Fast food restaurants can never stop selling these cult items

Carl’s Jr. is known for its charcoal-grilled burgers, but it’s the one thing on the menu that inspires loyalty.

“The product people are most adamant about is fried zucchini,” said Owen Klein, vice president of global culinary innovation for parent company CKE Restaurants. “He has a big cult following.”

Most fast food chains serve cult items. They cannot be signature items. They can be almost hidden on menu boards. But they have fanbases that guarantee their survival.

  • The basic bean and cheese burrito inspires loyalty at Del Taco. (Photo courtesy of Del Taco)

  • The Western Bacon Cheeseburger is a perennial favorite at Carl's...

    The Western Bacon Cheeseburger is a perennial favorite at Carl’s Jr. (Photo courtesy of Carl’s Jr)

  • Animal Style is a popular way to order burgers and...

    Animal Style is a popular way to order burgers and fries at In-N-Out Burger. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Registry)

“We have a few, like our chicken taco,” said Tim Hackbardt, director of marketing for Del Taco. “We could never take that away. It’s a huge success for us. »

Fans have core franchise allies, according to Heather Gardea, vice president of research and development for El Pollo Loco. They listen to their customers and ensure that popular items are not only available, but remain as customers expect.

“Our franchise owners are the greatest stewards,” she said. “They are so passionate about these items that stay true to the original recipes. When we think about innovating, we definitely think away from these essentials. »

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Over the course of a year, we spoke to fast food executives about cult favorites. We also asked readers to tell us about their favorites, which included menu hacks and so-called hidden menu items, which people can get on demand even if they are not displayed on menu boards.

Here are some of their responses.

Carl’s Jr.

This channel has undergone many changes in its nearly 81 years old. It started as a hot dog stand and now offers fried chicken sandwiches and burgers. Salad bars, baked potatoes and California roast beef sandwiches are among the menu items he left behind.

But like many cult favourites, it’s an accessory that inspires passion. Fried Zucchini is a carton of breaded, coin-shaped slices of zucchini, often served with a packet of house dressing, which is the equivalent of ranch dressing.

“That’s one of the reasons many clients come to see us,” Klein said.

The Western Bacon Cheeseburger, which includes beef patties topped with barbecue sauce and onion rings, has also become a staple, Klein said.

“We could never in a million years remove Western Bacon Cheeseburger,” he said. “It has a cult following. It’s been synonymous with the Carl’s Jr. brand since its release in 1981. It’s been one of our best sellers ever since.

Del Taco

Although this Lake Forest chain is constantly innovating, its staple dishes still have a following.

“Just the old school bean and cheese burrito, people love this stuff,” Hackbardt said. “I couldn’t take that off, that’s for sure.”

Diners have a choice of the red sauce and the green sauce, and some readers said they prefer the green, which Hackbardt says provides an extra kick of spiciness.

“Those who choose green loudly wave their tribe’s flag swearing it’s the best.”

Readers also love their “greasy” style burritos, meaning with a secret sauce of chicken tacos and fries. It’s a secret menu item sometimes called the “burrito stoner”.

Some customers request the Taco Bun, which includes a taco filling on a hamburger bun. It’s been off the menu for a long time, but according to Hackhardt, it’s on the secret menu.

“All you have to do is ask. To really pretend you’re hard core Del Taco fan, you must be someone who orders the Bun Taco on occasion.

El Pollo Loco

Although this channel offers a variety of limited time items, most recently beef birriait started with family meals featuring grilled citrus chicken, tortillas, beans, rice and salsa.

These meals remain core to the brand, Gardea said, but its dressing has cult status.

“The creamy cilantro dressing we make within the restaurant is such a signature thing. People really like it,” she said. “The dressing and the avocado salsa are two things I don’t see never leave El Pollo Loco.”

The Habit Burger Grill

The chain is known for its grilled burgers. Sides include french fries, sweet potato fries and onion rings, but readers identified tempura green beans as a fan favorite. They are served with ranch dressing for dipping.

Burger In-N-Out

This drive-thru has a very short menu that almost never changes. When this added hot chocolate to its range burgers, fries, shakes and soft drinks in 2018 was a big deal.

But In-N-Out fans know how to order variations on these items. The channel has compiled some of the most popular as a “not so secret menuon its website.

One of the best known is the “animal fries”, which are topped with spread, melted cheese and grilled onions.

Grilled Cheese is two slices of American cheese on a bun with lettuce, tomato and spread. Mary Alice McLoughlin of Lakewood likes to add pickles and onions.

In a phone interview, she said it was a good option for vegetarians who wanted to hang out with burger-eating friends.

“It’s not the same as getting a grilled cheese sandwich at a restaurant, but if everyone’s going to In-N-Out, that’s okay.”

jack in the box

Tacos are the San Diego chain’s most popular item, with sales exceeding 500 million a year, according to the Wall Street Journal. They are also cult among readers. Less expected favorites include stuffed jalapeños, which are breaded, filled with cheese sauce and served with a packet of buttermilk dressing.


Although known for its Big Macs, Quarter Pounders and Chicken McNuggets, McDonald’s has highlighted its McCafé drinks as fan favorites. The McCafé name covers a range of hot and cold coffee drinks.

Drip coffee is what McDonald’s is best known for, according to San Gabriel Valley owner-operator Mike Pernecky.

“People have an emotional connection to coffee and they trust us to make it right for them. And they did for many years.


This Miami-based chain is known for kicking off the chicken sandwich wars in recent years. But he has a lot more on his menu, including red beans and rice on the side. It’s what Placentia’s Jeff Greene likes to order.

He said it’s unusual for most fast food restaurants, or any restaurant for that matter, to serve this mixture of rice and beans. He likes to mix in a packet of a Popeyes seasoning called Cajun Sparkle.

He orders it with Blackened Tenders, which he says is good for a keto diet. “They are not fried. They are basically just lightly seasoned.

Vienna Schnitzel

This Irvine chain is best known for its chili cheese dogs and corn dogs. Its main menu items appeal to all age groups, according to the general manager J.R. Galardi. But a long-standing menu item that appeals to a very specific demographic.

It’s the Polish sandwich, a spicy dog ​​cut in half and served between two slices of rye bread with Swiss cheese, a wedge of pickle and spicy French mustard, according to the channel.

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“Then you get to the point of being a bit older, probably around the retirement age group, they tend to eat a lot of Polish sandwiches,” Galardi said. “We have a store in Orange County across from a retirement community called Leisure World that has the highest sales of Polish sandwiches in the chain.

“I don’t know about the Polish sandwich, but once you hit retirement age, that’s probably what you get.”

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