Taco Bell recently came out with a Grilled Chicken Soft Taco (and a similar burrito) on their Why Pay More menu. As I tried it I thought, this seems just like the Ranchero Chicken Soft Taco, only without the sauce. And about a dollar cheaper. So I went on the handy Taco Bell Nutrition Calculator and discovered that the difference depends on how you compare, and order, the two tacos.
The chart below is the result page from the calculator (I cleared out the non-essential buttons and labels). As you can see in the first two rows the Ranchero Chicken Soft Taco is about 35% bigger. Note, that's weight, and not necessarily all chicken. From what I could tell, they both use the same tortilla. The Grilled Chicken Taco has 70 fewer calories, 6 fewer grams of fat and about 200mg less sodium. I would suspect that also has to do with the lack of sauce. That got me thinking, what would happen if we compared them both without cheese and sauce?
Fresco Style is what Taco Bell calls substituting cheese and sauce with pico de gallo ("Fiesta Salsa"). As you can see from the last two rows in the chart above, the answer seems to be that both tacos get strikingly similar. The Grilled is still bigger, at least partly because it had Fiesta Salsa to begin with. But the calories and fat slide down to equal or almost equal, and the Grilled Taco is within only 80mg striking distance of the Ranchero Taco in terms of sodium. For fast food lovers with a healthier bent, there doesn't seem to be much reason to spend about a dollar extra for the Ranchero Fresco when the Grilled Fresco will get you essentially the same taco experience.
Now you must, if you'll pardon the expression, take all this with a grain of salt. After all, these measurements are in ideal conditions with pre-measured portions in a controlled test kitchen. In the real world of fast food taco assembly, there could end up being very little difference between the feel of these two tacos ordered side by side. Still, adding sub-dollar chicken items is a welcome move and Taco Bell should be commended. It almost makes up for jacking up the price of my beloved Beef Combo burrito. Almost.
This week, McDonald's officially rolls out their premium "espresso-based beverages" that have been pilot testing for a number of weeks around the country. My media source tells me the selection includes "Cappuccinos, Lattes, Mochas, Iced Lattes and Iced Mochas, as well as hot and iced Premium Roast brewed coffees and hot chocolate."
I am not a coffee drinker, so someone will have to let me know how these are and how the compare to beverages from that other fancy coffee place. meanwhile, McDonald's is running an online contest and sweepstakes at www.mcdonalds.com/mccafe for a chance to win a $50,000 Visa Gift card and other prizes. So check it out.
I decided back in February that this Easter season I would give up french fries for Lent. Not just french fries, but also french fry-related items like onion rings, tater tots, and even hash browns. That last one made Fridays even more challenging as we Catholics try not to eat meat on Fridays. So naturally, breakfast for dinner seems logical until you start removing key breakfast side items like hash browns and home fries. But I digress.
What did I learn? Giving up fries is HARD. Even I, a long time admitted fast food junkie, didn't realize how many places offer fries as the main side item. Dinners were relatively easy. I could have veggies, cole slaw, a side salad, or even a baked potato. But at lunch and especially at fast food restaurants, give up fries & onion rings and your options become severely limited. I found myself getting side salads a lot, the health advantages of which are debatable when you factor in dressing. In one case, while eating at McDonald's with friends, I ordered a side of apple slices. That was surreal. But more often, I just skipped the side altogether. That was a revelation. In an era of combo and value meals, it takes adjusted expectations to be satisfied with just a sandwich
Mexican food was great because I didn't count tortilla chips in my exclusion list. After a couple of weeks I settled into a routine where I got used to life without my fried friends. Don't get me wrong, I still missed them and counted down the days until Easter like a kid anticipating summer vacation.
So it's been a week since Easter. My first fries were from McDonald's. I figured one of the world's most popular french fries would be a good choice for the return from my fast food fried side fast. And ahhhh, it was good. But I took away something from this experience. Call it a better awareness of side item alternatives and a willingness to be content with skipping sides altogether on occasion. While not done for the health benefits, I can't help but think my cholesterol count benefitted from this experiment. All in all a satisfying experience, although it's too early to think about whether I would do it again next year!
Got an email from reader "Allie" who writes:
"I wanted to pass along a funny Carl’s Jr. video that features skateboarding superstar Rob Dyrdek doing various stunts in the "Happy Star" costume. Carl’s Jr. has teamed up with Dyrdek for in-store cup promotion and also charity – thanks to a generous donation from Carl’s Jr., The Rob Dyrdek/DC Shoes Skate Plaza Foundation recently opened a new skateboarding park at La Fayette Park in Los Angeles. It would be great if you could share this info and the video with your blog readers!"
Ok Allie. Consider it done. Check out more in this Carl's Jr. Social Media Release.
But as with shrinking cereal boxes and lighter bags of potato chips, so goes the fast food industry. Burger King replaced the dollar Whopper with a dollar Whopper Jr. McDonald's upped the price of the Big 'N Tasty and began pushing the $1 double cheeseburger. Taco Bell bumped the Beef Combo Burrito up from 89 cents to 99 cents to $1.29 and now, on a recent visit, an astounding $1.69. Back at McDonald's, even the aforementioned double cheeseburger was apparently too costly to offer at a dollar as last fall it was replaced with the McDouble, the exact same thing, only with one slice of cheese instead of two.
For years I have been watching the price of large fountain drinks drift teasingly toward the $2 mark. It's sort of a barometer for overall food prices the way the Big Mac index is a measure of exchange rates. There seems to be sort of psychological barrier as very few chains successfully push even their mega bucket-sized drinks above $1.99. For example, looking back at an old version of this site from way back in 2002, a large fountain drink at McDonald's was $1.59. Now it's $1.79. Of course, prices vary and I don't have portion size data, but the barrier is apparent. That's a 12.5% increase. Meanwhile, the regular cheeseburger went from .69 to .99, a 43% jump in the same period. And the same is true at other chains:
|Item||2002 Price||2009 Price||% Change|
|Burger King Large Drink||1.29||1.79||39%|
|Burger King Cheeseburger||.49 (promo)||.89||81%|
|Taco Bell Large Drink||1.39||1.89||36%|
|Taco Bell Chicken Soft Taco*||1.29||1.89||47%|
Despite the fact that fountain drinks are still a huge money maker for restaurants, how were the chains able to keep even these lower costs under control? With the introduction of self-service drink dispensing. Yes, the human cost in the time it takes an employee to fill your drink (when they could be taking the next order) caused chains to get creative.
So this begs the question: Could build-your-own-burger toppings bars be next? What about scoop-your-own-fries? Ok, maybe a bit far fetched. But barring any more creative cost cutting measures it is all but inevitable that the value menu will become "great items for under $1.25." And from there, the sky's the limit.
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