When fast food restaurants started springing up on every street corner in the middle of the 20th century, almost every menu featured burgers, hot dogs, fries, sodas and shakes. But fast-forward a few generations, and chicken, salads, burritos, soup and even more delicious desserts and drinks have emerged as staples at fast food chains.
And while fast food once meant budget prices, that’s not necessarily the case with every offering. But, are the most expensive individual items as pricey as you thought? Based on the estimated prices found on the Fast Food Menu Prices website, here's a look at the most expensive fast food items at some of America’s prominent chains.
Most expensive fast food items
Most expensive fast food items
The Baconzilla! is one big burger, and it’s the priciest burger on the Checkers menu. It contains two beef patties, three pieces of cheese and four times the bacon of most burgers. If you don't want to pay nearly $7 for this burger, make your own giant burger for under $5.
At nearly $8, West Coast Mexican-food chain Del Taco offers an indulgent feast that won’t leave you hungry. The Epic Carne Asada Burrito is loaded with freshly grilled carne asada, lime rice, beans, pico de gallo and guacamole, all bundled in a big flour tortilla.
Dunkin’ Donuts: Large Coolatta or Large Frozen Dunkin’ Coffee
Some go to Dunkin' for the donuts. Some go for the signature coffee. Others are all about the Coolatta. Surprisingly, it's the frozen coffee and icy Coolatta that are the most expensive offerings on the Boston-area doughnut chain's menu for individual items.
In California, a large Coolatta will run you approximately almost $6.39. But at 850 calories and 32 ounces in the vanilla bean variety, that's a whole lot of drink. If you prefer to save some calories, choose the large Frozen Dunkin' Coffee. Have it made with skim milk, and you’ll shave off 300 calories.
Jack in the Box is a jack of all trades, known for cheap offerings that college students must consider the best fast food. After all, Jack in the Box has the late-night menu that includes late-night-only "Munchies." But the most expensive fast food items are a variety of chicken salads, which are distinctly outside the box for Jack. Still, $7 gets you a fairly hearty meal including a decent-sized chicken breast with your veggies.
Arby’s: Smokehouse Brisket
Brisket isn't cheap — unless you're at Arby's. At your traditional restaurant, 13-hour pit-smoked brisket and Gouda cheese could really run up your bill. But Arby's manages to pull it off for just over $7. The Angus Three Cheese and Bacon, and the Angus Philly are also the same price as the brisket.
Still, it’s one of the most expensive fast food items on Arby’s menu. The restaurant serves that brisket on an artisan-style roll, topped with the cheese, onions, mayonnaise and BBQ sauce. The Angus Three Cheese and Bacon, and the Angus Philly are also the same price as the brisket.
Sonic: Large Master Blast or Classic Ultimate Chicken Sandwich
Some diners consider chicken the best fast food item, and Sonic fills that market with the Classic Ultimate Chicken Sandwich, priced at less than $8. Take a brioche bun and fill it with a thick, lightly fried chicken breast, then top that with lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise for the ultimate chicken experience.
Or, at the same price, you might prefer a cold treat. A Sonic Master Blast might sound like the Power Rangers' favorite finishing move, but it's actually Sonic's swankiest "gourmet" offering. Each Master Blast features real vanilla ice cream and premium ingredients such as Snickers, waffle cone bits, malted brownies or Turtles with pecans.
Splurge at Chick-fil-A on one of the restaurant’s signature salads. At a bit over $9, the salad might sound expensive. But in reality, it’s a filling, protein-packed option for lunch or dinner.
The Cobb Salad, for instance, is a mix of chicken nuggets, lettuce, baby greens, carrots, corn, cheeses, eggs, back and grape tomatoes. The 40 grams of protein will fuel your day. The Grilled Market Salad — with its sliced grilled chicken breast, greens, vegetables and fruits — is a lower-calorie option that still provides 27 grams of protein.
Burger King: Bacon Cheddar Ranch Chicken Salad
Burger King: Bacon Cheddar Ranch Chicken Salad
At what point is a salad no longer a salad? There's no scientific answer to that, but when the words "bacon," "cheddar" and "ranch" enter the equation, it's pretty safe to say that you're veering out of health food territory. Considering that the estimated daily caloric needs for moderately active 30-year-olds is about 2,000 to 2,600, this salad's 710 calories should be plenty enough for a whole dinner. The grilled version saves 90 calories.
Dairy Queen: Chicken BLT Salad
At 270 calories and 35 grams of protein (without dressing), Dairy Queen's Chicken BLT Salad offers a healthier full meal than Burger King's ranch-drenched option — and for the same price. Grilled chicken, tomatoes, bacon, cheese, cabbage and carrots make this sub-$8 dish a solid option when you're looking for a healthy lunch on a budget.
Starbucks: Chicken Artichoke Panini
Want to save money at Starbucks? You might want to avoid ordering this delicious panini. However, it's still cheaper than what you'd find at traditional restaurants.
"Grilled chicken breast, roasted artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomato pesto and provolone cheese on ancient grain flatbread" sounds like the description of a $15 sandwich from your hippest local bistro's menu, doesn't it? Starbucks' official limited-time Chicken Artichoke on Ancient Grain Flatbread sandwich is the single most expensive item on the coffee retailer's menu at a little over $8 in California.
Wendy’s: Full Salads
Wendy's full-portion salads are a little pricier than most other fast-food salads. But you still can't spend $10 on a single menu item at the burger joint even if you tried.
Fancier ingredients, such as strawberry and mango, fresh mozzarella, pecans, feta cheese, hummus and sun-dried tomato with quinoa blends probably account for the price — at 470 to 720 calories each, your $8.50 makes a meal.
El Pollo Loco: Ultimate Double Tostada Salad and Ultimate Double Bowl
Words like "ultimate" and "double" don't usually imply affordability, but El Pollo Loco's priciest single items — Ultimate Double Tostada Salad with Shrimp or Ultimate Double Bowl with Double Baja Shrimp — only check in at about $8.50.
With ingredients such as avocado, sweet corn and cabbage, the Double Baja Shrimp Bowl ― a variation on the Grande Avocado Chicken Bowl ― can easily be ordered as a lower-priced gluten-free option for diners with special dietary needs.
Culver’s: Triple Cheddar ButterBurger With Bacon
In 2017, Business Insider made a controversial claim when it called this Midwestern chain's signature butter-fried burger "better than In-N-Out and Shake Shack." Even when covered with bacon and Wisconsin aged cheddar, this best-in-class burger ― made with fresh, Midwest-raised beef that Culver's calls "butcher quality" ― doesn't top $9.
Expensive for fast food? Sure. Expensive for possibly the best fast food burger in the country? Not really.
Typically, seafood items such as wild Alaskan salmon and shrimp skewers are on the pricier side of the menu. But Captain D's offers a whole fillet of the superfood fish over tomatoes, mixed greens and shredded cheese for under $10. Not too bad for everything salmon provides, including Omega-3 fatty acids that can reduce the risk of stroke, Alzheimer's disease and heart attacks. OK, maybe it won't make you a superhero — but it's still an affordable option for a healthy dinner.
At Hardee's ― or Carl's Jr. if you're in the West ― the $9.50-ish Monster Thickburger is worth the price just to say you did it. With two 1/3-pound black Angus beef patties, four strips of bacon and three slices of American cheese, your $10 bill buys a whole lot of burger.
Chipotle: Burritos, Bowls and Salads With Steak or Barbacoa
Though Chipotle is known as a more premium fast food establishment, its most expensive single menu item doesn't break the $10 mark, even in California. So, it's still pretty easy to save money at Chipotle.
You'll only be paying that $9.60 if you pack your burrito, bowl or salad with steak or barbacoa, the chain's most expensive meats. For that price, you're getting responsibly raised meats raised on a pasture and never treated with nontherapeutic antibiotics or hormones, as per Chipotle's "Food with Integrity" program. And the wonderfully spicy chipotle pepper adobo marinade is pretty tasty, too.
Domino’s: Chicken Carbonara Pasta Bowl
Full disclosure: If we included pizzas on this list, fast food menu prices for single items would be a whole lot more expensive. But we're not focusing on dishes that can feed a whole party here.
Though it won't feed everyone at your tailgate shindig, Domino's actually recommends breaking up its Chicken Carbonara pasta served in a bread bowl ― which is the first individual fast food item in the lineup to break the $10 mark ― into two servings. That way, you're actually only paying about $5 for your part of the meal.
White Castle: Sack of Fish Nibblers
Yes, there's a single menu item at White Castle that nears the $18 mark in some states. But the good news is that it's an actual sack of food. A whole sack of fish nibblers ―the Castle's flaky, bite-sized Alaska pollock with a crispy fried coating ― includes enough to share with a couple of friends.
Five Guys: Bacon Cheeseburger
Five Guys occupies that weird space between fast-food and sit-down dining restaurant. According to a 2017 Harris Poll study, it's officially America's favorite burger restaurant chain, knocking In-N-Out off the throne it occupied for the two previous years.
Maybe it's that reputation, combined with an insistence on hand-formed burgers made only with fresh ground beef, which allows Five Guys to get away with slightly higher menu prices than your average drive-thru.
Taco Bell: Fiesta Taco Salad With Steak (and Everything Else)
Price: $6.89 (and up)
Here's what happens when you set out to spend as much money as possible on a single item at an American fast food chain: You add everything but the kitchen sink to it. According to Taco Bell's online ordering system, a Fiesta Taco Salad in California is $5.39. Add steak for an extra $1.50, raising the base price to $6.89. However, the restaurant's "Tasty Upgrades" system allows you to customize your order with additional ingredients. That's where the fun begins.
When you add ― take a deep breath ― jalapenos, nacho cheese sauce, guacamole, chipotle sauce, avocado ranch sauce, a three-cheese blend, creamy jalapeno sauce, pico de gallo, spicy ranch, potatoes, bacon, black beans, romaine lettuce, chicken, shredded chicken and Mexican pizza sauce, you end up with a monster salad at a cost of $14.49.