The 9 Best Fast Food Items Of 2023, So Far

We're halfway through 2023. Which menu items have truly wowed us?

It doesn't seem possible, but we're halfway through 2023—and the eating's good. While this year's culinary innovations haven't been off-the-wall wacky as they've occasionally been known to be, both fast food chains and snack producers seem to be taking a smart, studied approach to all their new releases, playing the long game and developing products capable of joining their permanent lineups, rather than acting as a sideshow attraction.

So while the following items might not be the sexiest releases of 2023, they're certainly the ones that impressed us most. Their flavor, their heft, and their value have won us over, and we know we're not alone. Here are the top foods we've tasted this year so far, with an explanation of what makes each one stand out.

McDonald’s “new” burgers

McDonald's rocked the very foundations of the earth back in April when it announced it would be changing its iconic burgers to make these classics "even better." A few key changes: the minced onions are now caramelized, the cheese is melted onto the patty while on the grill (rather than placed on the burger after cooking), the Big Mac comes with more sauce, and the buns are softer and slightly toasted before serving. All of this might have just been a flashy, empty set of promises, but it turns out the new burgers really are an improvement. Not radically so—it's still the burger we all know and love—but the upgrades are subtle, smart, and undeniably effective. Read the full review here.

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Wendy’s Ghost Pepper Fries

In May, Wendy's announced plans to "bring the heat" with the new limited-time-only Ghost Pepper Ranch Chicken Sandwich and Ghost Pepper Fries, each designed for "thrill seekers looking to double down on spice." The fries in particular deserve special recognition. Rather than being dusted with a spicy powder, these fries are doused in a ghost pepper sauce that eventually thins out to a sort of buttery coating, yet somehow, this doesn't make them soggy, even when you're traveling home with them from the drive-thru. (Must be that new fry formula in action.) The flavor starts off slightly sweet, then grows garlicky, then herbaceous, then full of heat. That heat lingers, encouraging you to eat another fry to start off with the sweet flavor again—in short, it's an unstoppable flavor combination. Read the full review here.

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Chipotle’s “TikTok Hack” Fajita Quesadilla

Back in 2022, TikTok users figured out that if you order a Chipotle steak quesadilla with fajita veggies added, the combination allegedly tastes like a Philly cheesesteak. This proved to be immensely popular, but its construction was a headache for workers, since the special order required the use of multiple assembly lines at once. Eventually, Chipotle got the memo and added the Fajita Quesadilla to the menu for real—and we're glad we got a chance to taste this digital menu exclusive, because it's great. The grilled veggies are just what the rather bland steak was missing, and the result is delicious enough to add to one's weekday lunch rotation. Read the full review here.

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Shake Shack White Truffle ‘Shroom Burger

In February, Shake Shack debuted an entire lineup of white truffle menu items: the White Truffle Burger, the White Truffle 'Shroom Burger, and Parmesan Fries with White Truffle Sauce. The 'Shroom Burger, a regularly available Shake Shack menu item, features a crispy fried portobello mushroom filled with melted muenster and cheddar cheeses; the White Truffle version comes topped with white truffle sauce and shredded lettuce on a toasted potato bun. It's easily the standout of the three—the breading on the portobello stays crispy beneath the truffle sauce, and the earthy mushroom flavor is detectable the whole way through, a testament to the balance of the sandwich. It cost $9.99, but it wasn't long before we ordered another. It's that good. Read our full review here.

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Taco Bell Crispy Melt Taco

In February, Taco Bell re-released its Crispy Melt Taco, which appeared briefly in 2021 under the name "Cantina Crispy Melt Taco." Featuring a fried white corn shell, a layer of nacho cheese, black beans or seasoned beef, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and a three cheese blend, the taco doesn't sound impressive—but it's perfect. The key here is the freshly fried shell, which is light and shatteringly crisp; it complements both the beef and black bean filling, so you really can't go wrong. The fact that it cost the exact same amount as a classic taco had us wishing that it could stick around the menu forever. Read the full review here.

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Starbucks Pistachio Cream Cold Brew

We won't sugar-coat it (because Starbucks has done that already): The Pistachio Cream Cold Brew is dessert for breakfast, and that's a compliment. There are salty, nutty, creamy, and bitter flavors at play here, and when the foam layer on top grows all too indulgent, the coffee comes up just behind to remind you that you're not drinking liquefied cake. It's a shame this is a winter menu item, because it would taste great in the summer, too. Read our full review here.

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KFC Nuggets

In March, KFC announced that it would be releasing Nuggets, which would knock the classic Popcorn Chicken off the menu for good. Turns out, that's just fine by us. These larger pieces of white-meat chicken are hand-breaded on site at each restaurant and given the whole KFC herbs-and-spices treatment. These are differences you can taste, and they're so juicy and flavorful that you almost don't need to dunk them in any sort of sauce. Evidently we're not the only ones who love these nuggets: KFC told us the nuggets are driving the brand's success in 2023. Read our full review here.

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Smashburger S’mac & Cheese Burger

Macaroni slopped onto a burger sounded like nothing more than a gimmick to us, which is why we're eating crow alongside this delicious Smashburger creation. The S'mac & Cheese Burger makes the brilliant choice to press the mac and cheese directly on the flat top alongside the meat before combining the two, turning what would otherwise be a gloppy macaroni mess into a puck of crisp edges and caramelized flavors. It's a heavy burger, but one that deserves space on Smashburger's permanent menu. Read our full review here.

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Dunkin’ Chorizo & Egg Wrap

With breakfast wraps this good, who needs doughnuts? Dunkin's newly released "Wrapped and Ready To Go" wraps come in two varieties, Chorizo & Egg and Chicken & Roasted Pepper. The latter is fine, but the former is a knockout. Scrambled egg, chorizo, roasted vegetables, black beans, and cheese sauce work wonders together inside a red pepper lavash, and the meat is well-seasoned without adding excess grease to the final product. We'll be eating more of these throughout the summer. Read our full review here.

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