The Top 14 Fast Food Value Menus, Ranked

Value menus and fast food restaurants go hand in hand — they've been around for some time, starting when Wendy's first introduced a value menu in 1989. If experience is any indicator, the brand has certainly learned a thing or two about offering a quality value menu over the years.

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Several other restaurants would follow, with McDonald's coming out with its Dollar Menu in 2003 and Burger King launching its value menu just a little earlier, in 1998. However, not all value menus are created equal. While some do a fantastic job of offering you quality savings, others are simply an uninspiring list of inexpensive items. 

Curious about how the various fast food value menus matched up against one another, I got to scouring menus and quickly realized an excellent value menu has a few key factors. I ranked these fast food establishments' value menus based on savings, quantity of items, diversity of items, and accessibility. If I could only order from the value menu online, it tended to rank a little lower on our list. I found that while some fast food restaurants do an excellent job offering great fast food deals on value menus, others leave a lot to be desired. As you check out these deals, please note that prices and availability often vary from location to location.

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13. Hardee's

The Hardee's menu definitely has us more than a little stumped. In what the menu calls $5.99 Star Deals, you can order two different types of meals: either a cheeseburger or an original hot ham and cheese. You'll get a small fries and a small soda in each situation.

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However, this deal does come with a huge caveat. It appears that the $5.99 Star Deals are not actually available at all locations. The offering appeared or disappeared in my menu search as I changed the locations. So, if you're counting on the Star Deal, be sure your location offers it before you commit fully. In addition this, the deal isn't a significant savings in most locations, averaging just a dollar cheaper than ordering similar items on the regular menu. Not much of a value, given the hoops you'll have to jump to find it.

It's safe to say Hardees has some sorting out to do when it comes to its value menu. With this deal's disappearing act, I ranked low, because the last thing you want is for a menu to be confusing or stressful as you try to save a bit of coin.

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12. Noodles & Company

Noodles & Company doesn't necessarily have a value menu in the sense that it's a combination of items, except for the occasional meal deal, but there is a section of the menu called Everyday Value. Here, you'll find the least expensive options on the overall Noodles & Company menu, and there are some pretty big hitters here.

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For $7, you can nab a mac and cheese, spaghetti with marinara, butter noodles, pesto cavatappi, Japanese pan noodles, or pasta fresca. None of these choices are less expensive when you order them off the Everyday Value menu. Rather, the restaurant is just highlighting its least expensive items. 

At the time of writing, the menu also features a meal deal for $10, for which you could get macaroni and cheese, a soda, and a Rice Krispie Treat. While I like to compare prices and see the true value of ordering off the value menu, it's still nice that the restaurant highlights the least expensive overall options. Still, this one ranks toward the end of our lineup because while the foods are affordable, but it isn't necessarily valuable in terms of the whole package deal.

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11. Culver's

Folks are accustomed to having a value menu listed on a menu board and Culver's, the once regional restaurant chain, tries to tap into this assumption with a category called Value Basket. Don't be fooled, however. The prices here are basically what you would pay to purchase items a la carte, so these amount to basically meal prices like you see at many fast food joints.

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Take the Pretzel Haus Pub burger Value Basket, for example. For a double burger with a lightly toasted and buttered pretzel bun, crinkle cut fries, and a fountain drink, you'll pay $14.79. However, if you were to purchase those items separately, the total would be $16.59 before tax. The savings here is $1.78. 

Sure, $2 is a few extra jingles in your pocket, but the savings are so little that the real value of the Value Basket is the convenience of having it all bundled together. Still, Culver's food is quite enjoyable; it's often a fast food restaurant I would prefer over others. However, the value is fairly low compared to other options, making this is one of our least favorite value menus.

10. Arby's

Arby's value menu items come at an extremely reasonable price, but some of them are only available online. That is, you must purchase the item online rather than in store. Of course, if you're someone who plans ahead for ordering your food, this is no trouble at all. But if you prefer ordering at the drive-thru, you're not going to be able to cash in on the great deals. 

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At the time of writing, the online only prices apply to four different slider options, which are generally much smaller than the regular sandwiches. Of the Arby's sliders, you can choose between roast beef, jalapeño roast beef, Buffalo chicken, or chicken. 

Beyond the online only items, there are also a few other value items on the menu that are closer to $3, but none of them are the iconic beef and cheddar that I think of when I think of Arby's. Instead, you can get crinkle cut or curly fries or a chicken wrap in ranch, barbecue chicken, or honey mustard variety. All of the rest of the value menu items are drinks, which is nice but not necessarily something I want to see bulking up a value menu. Unfortunately, with so few items of substance, plus the frustration of ordering online before I even get to the restaurant, this is near the bottom of our value menu listing.

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9. Dairy Queen

It may not always come to mind when we're seeking reasonably priced food, but Dairy Queen actually has some pretty substantial savings with its meal deals. Unfortunately, there are only two options at Dairy Queen, which is the biggest disappointment with the restaurant's meal deals. I found as soon as you get a little fancier than the base items, the price starts to rack up quickly.

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The two options included in the meal deals are a chicken strips meal or a cheeseburger option. I did the math on the cheeseburger meal, which comes in at $7 and includes fries, an original cheeseburger, a sundae, and a medium soft drink. Those items purchased a la carte come to $12.66. 

You could also go for a couple of items on the 2 for $5 menu. This may include a cheeseburger and soda, fries and ice cream, or pretzel sticks with chicken strips. The Dairy Queen meal deals get major bonus points for being quite good on the wallet, but there are even more competitive value menus out there. 

8. Papa John's

While not necessarily the value menu, Papa John's offers deals that include pizza as well as several side dishes. For example, the Papa Pairings deal is just shy of $14, and you'll get a medium pizza with one topping as well as a side like wings, some breadsticks, or desserts. This is an ideal option for a small family or even just an inexpensive date night.

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There's also a deal called the family special for $30 that includes a large pizza with specialty toppings and another with two toppings on the original or thin crust. If your family regularly gets two pizzas, this would be a great option.

Our only concern about these deals is that they could change as new items come in. Several of the deals feature items that are new, like the Crispy Cuppy 'Roni Papa Bite, which features stacked pepperoni and something like a pillowy dough for just under $5. While I like what Papa John's offers, I wish it felt like there was a little more consistency across these options, and for that primary reason, it's less of an ideal value meal to us.

7. Sonic Drive-In

Like some other restaurants that have gone away from the typical value menu that grants you additional savings for bundling, Sonic opts for individual items on an Under $4 Favorites menu. In this case, bundling won't save you money since the values are all found a la carte.

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What I like about this option is that it has quite a good representation of what a restaurant actually offers. And if you want to, you could easily build an enjoyable meal from the items here alone. Of course, $4 spent three times is still going to get you a $12 meal, and whether that's something that can be considered a value or not remains to be seen.

In our location, an array of items are on order: a corn dog, grilled cheese sandwich, chili cheese coney, all American dog, quarter pound double cheeseburger are your food options. Desserts include sundaes with varieties of hot fudge, caramel, and strawberry; there's a whole lot of good options here. The problem is that in other locations, the value options disappear quickly. A search of the Washington D.C. area, for example, yielded only four Under $4 Favorites.

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6. Panera Bread

With the way Panera Bread has transitioned to iPad ordering, it feels more like a fast food restaurant than it once did. So perhaps this is the perfect spot to cash in on a value menu when it's offered. I love Panera Bread for its customizable You Pick Two meals, and the way you enjoy a value menu item from the restaurant is actually pretty similar.

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Panera refers to its value menu as Value Duets and everyday value. The most interesting thing about these Value Duets is that they do not allow for any customization, so if you're looking to swap anything out or add any additional ingredients, you'll need to go for the You Pick Two meal instead. 

If the half sized items served on either menu are less appetizing, you can choose one of the items off of the Everyday Value menu, which are full-size but less expensive than regular menu counter parts. None of them hit the price of the Value Duets, but with some sandwiches, salads, and soups just under $9, they get close.

Looking at the numbers, each of the items on the Value Duets clock in at $7.99, which is about a $2 saving on the meal. I like the cost and the menu items that the Value Duets offer, but the lack of customization is a bummer. I wish they were a little bit more lenient in this regard. 

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5. McDonald's

Once upon a time, the value menu was all the rage over at McDonald's. Today, you'll find deals in the $1 $2 $3 Dollar Menu, but it is no longer just a singular dollar. Some of the most basic McDonald's offerings you can think of, like french fries and chicken nuggets, appear on this menu, as do a few solid breakfast options. The sausage burrito, for one, has always been enjoyable, and paired with a hash brown, you have a satisfying and inexpensive breakfast.

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McDonald's recently announced a new $5 value meal to release at the end of June 2024. With this menu, customers can purchase a McDouble or McChicken, and it comes with four McNuggets, fries, and a beverage. This is a great value and could have sweetened its ranking on our list, however, it's scheduled to run for one month only, which doesn't give it much added consideration. 

Back on the $1 $2 $3 Dollar Menu, you can also pick up a McDouble or even a McChicken, though it doesn't come with much. Our only complaint about the $1 $2 $3 Dollar Menu is that the variety doesn't stretch far, and it is pretty limited in terms of its offerings. Even still, some of the classics are on here, so I can't complain too much. Neither can customers, since McDonald's sales are booming

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4. KFC

KFC has recently released a value meal that it considers a special offer, and given the quantity of food, I agree with the "special" aspect of it. It appears as a Meal for One or titled as the Taste of KFC. It's rather a robust combination for $4.99 that includes two pieces of chicken (a drumstick and a thigh), a side of mashed potatoes and gravy, and a biscuit. Those items purchased as sides or add-ons amount to a total of just under $9.50, so you're getting right around half-off for that combo alone. The Meal for Two order equals half a chicken with the same sides, and is reported to cost around $10, depending on the location. A family deal offers even steeper bulk savings. 

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Although it's not totally clear whether certain meal deals stick around or not, with this level of savings, KFC is definitely rather high up in our ranking of value meals. I appreciate the fact that the deals don't seem to be exclusive to online ordering. Plus, the range in sizes of value meals is pretty substantial as well, offering meals small enough for one as well as meals large enough for your family. Because of this versatility, savings, and availability, this is one of our favorite options for value menus.

3. Taco Bell

One of the more impressive value menus that we've come across hails from non other than Taco Bell. This pretty extensive list of items has choices under $3, and with some creative arranging, it's certainly a place for which you could build a delicious meal. 

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On the choices, you'll find everything from vegetarian options like a cheesy bean and rice burrito or a spicy potato soft taco to more hardy options like a cheesy double beef burrito. The menu's heaviest hitter, loaded beef nachos, ring in at only $2.99 depending on location. 

Taco Bell's Cravings menu definitely makes ordering a little less expensive, and with a decent number of items, you'll have plenty to choose from. With as many impressive options are on the menu, and the decent price for each item, Taco Bell's value menu is definitely one of our favorites. Not to mention, it's available at a drive through or online order, making savings widely accessible, even for those who abstain from eating meat.

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2. Wendy's

Even more impressive than the Taco Bell value menu is the Biggie Deals selection of options from Wendy's. On this list, you'll find a whole slew of options for all under $3. The least expensive items on this list ring in at 99 cents: a crispy chicken sandwich, a junior cheeseburger, or a junior hamburger. For something a little heartier, you can also order a bacon double stack for just under $3 and even a crispy chicken BLT for under $2.

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Not to mention, there's a whole section of the menu offering meal deals. These range from burgers to chicken and even a Jr. cheeseburger. These biggie bags max out at $7 and include a sandwich, fries, nuggets, and a fountain drink. Another thing that puts Wendy's near the top? It's limited-time breakfast value meal, which for $3 gives customers a breakfast English muffin with seasoned potatoes. 

The reason this is our favorite value menu is that it makes savings easy to enjoy the classic square burger patty Wendy's is known for, while also ordering items that won't break the bank. You just don't get many value menus anymore that offer the kind of inexpensive food Wendy's has here. There's a generous number of options on both the Meal Deals and Biggie Deals to choose from here, and although there are no sides like a sign of french fries or even baked potato, adding these on as a side wouldn't be too much more.

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1. Burger King

The values are back at Burger King, thanks to the re-introduction of the chains $5 Your Way Menu. Along with a menu section of BK digital exclusives, this is the most robust value menu out there. 

The digital exclusive meals sometimes rotate, changing out depending on the initiative the King is pushing. Yet they always provide a great savings opportunity. The downside is that they need to be ordered digitally rather than at the restaurant, so I broke down with one of the options to check the savings.

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At the time of writing, Burger King offered a Melt for Us meal deal that included two melts of your choice, a four piece mozzarella fries, and an eight piece chicken nugget with two small sodas. The cost of all of this food with the digital exclusive is $17.99. Totaled together, the cost is $21.24 for a savings of that breaks the $3 mark. 

However, what I was most impressed by is the return of Burger King's namesake slogan, the chance to Have It Our Way, and at a value. The new $5 Your Way menu gives you a choice between two sandwiches: a Whopper Jr., Chicken Jr., or bacon cheeseburger. Then, it comes with four chicken nuggets, french fries, and a drink. That's a lot. It remains to be seen how long the deal will last, but for now, let's crown BK the value menu king. 

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Methodology

The overall ranking of these value menus came from a close examination of available restaurant menus. When it came to ranking, I prized a variety of items, quantity of items, savings, and availability of savings as the primary factors. 

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I looked at the number of items each menu offered, whether the deals actually saved you money, and the availability of the savings. If I found that the menu was pretty extensive, offered quality value, and was easy to access that savings, the menu tended to rank very high. I definitely gave preference to having choice in our savings with menus that offered a la carte and meal deals as some of our favorite menus. As those factors fell away, the menus would drop lower and lower.

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