These Are The Cheapest Fast Food Items Right Now

Inflation is changing the way all of us spend money these days. With prices for basic necessities on a seemingly-endless upward trend, it makes sense for consumers to try to pinch pennies wherever they can.

Fast food has always been a reliable way to fill your stomach without breaking the bank, but it's not the great bargain that it used to be. As Insider reports, rising labor and ingredient costs, as well as other factors, have made fast food much more expensive than it was before the pandemic. However, just because things are getting more expensive on average doesn't mean that there aren't still deals to be found.

Mashed wants to help you save money at the drive-thru, so we combed through fast-food menus to seek out the best values. This is a selection of the cheapest fast-food menu items we could find in a range of categories, from chicken sandwiches to breakfasts to ice cream to beverages. Fast-food prices vary regionally, so the specific prices in your area may be slightly different than the ones listed here. Also, some of these prices are special deals that may not be around forever. One final note: many fast-food restaurants don't list their prices on their online menus, so some of the prices we cite here are from the respective restaurants' apps, which we, unfortunately, can't link to in this article, so you just have to trust us.

Spicy potato soft taco from Taco Bell

It's no surprise that the well-known bastion of affordability Taco Bell makes several appearances on this list. In an era where it's getting harder and harder to find fast food items that only cost a dollar (ah, how we miss the days of the ubiquitous dollar menu), the Bell has us covered with several $1 foods.

Taco Bell potatoes were a sad casualty of the pandemic when many fast-food restaurants streamlined their menus to cope with the realities of doing business during COVID-19 lockdowns. Happily, for Taco Bell spud fans, the potatoes are back on the menu and taste just as good as ever, especially when tucked inside the spicy potato soft taco. These cubes of crispy deep-fried deliciousness make for a great taco filling, and we love the zesty seasoning they're covered with. The chipotle sauce, cheese, and lettuce are simple but pleasant accompaniments to the taters.

Yes, wrapping potatoes in a flour tortilla is a carb bomb. But we assure you, this starch-on-starch combo is worth your dollar bill.

Cheesy bean and rice burrito from Taco Bell

The cheesy bean and rice burrito returns to the starch-on-starch formula, allowing Taco Bell to sell a surprisingly satisfying menu item for a mere $1. You might be worried that rice rolled in a flour tortilla would be pretty bland, but Taco Bell throws its entire seasoning and sauce repertoire at this burrito to kick things up a notch.

The rice is slightly spicy and perfectly salty, and the refried beans are just as craveable as they are in anything else from Taco Bell. You also get not one but two sauces: creamy jalapeño and nacho cheese. The combination practically overloads your palate with salt and umami, and it'll leave you shockingly full for a $1 entree. It certainly doesn't look like it does in the pictures in real life, and it's basically a tortilla filled with Tex-Mex goo, but we'll happily chow down on it even when our wallets aren't hurting.

Cheesy roll-up from Taco Bell

This Taco Bell snack is an exercise in minimalism. What you read in the name is what you get: melted cheese rolled in a flour tortilla. You can think of the cheesy roll-up as the simplest possible quesadilla, except in tube form.

The cheesy roll-up may not have the bells and whistles of other $1 Taco Bell items, but what it lacks in complexity it makes up for in satisfaction. Sometimes all you want is gooey, fatty melted cheese and a soft flour tortilla. If you'd like, you can always add your Taco Bell sauce packet of choice to wake it up a little. Really, who doesn't dump Diablo sauce all over everything they get from Taco Bell anyway?

This menu item is also perfect for picky kids. If your little one is afraid of lettuce and thinks the chipotle sauce from Taco Bell is too spicy, surely they'll accept the comforting simplicity of the cheesy roll-up.

Cinnamon twists from Taco Bell

If you've got a dollar bill burning a hole in your pocket and a hankering for something sweet, Taco Bell's cinnamon twists won't do you wrong. But what are cinnamon twists, anyway? It turns out that Taco Bell makes cinnamon twists in a rather surprising way: by deep-frying what looks an awful lot like dried rotini pasta.

However, before you go and try dumping the box of rotini in your pantry in some hot oil, be forewarned: the noodles that Taco Bell turns into cinnamon twists are a special type made with corn meal and rice flour. And why would you go to the trouble of deep-frying at home when you can pick up a bag of these from Taco Bell for a buck?

Cinnamon twists hit all the satisfying notes you'd expect from cinnamon sugar-coated fried dough. They're crispy, a little oily, and just the right amount of sweet.

McChicken from McDonald's

We all know Popeyes' chicken sandwich is the gold standard for fast-food chicken sandwiches. It ignited a frenzy unlike anything we've seen related to a fast-food menu item and inspired a legion of copycats. However, it's not the best fast-food fried chicken deal. For that, you have to turn away from the Louisiana Kitchen and go towards the comforting glow of the Golden Arches.

Although the McChicken isn't an internet darling, it does have longevity on its side; per Toronto Life, this chicken sandwich was introduced in the 1980s. It's a menu mainstay for a reason: It gives you the classic fried chicken patty, lettuce, mayo, and bun combination you expect in a fast-food chicken sandwich for a shockingly low price. Per the McDonald's app, the McChicken costs $2.39 at our local Mickey D's. The chicken is well-seasoned, crispy, and not overly dry, and the condiments do just enough to make the sandwich truly yummy. It may not inspire long lines or fistfights, but it gets the job done.

Soda from McDonald's

If you have only one dollar and need a beverage, which fast food place should you visit to quench your thirst? The answer is undoubtedly McDonald's. Despite the cost of just about everything in the economy rising, Mickey D's is somehow able to sell any size soft drink for just $1, according to the McDonald's app. That's right: No matter whether you get a small, medium, or large, all you have to have to part with is one George Washington.

Although McDonald's doesn't list the exact size of its drinks on its online menu, an investigation from Insider found that the large cup held around 28 ounces of soda. For $1, that's a steal.

You might think that the super-cheap McDonald's sodas would be a loss leader — something McDonald's loses money on in order to entice customers — but that's not the case. One of the reasons McDonald's soda is so cheap is that each one only costs the company a few cents to produce. It makes you think about how much the other fast food places are raking in from drink sales.

Coffee from McDonald's

McDonald's is the undisputed king of cheap fast-food beverages. In addition to its incredible $1 deal on all sizes of soda, the chain also sells coffee for less money than any other restaurant we looked at. Per the McDonald's app, small, medium, and large coffees from McDonald's all cost just $1.29. If you happen to be a senior citizen, you get an even better deal: A senior coffee will only set you back 79 cents.

Despite the low prices, McDonald's isn't selling garbage. It beat almost every competitor in our fast-food coffee ranking, falling behind only Chick-fil-A and Starbucks. Of course, Starbucks coffee drinks can easily cost $5 or more, so in terms of bang for your buck, McDonald's comes out way ahead. McDonald's coffee is rich and flavorful and tastes fresh, especially if you order it during the breakfast rush when the restaurant is selling coffee super quickly. It's also always hot, though not as hot as it was during the era of the infamous McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit.

Ice cream cone from McDonald's

We can't guarantee that this item will be available when you want it, as there's a decent chance your local McDonald's ice cream machine is broken, but if you luck out and find a McDonald's that can sell soft-serve, this is absolutely the best deal on ice cream you can find. It's kind of hard to believe that in a world where, per the McDonald's app, a Big Mac costs $6.59, McDonald's can still sell a soft-serve cone for a buck, but we definitely appreciate the company for keeping its ice cream prices so low.

Of course, McDonald's ice cream is cheap for a reason. The ingredients list on the McDonald's site shows that it's filled with stabilizers, corn syrup, and other additives. However, it's still cold, creamy, sweet, and delicious, and it would be downright greedy to ask for anything more from a $1 ice cream cone. It's also lower in fat than regular ice cream, so if you squint, you could almost see it as healthy.

4 for $4 from Wendy's

Most of Wendy's menu isn't particularly cheap, which makes the chain's bargain meal deals even more of a steal. You can't always get these deals, but right now, Wendy's is offering 4 for $4 and $5 Biggie combos, both of which give you a lot of bang for your buck.

The 4 for $4 deal gives you a Jr. Cheeseburger, a four-piece nugget, fries, and a drink all for $4. That's only $1.51 more than a four-piece nugget costs by itself. Sure, the Jr. is the smallest burger Wendy's sells, but there's no doubt you'll feel full after polishing off the burger, nuggets, and fries together.

If you have an even bigger appetite or want more sandwich choices, you can bump up to the $5 Biggie meal, which is pretty much the same as the 4 for $4, except you get to pick between a Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger, Crispy Chicken BLT, or Double Stack. You also get a larger serving of fries. For $5, that's a ton of food.

Jr. Frosty from Wendy's

When you want a fast-food milkshake, it's pretty difficult to find anything in the sub-$2 range these days. Fortunately, Wendy's has you covered with its Jr.-sized Frosty, which costs $1.39. Of course, a Jr. is pretty small, but at around 6 ounces, per Fortune, it's just big enough to satisfy your need for sugar without giving you a brain freeze. A Frosty is a little bit lighter than the shakes from other fast food places, but it's still plenty sweet. A Jr. Frosty is also only 200 calories, so it's a good way to satiate your ice cream cravings without throwing your whole diet out of whack.

You can choose either classic chocolate or strawberry Frosty. A side of fries isn't obligatory (and it will cost you a couple of extra bucks), but whenever we eat a Frosty we always want the sweet-salty contrast of a hot french fry dipped into the cold frozen beverage.

2 tacos from Jack In The Box

While Taco Bell may be one of the titans of cheap fast food, it's not actually the place that sells the cheapest taco. For that, you need to take a trip to a restaurant that's not even really known for Mexican food: Jack In The Box. And even though Taco Bell isn't really known for authenticity, Jack In The Box tacos stretch the definition of what can be called "Mexican food" even further.

Unlike the tacos you'll find at pretty much any restaurant on the face of the earth, Jack In The Box taco shells are fried with the meat already inside of them, which gives them a unique crispy-soggy-greasy texture. Then the tacos are forced open and stuffed with half a slice of yellow American cheese, sauce, and a nutritionally-insignificant amount of shredded lettuce.

You may love them or hate them, but you can't argue that these tacos aren't a great value. Jack In The Box's online menu doesn't list prices, but per the company's app, you can score two tacos for $1.59. That's less than 80 cents per taco, and they actually contain beef.

Original slider from White Castle

Sadly, you can't get a McDouble for a buck (or even two bucks) anymore, but there is one chain out there that will still sell you a burger for under a dollar: White Castle. America's first fast food burger chain is also its cheapest, and you can pick up an iconic White Castle slider for a mere $0.98 (via White Castle).

Of course, White Castle's small prices also come with small amounts of food. A single White Castle slider isn't really going to fill you up; you probably want to order at least two or three. You don't even get cheese on a standard slider, which comes with just onions and pickles. If you want cheese, you're going to have to pony up 20 more cents. Still, we had to give props to White Castle for being the last fast food place where you can order a beef patty between two buns for less than a buck.

Large pizza from Little Caesar's

Other pizza places may occasionally have better deals with coupons or limited-time offerings, but for all-day, everyday value, no pizzeria can hold a candle to Little Caesar's. The Little Caesar's menu offers astoundingly cheap prices on a couple of different types of pizzas. You can get a large regular or thin crust pizza, which is definitely enough to feed at least two people, for just $7.49. That works out to just $3.75 per person, which is pretty hard to beat for a meal that will leave you feeling as full as half of a Little Caesar's large pie. An extra $4.50 on top of the pizza gets you a 2-liter bottle of soda and a side of Crazy Bread with Crazy Sauce.

One curious aspect of Little Caesar's pizza pricing is that a pepperoni pizza costs the same as a cheese pizza. We're not sure where they're sourcing their pepperoni from that they can give it away for free, but we're not complaining.

Crazy Bread from Little Caesar's

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in addition to selling the cheapest pizza, Little Caesar's also has the cheapest pizzeria side. Pretty much every fast-food pizza chain offers some kind of breadstick, and little Caesar's sells its version, Crazy Bread, for a measly $3.49. Sure, it might be made with cheap ingredients, but soft, buttery, garlicky, salty breadsticks are delicious no matter who's making them. An extra $0.50 gets you a cup of tomato-based Crazy Sauce, which we would highly recommend springing for. A breadstick with nothing to dip it into is just a little bit sad.

If you're rolling in dough (ha!) and can afford to throw down two more dollars, then you can buy Little Caesar's deluxe cheesy breadstick option, Italian cheese bread. From the picture, it appears to be similar to the chain's Detroit-style pizza, except without tomato sauce and with extra cheese. We would definitely house all 1340 calories of it in an embarrassingly short amount of time.

Donut from Dunkin' or Krispy Kreme

If you don't mind eating dessert for breakfast, it's hard to find a more affordable way to start the day than a donut (or doughnut, if you're Krispy Kreme). Krispy Kreme has the most affordable fried dough of the two, though it's close: A single glazed donut from Krispy Kreme is $1.49, while according to the Dunkin' app (Dunkin' doesn't post its prices online), its donuts cost $1.59. The picture gets more complicated once you start looking at all the flavors; all of the flavored donuts from Krispy Kreme are more expensive, while all of Dunkin's donuts are the same price. On the other hand, we only ever order the original glazed from Krispy Kreme, so the relative expense of its flavored options might not matter.

Whichever donut chain you choose, less than $2 to treat your sweet tooth isn't a bad deal. If you order in bulk, the price per donut gets even better. A dozen original glazed from Krispy Kreme costs $12.99, while a mixed dozen from Dunkin' is $13.99.

Mix n' Match breakfast sandwiches from Burger King

If you have a buddy to share with (or just a robust appetite in the morning), Burger King has the best breakfast sandwich deals in the game right now. For just $4 total, you can get two breakfast sandwiches with eggs, your choice of meat, and cheese. You can pick between either a biscuit or Burger King's delightfully buttery croissant roll as the bread. If you're super hungry and want to spend an extra dollar, you can get double meat on both of your sandwiches (prices are via the Burger King app).

Two bucks per sandwich is a killer deal, and these sandwiches aren't scrawny either. If you're not the type of person who needs a truly massive breakfast in the morning, one of these sandwiches should definitely be enough to tide you over until lunch. The only catch is that you need to buy two at once to get the deal, so if you're not ordering for two people, this might not be the best option. You could always save one sandwich in the fridge to eat tomorrow, but it might not taste as good heated up the next day.