Waffles & Pretzels: The Hot, Quirky Features on Fast Food Menus Everywhere

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In the quest for new and surprising menu items, fast food chains like Taco Bell, Wendy’s, and Popeye’s have jumped on two comfort foods—waffles and pretzels—and they’re being served in ways you’d never imagine.

By now, fast food diners should be well acquainted with restaurant chains rolling out unusual and indulgent menu items aimed at tempting the curious — and perhaps even tasting halfway decent. The KFC Double Down and Taco Bell’s Doritos-flavored tacos come to mind, as does the more recent Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich from Dunkin’ Donuts.

This summer, perhaps the hottest-weirdest fast food offering is the limited-time-only Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger from Wendy’s. All of the hype really comes down to just one part of the sandwich—the hearty, hand-cut soft pretzel bun, which is “obviously the star of the show,” as the Serious Eats blog put it.

The pretzel also seems to the star of a broader fast-food trend, showing up in surprising fashion on multiple quick-service restaurant menus. Blimpie added pretzel bread as a permanent option for sandwiches this past spring, Sonic Drive-In started selling “Pretzel Dogs” (hot dogs in pretzel buns) a few weeks ago, and Dunkin’ Donuts recently announced a plan to launch a pretzel roll bakery sandwich.

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Rivaling the pretzel in the latest battle for atypical fast food feature supremacy, we have the waffle. Waffles are being incorporated into fast-food menus in some fairly standard ways, such as Wendy’s introducing the waffle cone as an accompaniment to its classic Frosty.

And then there are the more unusual appearances by the waffle. Taco Bell’s Waffle Taco, a sausage-and-egg breakfast sandwich served in a taco-shaped folded waffle, has raised quite a few eyebrows, and not only because it runs a cheap 89¢. The Los Angeles Times didn’t exactly have rave reviews of the odd offering. “The waffle part of the taco is mushy, and the meat has a slight rubbery texture that is not uncommon with fast-food items,” an article noted.

Dunkin’ Donuts introduced a successful limited-time-only breakfast sandwich in which waffles served as bread a few years back, and Jack in the Box followed suit this summer with the Big Waffle Stack. Popeye’s, meanwhile, just introduced Chicken Waffle Tenders: chicken pieces coated in a crispy, waffle-flavored batter served with sweet honey maple dipping sauce. (“My whole face feels greasy after eating that,” one Time Out Chicago taste tester said after giving Popeye’s new chicken a try.)

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Finally, there’s Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, which Nation’s Restaurant News reported is trying to broaden its expansion into the breakfast segment. One of its menu items, available only at select locations at this point, manages to combine both of the trendy foods: Pretzel waffles, made with the chain’s pretzel flour, are selling in powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar flavors for $1.99 to $2.49.