


Related: Fast-Food Items Overdue for a Comeback

McDonald’s Shamrock Shake
McDonald’s Shamrock Shake by Allen (CC BY-NC)

McDonald’s Shamrock Shake

Winter’s end is a time to cheer for anyone who despises cloudy skies and cold temperatures, but it also brings another treat: The return of the Shamrock Shake. The disturbingly green drink has been around since the early ’70s, when it was actually made with lemon and lime sherbet and no mint flavoring, according to Chowhound. The shake is so beloved that in 2020, McDonald’s auctioned a golden Shamrock Shake cup adorned with emeralds and diamonds to celebrate its 50-year anniversary, with the proceeds going to charity.


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Jack In The Box Taco
Jack In The Box Taco by Willis Lam (CC BY-SA)

Jack in the Box Tacos

Why is the most coveted item at a burger joint a taco? It’s an enduring mystery, but this menu staple is only 50 cents (well, two for 99 cents, to be precise) for starters. Americans eat a staggering 554 million Jack in the Box tacos every year, according to the Wall Street Journal, and the appeal seems to lie not in how good they are, but how ... bad? The beef filling is questionable at best, and there’s even a slice of American cheese stuffed inside the deep-fried shell. It’s “disgusting and perfect,” as GQ opines. “Some earthly pleasures are better left unquestioned.”


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Popeye's Classic Fried Chicken Sandwich
Popeye's Classic Fried Chicken Sandwich by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC)

Popeyes Chicken Sandwich

It’s the chicken sandwich that spawned long lines, brawls, and even a fatal stabbing. Popeyes’ crown jewel debuted in August 2019, and demand was so brisk that the chain shortly ran out, even spurring one Tennessee man to sue, alleging false advertising and deceptive business practices. Why all the hubbub? Well, between the buttered brioche bun, the thick, buttermilk-battered filet, and the tart pickles, the sandwich really is that good, fans insist. So good that even The New Yorker says its ingredients form “a combination so intense, and so perfectly balanced, that they meld into one another to form a new, entirely coherent whole.” Come to think of it, we’ll take two. 


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The Doritos Locos Taco Was a Runaway Hit
Joshua Blanchard / Stringer / Getty Images North America / Getty Images CC

Taco Bell Doritos Locos Taco

When Taco Bell unleashed the Doritos Locos Taco on its unsuspecting fan base in 2012, it had a runaway hit on its hands. It sold a staggering 375 million of the tacos that year, or more than 1 million every day, according to The Daily Beast. The chain has fanned the flames of taco triumph through marketing stunts like airlifting a taco truck to a small Alaska town with enough ingredients to serve 10,000 Doritos Locos Tacos. In 2019, Taco Bell axed two of its three Doritos Locos flavors from the menu, inspiring dozens of impassioned pleas and Change.org petitions, but it did make up for it by introducing a Flamin’ Hot version in 2020.


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Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte
Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte by Silvia Storti (CC BY-NC)

Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte

Ironically, the cult of the PSL has grown so large that loving this archetypical seasonal drink is now considered a sign that you’re “basic,” spawning endless memes and Twitter snark every year. But as Vox notes, the mashup of espresso, steamed milk, autumnal spices and plenty of whipped cream has been around long enough that there’s now a “backlash to the backlash,” with devotees increasingly recognizing the PSL as a delicious guilty pleasure — nothing less, nothing more. In 2020, Starbucks even introduced the drink in August, so that pandemic-weary buyers could enjoy some “comfort and normalcy” earlier than ever. 


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Thousand Island Dressing
AlexPro9500/istockphoto

Raising Cane’s Cane Sauce

If you’re fortunate enough to live near a Raising Cane’s, you know the chain specializes in one thing and one thing only: chicken fingers. And they’re admittedly pretty tasty, especially when dunked into the signature Cane Sauce, purportedly made with mayonnaise, ketchup, garlic salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. And, frankly, it’s the sauce that steals the show. “It’s one of the most perfect sauces to dip chicken in that’s ever been created,” raves Thrillist. Rumor has it that most locations will sell an entire 21-ounce cup of the stuff if you ask, but that’s not enough for some fans, who’d prefer it by the gallon


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Burger King Cheesy Tots
Burger King Cheesy Tots by theimpulsivebuy (CC BY-SA)

Burger King Cheesy Tots

If “Napoleon Dynamite” taught us anything, it’s that America has a long-standing affection for tater tots. Burger King’s intermittently available Cheesy Tots are definitely one of its buzziest items, which is saying a lot for a chain that once gave us the abomination that was the Halloween Whopper, complete with a jet-black bun. Cheesy Tots, on the other hand, are just starchy, calorie-packed comfort food, and they finally returned to BK’s menu in 2019 after a prolonged Facebook campaign for tot justice. “The price you pay for not getting them is a lifetime of anguish and spiritual starvation,” Thrillist insisted


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In-N-Out Double-Double
In-N-Out Double-Double by James (CC BY-NC-ND)

In-N-Out Double-Double

Fans could argue that In-N-Out itself is a cult favorite: The West Coast burger chain woos repeat customers with its small menu of from-scratch favorites. At the top of the heap is the iconic Double-Double, which Anthony Bourdain raved is “like a ballistic missile” for its delicious delivery of protein. If you’re really in the know, you’ll order yours animal style, which means you’ll get your beef patties grilled with mustard, plus pickles, grilled onions, and extra sauce. Serious Eats actually recreated the masterpiece, so if you’re not near an In-N-Out, you can see what all the fuss is about. 


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Sonic Cherry Limeade
©TripAdvisor

Sonic Cherry Limeade

Sonic customers have long coveted Cherry Limeade, perhaps the most classic of the drive-in chain’s dizzying array of drinks. The mix of Sprite, cherry syrup, real fruit, and Sonic’s chewy, pellet-like ice — which has its own cadre of devoted fans — has inspired countless copycat recipes online, including plenty that add alcohol, if you’re looking for a little something extra from your favorite guilty-pleasure beverage. If you’re truly in the know, you’ll wait until afternoon to get your Cherry Limeade fix: All drinks and slushes are half off from 2 to 4 p.m. during Sonic Happy Hour


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Chick-fil-A Waffle Fries
Chick-fil-A Waffle Fries by EvelynGiggles (CC BY)

Chick-fil-A Waffle Fries

Look, the chicken sandwich is good, but would you believe us if we told you the waffle fries are better? The data backs us up: Chick-fil-A acknowledges that waffle fries are its most-ordered item and says the recipe has remained unchanged since they were introduced in 1985. Still, there is one polarizing thing about the waffle fries: The thicker, unsliced fries that always lurk at the bottom of the container. Often still covered in skin, they’re known in some circles as “waffle fry butts,” since they come from the bottom of the potato (though Chick-fil-A prefers the term “skin fries”). Personally, we’re pro-fry butt, but as Reddit shows, it’s one thing devotees will simply never agree upon. 


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Wendy’s Spicy Nuggets
Wendy’s Spicy Nuggets by Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution Venue (CC BY)

Wendy’s Spicy Nuggets

How much do people love their Wendy’s Spicy Nuggets? Enough to amass 2 million likes on one Tweet in less than 48 hours just to bring the fan favorite back, a saga from 2019 neatly laid out in this Reddit thread. And if you’re skeptical that the nuggets won’t live up to their spicy billing, don’t be. “The spicy nugget assaults the diner with a level of heat that builds and stings like no other dish in the modern fast-food industry, even at Taco Bell,” raves Eater, which ranks Wendy’s nuggets as a runaway No. 1 among competitors. “The cayenne sucker punch lasts for a solid 30 seconds.”


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KFC Double Down "Sandwich" #2
KFC Double Down "Sandwich" #2 by Michael Saechang (CC BY-SA)

KFC Double Down

An honorable mention goes to the Double Down, one of the only items on our list not currently available or on some sort of predictable seasonal schedule. A sandwich seemingly designed as much for nutritional shock value as it was taste, it featured bacon, cheese, and sauce slapped between two fried chicken filets instead of bread — and despite the gross-out factory, it had fiercely loyal fans, and 10 million were sold in one month in 2010. Last sighting? It was re-released in the U.K. in 2020 as a remedy for a “pretty fowl” year


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Taco Bell Nacho Fries
Michele M./Yelp

Taco Bell Nacho Fries

Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly?) one of Taco Bell’s most fiercely loved items is one of the least-Mexican things on the menu. Nacho Fries made their debut in 2018, and within five short weeks, we’d downed more than 53 million orders. Crispy, covered in Mexican seasoning, and served with a side of nacho cheese sauce, they’ve made waves each time they’ve returned to the menu. The #nachofries Twitter hashtag is alive and well, as are Change.org petitions demanding Taco Bell quit playing games and make the fries a permanent menu item. 


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 Szechuan Sauce
Szechuan Sauce by melvin imanuel (CC BY)

McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce

The bizarre tale of McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce is a testament to the power of pop culture. The condiment was initially released only briefly in the late ’90s as a tie-in to the release of Disney’s “Mulan,” but after it was referenced in a 2017 episode of Cartoon Network’s “Rick and Morty,” rabid fans clamored for its return. McDonald’s decided to make it available during a one-day promotion, but chaos ensued when there wasn’t enough Szechuan Sauce to meet demand. To make amends, they brought it back for another limited-time run in 2018, but if you missed the sweet-and-sour boat, you can find some packets on eBay (yep, really).


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White Castle: Super Sack
Toan H./Yelp

White Castle Sliders

White Castle itself is a cult favorite, so it stands to reason that the burger chain’s quintessential sliders are, too. Some of the most extreme slider fanatics have even been inducted into White Castle’s Cravers Hall of Fame, including a couple who got married at White Castle and dined on sliders (on a silver platter, of course) during their reception. The 2004 stoner flick “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” also elevated sliders from regional feel-good food to a national guilty pleasure. 


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Taco Bell Mountain Dew Baja Blast
Taco Bell Mountain Dew Baja Blast by Like_the_Grand_Canyon (CC BY-NC)

Taco Bell Mountain Dew Baja Blast

This lime-flavored, frighteningly aqua version of Mountain Dew was rolled out only at Taco Bell in 2004, marking the first time a fast-food restaurant and a beverage maker struck such a sweetheart deal. The drink was even specially formulated to taste good with Taco Bell’s menu, and one reviewer admits to going to Taco Bell several times solely for Baja Blast (which “paired perfectly with the Cheesy Gordita Crunch,” he notes). Fans can occasionally find Baja Blast in stores, but it sells out quickly. Maybe this Etsy candle can ease the pain?


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