The Tastiest Fast Food Items You Can Get For $1 Or Less

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There was a time—a glorious time—when pretty much all fast food items in America were less than $1.

In 1955, for example, a hamburger at McDonald's would set you back a mere 15 cents. If you wanted to splurge on a side of fries, you'd be looking at another 10 cents. Throw in 20 cents more and you could wash the whole thing down with a shake.

More of a Burger King fan? Well, if it was 1957 and you had 37 cents to spare, you could have yourself a Whopper. Or, if you were hankering for In-N-Out and it was 1948, you could score a burger for a paltry 25 cents.

Fast food prices have come a long way (in the upwards direction) since the golden age of the 15-cent burger. That said, even in 2018—the era of $7 lattes and $20 eight-hour parking—cheap, quick, and greasy eats can be found for less than $1. To help you hunt down some quick and wallet-friendly cuisine, we've rounded up the tastiest fast food items you can get for $1 or less.

Keep in mind: these prices are valid as of August, 2018 and may vary by location. 

McDonald's: McChicken

You may remember the good old days of the McDonald's Dollar Menu, officially launched in 2002. The fast-food giant was tragically forced to ditch the Dollar Menu in 2013 when they discovered it's mighty tough to turn a profit shelling out $1 double cheeseburgers and sundaes. Diners protested, however, and so McDonald's reintroduced a new value menu in 2018.

The revised version of McDonald's value menu includes items for $1, $2, and $3. The $1 category includes a cheeseburger, sausage burrito, and any size soft drink, in addition to the McChicken, our pick for the tastiest $1 option.

What makes the sandwich shine is the McChicken Patty, which is satisfyingly crispy and delivers a uniquely peppery kick. It comes on your basic McDonald's bun, with shredded iceberg lettuce and a daunting amount of mayo. Not kidding about the mayo. Don't let it ruin what would otherwise be a perfectly fine dollar meal, but scrape some of that stuff off, bro.

Taco Bell: Caramel apple empanada

Long before Taco Bell unleashed its Dollar Cravings menu, the chain offered a decent share of items under $1, like the cinnamon twists and cheese roll-ups. When the chain unveiled its new value menu in 2014, it added even more dollar-and-under items — which now includes, among other delectable dishes, the caramel apple empanada.

Choosing a favorite from the items on the Taco Bell Dollar Cravings menu is like choosing a favorite star in the sky. Why settle on the caramel apple empanada? Well, in addition to its ultra-low price point, the caramel apple empanada is comfortingly reminiscent of apple pie — the kind of apple pie your grandma used to make when she worked at Taco Bell.

This crispy Taco Bell dessert features a gooey, apple and hot caramel interior. For best results, let the caramel apple empanada cool before consuming to avoid scalding your tongue. This will only take a few minutes, but they will be the longest few minutes of your life.

Burger King: Cheeseburger

You could grab a standard hamburger at Burger King for $1—or, you could take things to a whole new level by adding cheese without paying a penny more. The Burger King cheeseburger costs $1 and comes with a beef patty draped in a layer of hot, gooey American cheese. All of this is complemented by crunchy crinkle-cut pickles, yellow mustard, and good ol' ketchup, nestled within a toasted sesame seed bun.  

Compare the BK cheeseburger to the Whopper with cheese, which costs close to $5 in some locations. The Whopper is bigger and comes with extras like tomatoes, fresh lettuce, onions, and mayo. The cheeseburger comes with none of that stuff, but it costs $1.

This conundrum creates a war between the stomach and the wallet. On the one hand, mayo. On the other, $1. In the end, it may be best to decide on ordering a cheeseburger versus a Whopper on a case-by-case basis. How broke were you when you walked into that Burger King? How hungry are you? Look into your stomach and/or wallet and you'll know the answer.

Sonic: Tots

Here's a fun fact: when Sonic first released its Everyday Value Menu in 2008, it included—in addition to the chicken strip sandwich, junior breakfast burrito, and vanilla cone—a fresh banana.

The banana, for those of you unfamiliar, is a long, yellow tropical fruit that grows on actual trees, rather than being fried on a grill by a sulky teenager who hasn't washed his hands. Cool, right?

Sonic's fresh banana, however, disappeared from the menu and does not make our list of tastiest $1-or-less fast food items. Instead, we're going opposite route and choosing the stubby, non-tropical, deep-fried-by-a-teenager tater tot, which definitely does not grow on trees (BUT IT WOULD BE AMAZING IF IT DID).

Sonic's tots are bite-sized potato pieces deep fried to a crispy golden brown. Depending on your location, you can score a mini order of tots in a crisp white cardboard sleeve served for $1 or less. And that order of tots will taste nothing like a fresh banana.

White Castle: Jalapeño cheese slider

White Castle offers a number of its signature sliders for a dollar or less, including the single original, cheese and veggie.

But without a doubt, the crowning glory of White Castle's $1-and-under offerings is the jalapeño cheese slider, which is priced at 94 cents in most locations. This feisty 'lil guy features an all-beef patty and onions beneath a layer of jalapeño cheese (there may be no actual slices of jalapeñoes, but this is White Castle, not a jalapeño farm, OK?). Don't be too disappointed — the single slice of jalapeño cheese does deliver a decent kick.

Unfortunately, the jalapeño cheese slider isn't offered at all White Castle locations and many sad, sad states do not have even have a White Castle. Fear not: You can always order frozen White Castle online, defrost them, and pay your roommate to dress up in a White Castle uniform and serve them to you in a paper bag (though at this point, you're probably spending way more than 94 cents).

Del Taco: Chicken quesadilla snacker

Taco Bell isn't the only player in the ultra-low-price-kinda-Tex-Mex-food game. Del Taco, bless their hearts, has its own menu of buck-and-under items. The aptly named Buck and Under Menu at Del Taco includes a whopping 18 items, including tacos, breakfast options, and mini shakes.

It's a challenge to name a favorite among so many delicious options, but the recently added chicken quesadilla snacker is a definite standout. Unveiled in June 2018, the chicken quesadilla snacker folds grilled chicken and hand-grated cheddar into a warm flour tortilla blanket, and it only costs $1.

We appreciate Del Taco's honesty in adding the term "Snacker" to the title of this dish. It let's you know that this quesadilla isn't meant to replace a well-balanced dinner. It can however, get you through that hump between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., when lunch was hours ago but societal norms say it's too early to have dinner, and you'd kind of love an excuse to sneak out of the office and drive to a Del Taco anyway.

Wendy's: Buffalo ranch crispy chicken sandwich

Wendy's rolled out its buffalo ranch crispy chicken sandwich in July 2018, expanding the restaurant's existing value menu of treats like junior-size cheeseburgers and Frosties.

The buffalo ranch crispy chicken takes an ordinary chicken sandwich to new heights. It begins with a lightly breaded, white-meat chicken patty, seasoned ever-so-slightly with salt and pepper. Swathing the patty is a layer of melted Monterey Jack and an obligatory leaf of lettuce. The sandwich is doused in a shower of creamy, distantly spicy buffalo ranch and pairs nicely with a 99-cent small chocolate Frosty.

The buffalo ranch crispy chicken sandwich is the less hearty cousin of Wendy's beloved spicy chicken sandwich, which packs in an entire deep-fried chicken breast. But while the spicy chicken sandwich is almost $5 in some places, the buffalo ranch crispy chicken is, as we've established, $1. I'm no super math genius, but if my calculations are correct, you could buy four of them and it'd still be a better deal.

Jack in the Box: Two tacos

In the Golden State, Jack in the Box often gets dismissed as a feeble competitor to the true king of California fast food: In-N-Out Burger. That said, there is one Jack in the Box item (or rather, two) that a Californian will gladly pull over for: the two-for-99-cent taco.

There's simply something about the taco duo, which are soggy and sloppy but oddly irresistible. As The Wall Street Journal reported, Americans eat 554 million Jack in the Box tacos a year—a rate that exceeds U.S. consumption of McDonald's Big Mac, even—and "no one knows why."

Maybe it's because they're packed with a mysterious and intriguingly unidentifiable meat. Maybe it's because they're deep-fried. But probably it's because they're sold in packs of two for 99 cents.

Tragically, Bloomberg revealed earlier this summer that Jack in the Box is raising the prices of the taco pairing at many locations in California to slightly over $1.  A San Antonio newspaper announced a taco price hike at many Texas Jack in the Box locations, as well. The cost increase has inspired a petition to bring Jack in the Box tacos back to $0.99 everywhere, which you should probably sign.

Wendy's: Frosty

Historians believe that it was the ancient Egyptians who discovered the culinary art of dipping french fries into ice cream. We made that up, but the miraculous fry-milkshake combo is a time-honored tradition that has been the muse for many an Instagram post and listicle over the years.

The Wendy's chocolate Frosty, in particular, has long been a favorite receptacle for french fries. Thicker than a milkshake but more liquidy than ice cream, a Frosty can't be slurped up through a straw but it can be scooped up with a fry (or a spoon, I guess. But common. Borrrrring.)

Wendy's added a vanilla version of the original, chocolate Frosty in 2006. It's alright, if you're into that vanilla life, but decidedly less tasty as a fry condiment than its chocolate counterpart.

Normally, you can get a small chocolate or vanilla Frosty for 99 cents (a small order of fries will set you back another $1.69 or so). However, Wendy's has been known to drop the price of Frostys to 50 cents during special promotional periods. If you happen to be alive during one of these magical spells, grab your change jar and run, don't walk to your local Wendy's.

Taco Bell: Spicy tostada

Of all the fast-food chains that clog our arteries, Taco Bell will forever clog the arteries closest to our heart. That's why we're ending this list with an ode to Taco Bell's spicy tostada, one of the chain's lesser-known and underrated menu items, sold for only $1.

The T-Bell tostada starts with a flattened taco shell topped with refried beans. Next comes a sprinkle of shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and cheddar cheese, followed by a grand finale of red sauce and creamy chipotle. For an additional handful of quarters, you can add on even more fun toppings like guac and jalapenos.

The spicy tostada is an obvious choice for the budget-conscious diner who likes a bit of a bite for their buck. But it also holds appeal to those who are after a healthier Taco Bell dish. It's only 210 calories and packs in seven grams of protein. And because it has no chicken, beef, or pork, it can also be appreciated by vegetarians, chickens, cows, and pigs.