Discontinued fast food items that made a big comeback

Part of the nature of fast food is that the menus change constantly. Sometimes, it's an effort to cash in on a trend, like putting foods in bowls or making ridiculous fast-food mashups, like Burger King's short-lived Whopperito (a Whopper-burrito hybrid) or the infamous, artery-clogging KFC Double Down. In other cases, it's about creating a false sense of scarcity to build hype, as is the case with the cult-favorite McRib sandwich from McDonald's, which has an entire website where dedicated fans can track down the elusive faux-rib sandwich.

With changing fast food trends come, well, changes, and just as often as new menu items are created and added, others are discontinued. It's not uncommon for discontinued fast food items, even ones that performed poorly in terms of sales, to suddenly develop intense fan followings once they are no longer available. Sometimes, this leads to a chain deciding to bring back a popular retired item, either for a limited time or in a slightly revamped format. Here are twelve of our favorite discontinued fast food items that have made major comebacks over the years. 

Burger King's Cini Minis

If you are a child of the 90s who grew up on a steady diet of sugar-laden fast food, you might've been obsessed with Burger King's original Cini Minis. Cini Minis are exactly what they sound like: a four-pack of miniature cinnamon rolls, complete with a sidecar of frosting that was more or less a straight shot of sugar. This dessert-for-breakfast was initially released in 1998, a time when, according to a Burger King press release, one-third of consumers ate breakfast in their cars. The original Cini Minis were developed exclusively for Burger King by Pillsbury and baked fresh daily at participating stores.

In a 1998 commercial, which featured Minnie Riperton crooning to indicate just how swoon-worthy these little morsels were, Burger King advertised Cini Minis as being "from the heart of the bun" — the best part of a cinnamon bun, where you get pure cinnamon swirl encased in light, fluffy dough smothered in frosting.

After Cini Minis were discontinued in the early 2000s, a Change.org petition generated over 2,700 signatures from fans begging Burger King to bring them back. In 2018, their wishes finally came true. The product was re-released in partnership with GrubHub, and customers could opt to receive a free box of Cini Minis if they ordered at least $10 worth of delivery. Sadly, they were only available for a limited time, and they've not been available since 2018.

Pizza Hut's P'Zone

What's a P'zone? Watching any of the original fast food television ads for "the pizza you eat like a sandwich" will provide you with a lengthy explanation, like this Super Bowl spot proclaiming the Pizza Hut P'zone revolution. Originally launched in 2002, the P'zone is a pizza-calzone hybrid, essentially a twelve-inch pizza folded in half, and it gained a particularly enthusiastic cult following.

The P'zone was briefly retried before being relaunched for a limited time in 2007 as part of a campaign with professional eater Takeru "The Tsunami" Kobayashi, according to a press release. The PR stunt included an actual "P'Zone Chow-lenge," where the winner received a golden P'zone. Shortly after, it was discontinued again, then briefly brought back in 2011

Pizza Hut put a massive marketing effort behind another relaunch in 2019, this time in conjunction with an NCAA partnership that named Pizza Hut "The Official Pizza of March Madness." The chain teased out the re-release on social with the tagline, "A Legend Returns" before re-launching the P'zone as part of a $5 menu lineup meant to compete with the value combos offered by rival Domino's, according to a 2019 Forbes article. The P'zone is still available on the Pizza Hut menu in three different varieties: Pepperoni, Supremo, and Meaty.

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce

Any discussion of discontinued fast food must include McDonald's Szechuan Sauce, the condiment that literally caused riots during a brief promotional re-release after it was featured in an episode of the animated television show Rick and Morty.

McDonald's originally released its Szechuan sauce in 1998 as part of a limited-time promotion for the release of Disney's Mulan. Commercials featured the sauce while simultaneously hyping the newest Disney heroine as "a cool girl who saves China."

The McDonald's promotion ended, Mulan went on to gross over $300 million worldwide, and the Szechuan sauce disappeared from the collective consciousness — until 2017. The condiment was featured in the Rick and Morty episode "The Rickshank Rickdemption," and fans went absolutely insane. McDonald's sent a jug of the sauce to the show's creators, then released a special edition of the sauce for a single day. When some fans couldn't get the sauce on October 7, 2017, their response shocked the nation, and McDonald's responded with a wider second release.

The Szechuan sauce now exists primarily as an internet meme, although you can buy sealed packets of sauce on eBay for anywhere from $34 to $3,000. On March 4, 2020, a confused reporter from Shreveport, Louisiana, went off in search of the sauce after seeing a post about it on a McDonald's social media page. It turned out that the brand had quietly teased the one-day release of 200,000 servings of Szechuan Sauce that would be available at participating locations — in New Zealand.

Wendy's Spicy Chicken Nuggets

Without warning or explanation, Wendy's quietly pulled its Spicy Chicken Nuggets off of menus in 2017, shortly after Eater's food critic Ryan Sutton placed them at the top of his "Ranking of America's Fast Food Chicken Nuggets." Fans were devastated, and a Change.org petition calling for their reinstatement eventually garnered over 10,000 signatures.

In 2019, Chance the Rapper started his day by tweeting some positive affirmations, including his hope that Wendy's would finally bring back his beloved spicy nuggets. The Wendy's marketing team jumped on the chance and responded by challenging fans to get at least two million likes on one of their pinned tweets. After less than two days, fans had risen to the challenge, and Wendy's continued to put promotional efforts behind the relaunch, including sending a cryptic Google calendar invite to food media professionals. These fiery nuggets are still a staple on the Wendy's menu, and hopefully, the chain won't take them from us again.

KFC's Chicken Littles

KFC put a ton of fast food marketing behind the original release of Chicken Littles, including featuring a bubblegum-pink convertible in the commercial. The sliders were introduced in 1987, and at a 39-cent price point in a pre-dollar menu market, it was hard to compete with them in terms of value. Fast forward to 2012, and it had been over 20 years since the little sandwich that was loved a lot had been available for purchase. KFC replaced its Chicken Littles with the KFC Snacker in 2005, and although stores were selling upwards of 1,000 units per week upon release, it never achieved the cult status of its predecessor.

After phone calls, petitions, and fan pages, KFC brought back its classic slider. The brand claimed that the updated version, which included a trademark Extra Crispy Strip on a sesame seed slider bun with pickles and mayonnaise, was even better than the original. Fans, however, strongly disagreed. People wrote open letters asking KFC to bring back the real Chicken Little, the one that tasted like it came out of an elementary school cafeteria. You can still get the revamped version at most KFC locations across the US, but if you grew up on the 80s version, it won't be the same.

Bojangles' Pimento Cheese

As the comeback commercial says, in the South, pimento cheese is practically its own food group. If you aren't already aware of this Southern food staple, pimento cheese is a peppery spread made from cheddar cheese mixed with chopped pimento, seasonings, and a host of other ingredients, depending on who's making it. North Carolina-based fast food chicken and biscuits chain Bojangles' first introduced pimento cheese to its menu in July 2019 as a limited-time offering after successful testing in Wilmington, North Carolina.

This summer, the chain brought back its much-loved pimento cheese, adding a warm, velvety dipping sauce in addition to the classic grated version. Customers can get in on just about any Bojangles' menu item, and if that's not enough, they can also buy a family-sized 15-ounce tub of straight pimento cheese. If you live in a state with a Bojangles', it's best to get your pimento fix ASAP, since the sauce and spread are only available "while supplies last."

Carl's Jr.'s Jalapeño Popper Burger

The Jalapeño Popper Burger is an extremely spicy creation of the Hardee's and Carl's Jr. family of fast food restaurants. Carl's Jr. started testing the burger under the name "El Diablo" in 2014, according to a Foodbeast report. The half-pound burger patty came topped with deep-fried jalapeño poppers, jalapeño slices, and habanero sauce. The initial test came shortly after the release of the Jack-in-the-Box Hella-Peño burger. 

Delish reported that the burger was back on menus in 2018, but it's no longer available in its original form. Instead, Carl's Jr. and Hardee's both rolled out the Jalapeño Double Cheeseburger in 2018. Like the Jalapeño Popper Burger, this is one spicy meat sandwich. According to the Carl's Jr. menu, it features two patties, pepperjack cheese, jalapeño coins, and Santa Fe sauce. Carl's Jr. basically removed the deep-fried jalapeño poppers in favor of double meat patties, and since the burger is still available on Carl's Jr. menus nationwide, it seems to have paid off. 

However, don't go looking for this burger at Hardee's, because it's no longer on the menu. Instead, you'll find the Double and Triple Spicy Western Cheeseburgers. These variations on the Jalapeño Popper Burger swap the poppers for onion rings and replace the habanero sauce with a tangy BBQ spread. 

Krystal's Country-Fried Menu

Krystal is a fast food slider-style burger concept restaurant that's only available in nine states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Because its range is relatively small, the launch of its Country Fried Menu in 2016 really spoke to its target demographic. The concept started with a Country Fried Steak Krystal that was developed as part of a partnership with the National Cattleman's Beef Association, but the ideas kept coming, according to QSR Magazine.

The limited-time menu was released with several items, including the Country Fried Steak Krystal, Country Fried Chik, Country Fried Chik Biscuit, and Country Fries, which were Krystal's standard fries topped with gravy and crumbled bacon. After an enthusiastic customer response, the chain brought Country Fried offerings back for a three-month period in 2017.

For now, the Country Fried Menu at Krystal is unavailable, but as the brand's former VP of Marketing told PRNewswire, "as a Southern company, we know and love Country-Fried food, and we've been thrilled at the enthusiastic response to our Country-Fried menu." Based on how closely the concept ties in with Krystal's Southern heritage, we wouldn't be surprised to see Country Fried options on the menu again.

Hardee's Original Roast Beef

In 1985, Hardee's launched its Original Roast Beef Sandwich with an advertising campaign that called out other popular chains like McDonald's and Burger King for not having roast beef sandwiches. The story of how Hardee's started selling roast beef sandwiches in the first place is often tied to the chain's relationship with Imasco, a Canadian company that acquired a controlling interest in 1981. Imasco also owned popular roast beef restaurant Roy Rogers, and the roast beef sandwich sold at Hardee's in the '80s and '90s was said to be based on the Roy Rogers recipe.

The fast food sandwich disappeared for the most part sometime in the 90s before returning to menus nation-wide in April 2019. The re-launch was heralded by an ad campaign with the slogan "Save the Veggies," and as part of the promotion, Hardee's partnered with the American Community Gardening Association to plant millions of vegetables across the country, according to a press release in Businesswire. Hardee's still sells the classic roast beef sandwich under the name Big Roast Beef, and it's also added the Monster Roast Beef to the lineup, which includes American cheese and bacon — but no veggies.

Wendy's Taco Salad

"It's more than a salad, it's a meal!" proclaims a 1982 television spot promoting Wendy's Taco Salad that did not age well. The original Wendy's Taco Salad was little more than an elaborate alternative vehicle for the chain's signature chili, which was poured over a bed of lettuce, chopped tomato, and shredded cheese couched in crunchy taco shells.

The popular offering was discontinued by the chain in 2010, so by the time it was reintroduced as part of a National Taco Day promotion in 2016, there were die-hard fans old enough to have kids who had never tried it.

"We love how nostalgic and passionate our loyal Taco Salad fans are and look forward to introducing it to a new generation of fans with the same build and quality ingredients," Wendy's VP of Brand Marketing at the time Carl Loredo told QSR Magazine in advance of the re-release. If you want to try it for yourself, you just have to visit your nearest Wendy's — it's still on the menu.

Wendy's Baconator Fries

During the first eight weeks that the Wendy's Baconator was available, the chain sold 25 million sandwiches, according to BusinesswireThe Baconator starts with a full half pound of fresh beef, which is then topped off with six strips of applewood-smoked bacon, American cheese, mayo, and ketchup to create a true heart attack waiting to happen. The fandom around the original Baconator has spawned a slew of spin-offs including the smaller Son of Baconator, the Breakfast Baconator, and of course, the Baconator Fries

According to PR NewswireBaconator Fries were first introduced as a limited-time-only fast food menu item in 2015. The brand was hoping to cash in on the fact that American bacon sales were at an all-time high, so Wendy's took its classic french fries and topped them with a warm cheese sauce and crumbled some applewood smoked bacon and shredded cheddar cheese on top. A year later, after a brief hiatus, QSR Magazine reported that the Baconator Fries were coming back. The cheesy bacon fries have remained a permanent staple on the Wendy's menu since 2016. In 2019, the chain even started giving away free orders of Baconator Fries as part of a promotion meant to challenge rival McDonald's. 

Taco Bell's Beefy Crunch Burrito

Taco Bell's original Beefy Crunch Burrito debuted in 2009. The new fast food burrito featured seasoned beef, nacho cheese sauce, sour cream, seasoned rice, and spicy corn chip bits to give it that signature crunch. For the next three years, it was one of the chain's best sellers, but the restaurant announced that it would be removed from menus in 2011, which is when the saga of the Beefy Crunch Burrito truly begins. 

In April 2016, Taco Bell penned a thank you note to an official open letter to what had become known as the Beefy Crunch Movement. The chain re-released the Beefy Crunch Burrito alongside another cult favorite, the Cheesy Double Beef Burrito, as part of a dollar value menu, and fans could finally get their burrito fix — for a limited time. In 2017, Taco Bell re-released the Beefy Crunch Burrito in yet another limited release. And according to Business Insider, 2018 saw a similar re-release ... but only in 30 locations.

Unfortunately, you'll no longer find the Beefy Crunch Burrito on Taco Bell's menu. But diehard fans can still hold out hope. With so many re-releases in the past, it's not unfathomable that this favorite could come back for another limited-time run.