The Biggest Fast Food Menu Items to Come Out of 2021

From chains like McDonald's, Subway, Popeyes, Chipotle, these were the new fast food menu items that had the world talking (with their mouths full, obviously) 

Panera Grilled Mac Cheese Sandwich
Photo: Panera
01 of 12

Chipotle's Cilantro-Lime Cauliflower Rice

Chipotle califlower rice
Chipotle califlower rice. Courtesy Chipotle

In January, Chipotle added a lower-carb rice alternative to its menu: cauliflower rice! Similar to the chain's original white rice, cauliflower rice — which costs an additional $2 — is seasoned with freshly chopped cilantro, lime juice, and salt. And with 4 grams of carbs per serving, the new option is perfect for diners on keto, Whole30, paleo, vegan, and vegetarian diets.

02 of 12

McDonald's Crispy Chicken Sandwiches

mcdonalds crispy chicken sandwich

McDonald's revamped their chicken sandwich in February, offering it to customers in three different ways. In its original form, the sandwich is topped with pickles and served on a potato roll. The Spicy Chicken Sandwich takes it up a notch with a spicy pepper sauce, and the Deluxe Chicken Sandwich comes with lettuce, tomatoes and mayo.

03 of 12

Subway's Eat Fresh Refresh Menu

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Subway threw most of its menu out in July, launching an Eat Fresh Refresh menu that included 20 updates — the most implemented by the brand since opening its first store in 1965.

Among the changes were new artisan Italian and hearty multigrain bread options, hickory-smoked bacon, smashed avocado, and a parmesan vinaigrette dressing. In total, "11 new and improved ingredients, six all-new or returning sandwiches, and four revamped signature sandwiches" made it to the final menu, Subway said in a press release.

04 of 12

Popeyes' Chicken Nuggets

Popeyes Adds Chicken Nuggets to Its Menus Nationwide

Also in July, Popeyes announced the addition of chicken nuggets to their menus nationwide. The all-white meat chicken breast nuggets are marinated for 12 hours and battered and breaded with buttermilk and fried with their famous chicken sandwich seasoning that started a frenzy back in 2019. And because Popeyes knew fans would go crazy for the offer, they sell them in quantities ranging from 4-piece to 36-piece orders.

05 of 12

Taco Bell's Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco

taco bell chicken sandwich taco
Taco Bell

Taco Bell rolled out their Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco throughout the year, first teasing the new menu item at select locations in Nashville, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C. in March before launching it nationwide in September.

The new menu item is exactly what it sounds like — part chicken sandwich, part taco. The hybrid features all-white-meat chicken which is marinated in jalapeño buttermilk, seasoned with a special Mexican spice blend and then rolled in a crunchy tortilla chip coating. The finished product is served in taco-shaped "puffy bread" and topped with the Bell's signature chipotle sauce.

For those of you who like a little extra heat, the sandwich-taco also comes in a spicy version that includes crunchy jalapeño slices.

06 of 12

Wendy's Hot and Crispy Fries

Wendys Hot Crispy Fries

The fast food giant debuted their reinvented hot and crispy fries in mid-September, marking only the second time the company has made changes to their recipe since the restaurant debuted in 1969. Made with "real potatoes for improved heat protection and crispiness," the fries are battered and fried in a formula that Wendy's says guaranteed them to be "hot and crispy" every time. In fact, the brand is so confident, they've promised to replace customers' fries if they aren't hot and crispy as promised, "no questions asked."

07 of 12

Panera's Grilled Mac & Cheese Sandwich

Panera Grilled Mac Cheese Sandwich

Love grilled cheese? Love mac and cheese? Well Panera gave hungry customers the best of both worlds in September, adding a grilled mac and cheese sandwich to its menu. Served on thick-slices of the brand's classic white miche bread, the sandwich is stuffed with Panera's signature, creamy mac and cheese (made of fontina and mozzarella cheeses with parmesan crisps on top). How could you go wrong?

08 of 12

Chili's Big Mouth Burger Lineup


In October, Chili's added four new burgers to their Big Mouth Burger lineup, each as mouth-watering as the next:

Bacon Rancher: Two beef patties, six slices of bacon, house made ranch, American cheese, sautéed onions and pickles

Big Bacon BBQ: Two beef patties, six slices of bacon, house BBQ sauce, cheddar, red onion and pickles

BBQ Brisket Burger: Brisket, house BBQ sauce, cheddar, pickles and coleslaw

Chili's Secret Sauce Burger: Secret sauce, American cheese, lettuce and sautéed onions

09 of 12

Popeyes Hottie Sauce

Popeyes Hottie Sauce
Courtesy Popeyes

Also in October, Popeyes and rapper Megan Thee Stallion announced an epic collaboration that included a new "Hottie Sauce" — a sweet and bold sauce made up of honey, cider vinegar, and Aleppo pepper. The chain is selling the sauce as a dipper, or on its beloved chicken sandwich (as the "Hottie" Chicken Sandwich, the first time Popeyes has released a new version of its signature menu item ever).

10 of 12

Panda Express' Beyond the Original Orange Chicken

Beyond The Original Orange Chicken Lifestyle 2

Fast food restaurants across the country have been incorporating alternative meat options like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods into their menus. Panda Express was one of them. In October, the Asian food restaurant chain added "Beyond the Original Orange Chicken" to its menu, after testing it over the summer in New York City and Southern California. The plant-based take on Panda Express' iconic dish is now available across 70 locations nationwide, including California, New York, Georgia, Illinois, Texas, Florida, Washington, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia.

11 of 12

Tim Hortons' Timbiebs Timbits

Justin Bieber Teams with Tim Hortons for New Line of Limited Edition Timbiebs Timbits
Courtesy Tim Hortons

Justin Bieber has made no secret of his fanatical love for Tim Hortons. But in November, the two took their relationship to the next level. The Canadian-born superstar joined forces with the Canadian fast food chain to collaborate on a series of new menu items, starting with Timbiebs Timbits — a limited-edition selection of the brand's beloved donut holes. Three flavors were part of the launch: chocolate white fudge, sour cream chocolate chip, and birthday cake waffle. Expect more coming from this partnership down the line.

12 of 12

Cracker Barrel's Cinnamon Roll Pie

cracker barrel
Cracker Barrel

Cracker Barrel celebrated the 2021 holiday season by introducing a Cinnamon Roll Pie to its menu. The treat baked warm, gooey cinnamon rolls inside a flakey pie crust, and topped it with a drizzle of sweet cream cheese icing. Sadly, the treat was only for sale through Christmas Eve (here's hoping it makes a return to the menu next year).

Related Articles