- Fast food grew up with postwar America.
- As things have changed, so have the fast-food items that have been in vogue.
- From Taco Bell’s much-loved Enchirito to the invention of the legendary McNugget to the many lives of the Frappuccino, these are the fast-food items that people were obsessed with from the years 1965 to 2010.
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Many of the first fast-food chains popped up in the 1950s and early 1960s. They started out small. The industry began with local mum-and-pop hamburger stands seeking to serve the increasingly on-the-go commuter American. As suburbs sprouted, so did drive-ins and drive-thrus.
Things have changed since those times. We’ve had rock ‘n’ roll, hippie folk, funk, power ballads, punk, grunge, and death metal. We’ve fought several wars in Asia and even more in the Middle East. And we’ve seen some of America’s most beloved and most bizarre fast-food items come and go.
From the world-changing invention of the Chicken McNugget to the many lives of the Frappuccino, these are the fast-food items that defined America from 1965 to 2010:
1965 — FILET-O-FISH SANDWICH, MCDONALD’S: Before the Filet-O-Fish, McDonald’s sold mostly hamburgers. Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent, which was hurting sales for McDonald’s until franchise owner Lou Groen came up with the famous fish sandwich. It’s still on the McDonald’s menu today.
1968 — PICKLE-O’S, SONIC: These deep-fried circles of briny joy faded off the Sonic menu at some point during the late 20th century before being reintroduced as a limited-time item in 2003. Some Sonic locations still have them.
Source:Christian Science Monitor
1970 — ENCHIRITO, TACO BELL: A burrito topped with cheese, red sauce, and three olives, this gooey chimera enraptured fans so much they found a way to keep it alive after it was discontinued. It’s now a secret menu item that some Taco Bells will even make for you — if you ask nicely.
1971 — QUARTER POUNDER WITH CHEESE, MCDONALD’S: Invented in 1971 by franchise owner Al Bernardin, the Quarter Pounder with cheese was introduced as a meatier alternative to the chain’s classic hamburger. The chain recently switched to making the sandwich with fresh beef.
East Bay Times
1972 — EGG MCMUFFIN, MCDONALD’S: Veteran McDonald’s exec Herb Peterson changed the world in 1972 when he set out to create a speedy breakfast sandwich that tasted like eggs Benedict. The Egg McMuffin has had a long and fruitful journey into modern times, joined along the way by its siblings sausage and bacon.
1974 — YUMBO, BURGER KING: A basic ham and cheese sub sandwich, the Yumbo likely wasn’t exactly what customers came to Burger King for, but it gained a small but dedicated following that eventually got the Yumbo back on the menu for a short while in 2014.
Source: ABC News
1975 — BELL BEEFER, TACO BELL: If you ever wanted a Taco Bell taco on a hamburger bun, you’d have to time travel for the Bell Beefer, which was essentially a Taco Bell taco on a hamburger bun.
Source: Christian Science Monitor
1977 — ARBY-Q SANDWICH, ARBY’S: The Arby-Q sandwich has bounced on and off the menu at Arby’s since it was released. It’s a simple concept: roast beef, barbecue sauce, bun.
Source: Arby’s website
1978 — TACO PIZZA, PIZZA HUT: If you ever wanted a Taco Bell taco in pizza form, Pizza Hut had you covered once upon a time. Unfortunately, Pizza Hut no longer carries this confusing fusion of pizza and taco.
Source: Business Insider
1978 — HAPPY MEAL, MCDONALD’S: McDonald’s had the brilliant idea of combining fast food and toys together in one nifty little package called the Happy Meal. Lots of other chains followed suit.
1980 — MCCHICKEN, MCDONALD’S: McDonald’s wasn’t so sure about this one at first. Its first 17 years of life were complicated by disappointing sales and a more popular younger sibling, the McNuggets. Since then, it’s built itself a permanent home on the McDonald’s menu.
1981 — MCRIB, MCDONALD’S: This is a limited-time item with near-mythical standing. The McRib’s career has been a series of limited-time stunts, each one more successful than the last.
Source: The Atlantic
1983 — MCNUGGETS, MCDONALD’S: Before there were Chicken McNuggets, there was just chicken. The McNuggets were invented by the chain’s first executive chef, Rene Arend, and were an instant hit. They remain one of the chain’s most iconic items.
Source: The Atlantic
1984 — MCD.L.T., MCDONALD’S: The McD.L.T. stood for “McDonald’s Lettuce Tomato.” It was a burger with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and cheese — in other words, a burger. It was served in a Styrofoam clamshell case with two compartments: one for a bun and the meat and one for another bun and the toppings.
Source: Serious Eats
1985 — BLIZZARD, DAIRY QUEEN: In 1938, Dairy Queen rolled out soft-serve ice cream. Nearly 50 years later, Dairy Queen blended toppings into its soft serve.
1985 — PRIAZZO, PIZZA HUT: The Priazzo wasn’t quite deep-dish. It was more like a deep-dish pizza topped with another pizza. It faded off Pizza Hut’s menu fairly quickly, but to this day it has a small but dedicated group of fans, including those in a “Bring Back the Pizza Hut Priazzo” Facebook group.
Source: The Daily Meal
1987 — BK BUNDLES, BURGER KING: These existed for a brief but brilliant moment in 1987 and were essentially the opposite of a Whopper. They were tiny burgers one could eat in a single bite.
1990 — BREEZE FROZEN YOGURT TREAT, DAIRY QUEEN: This frozen yogurt treat came about 20 years too early. It lived, flopped, and died in the ’90s.
Source: Christian Science Monitor
1990 — CHILLI CHEESE BURRITO, TACO BELL: This cheesy classic still exists today. After a brief absence in the ’90s, it was returned to menus at the behest of fans.
1993 — BURRITO, CHIPOTLE: Perhaps no burrito is more iconic than the Chipotle burrito. It’s less of an invention and more of an adaptation of the Mission burrito, which has been a staple of San Francisco’s Mission district since the mid-1900s. In 1993, classically trained chef Steve Ells brought an Americanized version to diners.
1994/1995 — FRAPPUCCINO, STARBUCKS: A portmanteau of the words “frappe” and “cappuccino,” the Frappuccino is Starbucks’ most famous staple drink. In its more than 20 years of existence, it’s come out in increasingly whimsical iterations like the Unicorn Frappuccino, Zombie Frappuccino, and most recently, the Tie-Dye Frappuccino.
Source: Boston Magazine
1996 — ARCH DELUXE BURGER, MCDONALD’S: The Arch Deluxe was the chain’s first foray into burgers marketed toward “more sophisticated customers.” Unfortunately, McDonald’s doesn’t exactly evoke “gourmet” for most people. The burger was discontinued in the late ’90s.
Source: Business Insider
1998 — CINI-MINIS, BURGER KING: Burger King and Pillsbury paired up to create tiny cinnamon rolls that lived on Burger King’s breakfast menu until the early 2000s. They were brought back in 2018 as a limited-time item, but fans loved them so much that they remain on Burger King’s menu to this day.
1999 — SUBWAY SANDWICHES, SUBWAY: The “Subway Diet” swept the nation at the turn of the millennium thanks in part to the popularity of to ex-spokesman Jared Fogle, now a convicted sex offender. Subway’s sandwiches were often advertised as a healthier alternative to burgers.
2000 — SALAD SHAKERS, MCDONALD’S: 2000 was a crazy year. The apocalypse didn’t happen, kids could still enter the cockpit of a plane, and frosted tips were a thing. The McSalad Shaker, which was basically a salad in a plastic cup that you could shake before eating, fit right in.
Source: QSR magazine
2001 — SIX DOLLAR BURGER / THICKBURGER, CARL’S JR: When Carl’s Jr.’s hulking, third-pound hamburger was released in 2001, it cost $US3.95. It was called the “Six Dollar Burger” because the brand claimed an equivalent burger would cost $US6 at a casual restaurant. Now, it costs $US6 at many locations — and often even more.
2002 — ULTIMATE BLT, ARBY’S: First introduced in the summer of 2002, the Ultimate BLT returns to Arby’s perennially when the weather is hot and customers crave something light and refreshing.
2003 — SPICY CHICKEN BURRITO, TACO BELL: A commercial advertising the spicy chicken burrito ends with “Filling made thrilling!” With spicy shredded chicken, rice, and salsa, it isn’t the most exciting burrito on this list, but it of course still has a smattering of loyal fans urging Taco Bell to bring it back.
2004 — PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE, STARBUCKS: Nothing heralds the coming of fall like the aroma of pumpkin spice wafting from your local Starbucks. Invented by a Stanford basketball player, this iconic flavored latte returns to Starbucks every year at the beginning of fall.
2005 — CHICKEN FRIES, BURGER KING: Forget nuggets, strips, or tenders. Why not put chicken into the shape of fries? That’s just what Burger King did. Designed to fit into a cupholder for the adult snacker, these fries have remained a fan favourite since their launch.
Source: Los Angeles Times
2007 — BACONATOR, WENDY’S: The Baconator was originally introduced in 2007 as part of a plan to turn Wendy’s sales around. It worked, and now it’s arguably the chain’s most iconic sandwich.
Source: The New York Times
2008 — CHEESY MACARONI BITES, JACK IN THE BOX: Sure, White Castle has a take on these now. KFC may have dabbled in them. But Jack in the Box did it first. Crispy on the outside, gooey and cheesy on the inside, it’s no wonder mac bites have had many lives after Jack in the Box.
2009 — BLACKJACK TACO, TACO BELL: The highlight of this Halloween dollar menu special was its black shell. Inside was a pretty standard filling of ground beef, lettuce, three-cheese blend, and a special Pepper Jack sauce.
2010 — DOUBLE DOWN, KFC: What would happen if you used fried chicken as the buns in a fried-chicken sandwich, then slapped some bacon and cheese in between? You’d get the KFC Double Down, which sent shockwaves through America when it was introduced in 2010. It no longer exists in America but continues to appear in KFCs around the world.
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