These Limited-Time-Only Fast Food Items Should Be Permanent

Limited-run menu promotions are common in fast food. These standouts are good enough to be available year-round.

As they do every year, fast food chains tweaked their menus over and over again in 2023 to satisfy the evolving tastes of their customers and the demands of the market. It's a very involved process, so rather than fully invest in new menu items on a nationwide scale before they're proven successful, many chains choose to do limited-time menu rollouts in small test markets.


These limited promotions carry high stakes with them; they can determine whether a new item finds its home on the menu or ends up in the archives of failed experimentation. For all the misses that occurred this year (and there were plenty), there were some items that deserve to return to the menu and stay there for good. Here are all the fast food offerings that should become permanent.

Panda Express Orange Chicken Sandwich

Panda Express would be nothing without its signature Orange Chicken, and in an effort to further capitalize on the success of this offering and expand its menu, Panda Express has tested out an Original Orange Chicken Sandwich on more than one occasion. In fact, the chain has been tinkering with this potential menu item for years, and the sandwich has gone through at least four test runs.


After some trial and error, though, the most recent iteration of the Original Orange Chicken Sandwich has shown a lot of promise, to the point where we think it has earned a spot on the Panda Express menu for good. In June of this year, Panda Express tested the sandwich at five Southern California restaurant locations. This latest version is made with a crispy chicken breast glazed in the chain's Orange Sauce, topped with pickles and sriracha aioli on a potato bun.

Though the bread lacks the quality many would expect from a potato bun, the rest of the sandwich delivers sweet, citrusy flavor with some tang from the pickles and a spicy richness from the aioli. After years of tinkering, Panda Express should put its tools away and finally let this sandwich take its place on the menu.


Taco Bell Grilled Cheese Dipping Taco

Taco Bell is not one to shy away from experimentation, so there are plenty of misses in its history. However, when the Tex-Mex fast food chain announced it would be testing out a birria-inspired taco, it certainly set a high bar for fast food.


Birria, a traditional Mexican goat (or beef) stew made with various chiles, spices, and served with chopped onions, fresh lime juice, and cilantro, has gained massive popularity in the U.S. in recent years. Quesabirria, the street food version of the traditional dish doused with melty quesadilla cheese and cooked until crispy, has similarly grown in popularity.

Taco Bell's Grilled Cheese Dipping Taco consists of slow-braised shredded beef and a three-cheese blend melted on the inside and grilled on the outside of a freshly fried white corn shell. As the name suggests, the taco comes with a nacho cheese sauce and a red sauce for dipping. Though nowhere near authentic—not that Taco Bell ever is—this taco is a savory and delicious bite. That should be all that matters when deciding what to add to the permanent menu.


McDonald’s Peanut Butter Crunch McFlurry

Though McDonald's is notorious for its ice cream machines being out of service, the chain still spent this year testing out some new McFlurry flavors, one of which was the Peanut Butter Crunch McFlurry released in August.


The limited-time dessert contained the usual vanilla soft serve ice cream blended with "crispy cereal mix and chocolatey peanut butter cookie pieces." The cereal and cookie pieces were a mix of Peanut Butter Creme Cookies, Fudge Coated Peanut Brittle, Chocolate Peanut Butter Yummy Chow, and Peanut Butter Cereal Squares.

Though there are a lot of ingredients, the new McFlurry delivered exactly what was promised in the simplest way. There was a well-balanced ratio of ice cream to mix-ins, and the combination allowed for peanut butter to shine as the dominant flavor. Currently, McDonald's offers the M&M McFlurry and the Oreo McFlurry on a regular basis, but a peanut butter variety is the missing link in the menu's chocolate-heavy lineup.


Panda Express Chili Crisp Shrimp

Yes, another Panda Express inclusion—the chain has had a good year in menu development. Once again broadening its horizons and keeping up with trends, Panda Express tested out Chili Crisp Shrimp as a limited-time entree in September. Chili crisp is a Chinese oil-based condiment composed of dried chili flakes, garlic, onions, green onions, and other seasonings. It's traditionally used as a finishing ingredient, stirred into a dish right before serving.


Panda Express, used the condiment by tossing fried shrimp, onions, and red bell pepper in a wok with the chili crisp. The shrimp is crispy, not greasy, spicy without being overpowering, and though they may appear to be background players, the onion and bell peppers mesh well with the garlicky flavor in the oil. Unlike other menu tests, this entree's run has been fairly extended, lasting from September to the end of the year.

Which of 2023's fleeting fast food menu items do you hope to see reincarnated at a location near you in 2024?