Costco Food Court Menu Items That Were Total Flops

The Costco food court is better known for its successes than its failures. But what many casual food court diners don't know is that for every delicious chicken bake there is a flavorless açaí bowl. For every $1.50 hot dog there is a $10 roast beef sandwich. Costco is generally quick to discontinue any menu item that fails to impress. Combine this with the fact that it regularly conducts small-scale tests for menu items with the general public, and you end up with a surprisingly long list of Costco food court items that flopped.

Just remember as you are reading that taste is a subjective quality, so it is okay to like a menu item that didn't succeed. This is especially true for the case of a few of these discontinued dishes, whose only crime was failing to entice customers away from the food court staples. The rest, though, were simply uninspiring.

The Costco cheeseburger was not even close to the mark

Even a hardcore Costco enthusiast may be surprised to hear that Costco at one point sold a cheeseburger. That's because it was only tested in Seattle and a handful of other stores starting in 2017. It lasted until 2020 when the Costco corporation announced without explanation that the cheeseburger would no longer be served. So where did things go wrong for the Costco cheeseburger? It all started when early reviewers compared the burger to that of the beloved New York hamburger franchise Shake Shack.

It is uncertain exactly who made this comparison first, but it did no favors for this experimental menu item. Some reviews hyper-focused on the comparison and criticized the burger for not matching Shake Shack's delicate smash burger-style patties and instead smothering the eater with too much meat. One user on Instagram included this comment with the above photo in a 2018 post: "The Costco, next to my house, sells cheeseburger. It's supposed to be Shake Shack clone. Not even close."

To top things off, the cheeseburger did not appear to have been tested alongside french fries on any menus. This is unusual considering that select Costco food court locations have historically sold french fries. In the end, it's hard to say exactly what sounded the death knell for Costco's organic cheeseburger, but it did not live up to the hype.

The vegan al pastor salad disappointed carnivores everywhere

There is no match for the rich and complex flavor of traditional al pastor. The smoky heat of chili peppers and the subtle sweetness of pineapple partner perfectly with tender pork shoulder. That's probably why the vegan al pastor salad never gained any traction on the Costco food court menu. Not only did its healthy plant-based protein disappoint omnivorous patrons, but it also frustrated those expecting authentic Mexican flavors.

The salad was made from soy al pastor, chopped romaine lettuce, black beans, olives, dressing, and so-called banh mi vegetables. The banh mi vegetables were an unusual addition and a source of complaints from certain shoppers who weren't expecting Asian-style vegetables (or olives) in what should be a Mexican-style dish. Ultimately, the reviews for this salad were mixed, even from vegans who barely had other options in the food court.

According to reports on Reddit, the al pastor salad was discontinued sometime around 2018. Employees cited poor sales as the reason for its demise. Whether or not this was because it was made from imitation meat is hard to say for certain, but it is mostly vegans who seem to be asking for its return.

The açaí bowl never fit in with the rest of the menu

The Costco açaí bowl may be the most disliked menu item in the history of the discount warehouse's food court. As we've covered before, it was added to the menu in 2018 to increase the number of healthy dining options and then discontinued shortly after in 2020. While it did collect some fans in its two-year run, the majority of consumers either tried it once and moved on or never found a compelling reason to order it in the first place.

In retrospect, the issue with the açaí bowl may be that it didn't fit in with the rest of Costco's core menu. It was not quite sweet enough to replace dessert options like the hand-dipped ice cream bars and not quite filling enough to replace a full meal like the chicken bake. It was also one of the more expensive menu items at $4.99. And despite being marketed as a healthy food option, it was surprisingly high in sugar (with estimates ranging between 30 grams and 41 grams of sugar). So it failed with the health food crowd, the value shoppers, and the dessert enthusiasts.

Brutal reviews started rolling in right away. One Twitter user said it tasted like "lush bath bombs and regret." Costco's customers clearly weren't craving the tart and earthy flavor of açaí. Customers felt there were better options on the menu for them, so the bowl flopped hard.

The roast beef sandwich was not worth the price

Costco's roast beef sandwich isn't the worst sandwich ever released by the company, but it doesn't stand a chance against the rest of the items on the food court's value-focused menu. On top of lacking in the flavor department, the sandwich also debuted at a price of $9.99. Customers felt downright insulted to be offered a cold sandwich with no side or beverage for the same price as a whole 18-inch Costco pizza. And although the roast beef itself is of high quality, it can't save this sandwich from its own staleness.

The roast beef sandwich consists of a large helping of sliced roast beef, topped with onion relish, lettuce, roasted cherry tomatoes, red onions, and a mayo/mustard mixture served on an artisan roll. One of the biggest criticisms of the sandwich when it debuted was how dry it tasted because of the giant bread roll it was served on. Users in one Reddit thread reached a quick consensus. "Just got one. Feels a bit too dry for me. Not getting it again," wrote one user. "Looks super dry, like the Sahara," wrote another. "I don't see this sandwich being around for too long. It's very un-Costco like," one commenter wrote. The closest thing this sandwich got to a positive review was this: "I tried it today. It's decent. Definitely dry. Was large enough for 2 people. But I don't think it will stay at Costco too long." 

Even the BBQ brisket sandwich couldn't defeat the hot dog

It's hard to tell if Costco simply can't get sandwiches right or if any meat-and-bread-related option automatically struggles to compete with the hot dog and soda combo. In either case, the Costco food court's BBQ beef brisket sandwich was never destined for greatness.

Though not as expensive or dry as the roast beef sandwich, the Costco BBQ beef brisket sandwich still barely lasted two years before it was silently removed from food court menus nationwide. Food court-goers who tried the sandwich between 2018 and 2020 seemed to love it, but that still couldn't save it from being discontinued.

For a kitchen that is defined by the longevity of its most popular items, a two-year run is the closest you can get to a Costco food court flop. It's not clear exactly why it went away; the pandemic, a desire for more healthy food court items, and simple menu turnover may have all played a role.

At $4.99, the BBQ Brisket Sandwich was also the most expensive menu item at the time it was released. And ultimately, price-sensitive consumers will default back to the juggernaut: the $1.50 all-beef hot dog.

The mango smoothie is failing on the mainland

If you regularly visit the Costco food court, you may be surprised to learn that it sells a mango smoothie. That's because it is currently failing hard in its limited test markets and will likely be disappearing for good soon. The mango smoothie was first tested in Australia in early 2023, then made its way to the U.S. by way of Hawaii. It is now also sold at Costco locations in Oklahoma, Washington, and California. Don't expect to find it soon in a Costco near you if you don't live in these states, though. The early reviews are largely negative.

We've seen some truly savage reviews of the Costco mango smoothie on social media, where people are simultaneously mourning the recently discontinued fruit smoothie and dissing its mango-flavored successor. The most brutal review states that "Costco's new mango smoothie is trash. The color looks weird and it tastes like baby food" (via Twitter). It's possible that customers simply aren't accustomed to desserts without added sugar. But either way, the mango smoothie is not expected to last long as Costco stores with the kind of reception it has had.

The beef chili may have succeeded without beans

The beef chili with beans is an interesting example of a Costco food court item that may have flopped for reasons other than flavor. Customers generally agreed that the chili was pretty decent and combined deliciously with the hot dog to make an impromptu chili dog. Yet it was discontinued in 2023 alongside other generally liked items such as the Caesar salad and the combo pizza. The fact that it was removed alongside other items likely had to do with maintaining the razor-thin margins at the Costco food court. However, this chili's role in some regional recipe drama could possibly have contributed to its demise.

Costco's beef chili chose the losing side in the longstanding debate as to whether or not chili should contain beans. The debate is serious business to native Texans, who strongly believe beans do not belong in chili. And Texas has some authority here, as chili con carne was first popularized there, and it is the state dish. One Twitter user perfectly summed up the thought process of a Texan visiting the food court with their tweet, "'Ooh, costco has chili.' 'Nvm, it has beans.'"

Outside of Texas, this issue likely didn't affect the general public's opinion of Costco's chili. But can you really call it a success when your chili defies the traditions of Texas? Not if it's no longer on the menu. Plus, who knows? Maybe it would have ultimately succeeded if it didn't have beans.

Few still mourn the loss of the cinnamon sugar pretzel

While many discontinued Costco items have hardcore fans begging for their return, you won't find any petitions to bring back the food court's cinnamon sugar pretzel. That's because this menu item has been seemingly erased from the public consciousness. Neither so appalling as to be infamous nor so delicious as to be commemorated by more than a few, this sweet and salty baked good has been forever condemned to obscurity.

There is no clear consensus among Costco historians on when the cinnamon sugar pretzel was discontinued or when it debuted. The best estimates place the discontinuation  sometime in the '00s. Its debut likely predated the popularization of the Internet. This is indicated by the fact that a request for images of it on the food court menu was left unmet on the Costco subreddit, one of the largest online Costco communities. These are all signs that we've unearthed a historical flop.

One possible factor contributing to the erasure of the cinnamon sugar pretzel is that it was replaced by the churro. The churro was clearly preferred as it had the staying power to see a return to the menu after being pulled due to supply chain issues during the pandemic. Perhaps in another reality, the pretzel could have taken the place of the churro as Costco's premier cinnamon sugar snack. But in this reality, it appears that the cinnamon sugar pretzel died not with a bang but a whimper.

Costco's gelato was too good to be true

The Costco food court has served many desserts over the years, but none have been as fancy or refined as the company's gelato. And yet, it's only ever been offered at 16 different stores in the U.S., according to a 2010 post from the Costco Insider website. And despite a handful of positive remarks online praising the gelato — "tastes incredible," one customer posted while another wrote, "Sunny LA day + Costco gelato = heaven" – it didn't seem to be a popular purchase at the locations where it was available. Users reported quite the deal on the gelato with three scoops in a waffle cone costing just $1.50. But one Reddit user commented, "not once did I ever see anybody actually order it."

According to a throwaway account on a different Reddit thread, the dish was considered a failure long before it was pulled from stores in 2015. That said, failure, in this case, seems to be measured by profitability and not popularity because the customer response was overall positive. In the end, though, the affordable pricing and reliable flavor of other popular Costco desserts like the churro or frozen yogurt won out.

The carne asada bake was the sequel nobody wanted

The chicken bake has been one of the most successful menu items in the history of the Costco food court. So it is no surprise that the company tried to strike gold twice by following up with the carne asada bake. But unlike its white meat counterpart, the carne asada bake was a certified flop.

The carne asada bake was originally tested in 2010 across a limited number of locations. It was met with a poor reception compared to the original chicken bake, though, and it ended up being discontinued in 2012 to make room for the hot turkey and provolone sandwich. One of the biggest reasons for its demise was the fact that customer reviews were scathing.

One user called the carne asada bake a "tasteless wonder wrapped in calories with all the looks and flavor of a dog's vomit" (via Costco Insider). The way the carne asada bake was served meant that its pico de gallo and guacamole would be warm — a transgression that no self-respecting Mexican restaurant would ever commit. Between harsh reviews on the flavor and the overall weirdness of a Hot Pocket-style dish with authentic burrito ingredients, the carne asada bake turned out to be nowhere near as popular as the original chicken bake.

French fries didn't make the cut in the U.S.

Historically and currently, the Costco food court menu offers a lot in the way of entrees, drinks, and desserts, but it's sparse when it comes to sides. It's not for a lack of trying, however. The quick-serve, front-of-the-warehouse kitchen has been known to try to compete with standalone fast food spots, similarly offering french fries to eat on their own as a cheap snack or to pair with its array of sandwiches and mains.

Fries are commonplace at the food court in Canadian Costco outlets — they're the base of the warehouse's version of the Canadian staple poutine, topped with cheese curds and brown gravy. Apparently coated with a light crispy breading that provides heft and prevents sogginess, those fries are sold without cheese and gravy, and they've occasionally popped up on the menu of Costco food courts in the United States. They seem to be the same fries as the ones sold in Canada, covered in a coating and with a large portion selling for just $1.25. In 2018, fries were available at select Costco stores, including two in northern Virginia. It seems as if it was a test marketing gambit; fries never widely appeared in American Costco stores beyond that time. The warehouse chain apparently didn't sell nearly enough orders of cheap french fries to justify a national rollout, meaning they totally flopped.