Subway – 1968
No specific menu item is that unique, but the whole concept behind the Subway franchise was a game changer. Fresh, made-to-order sandwiches, with real vegetables, in the blink of an eye? Subway let us sort of feel good about eating fast food. And then that whole $5 foot-long deal, damn.
Frosty – 1969
Not quite ice cream, not quite a milkshake, the Frosty is a work of art. It’s nearly possible to go Wendy’s and not buy one, and it proved that fast food can do dessert too. For a while, chocolate was the only option, but that’s fine. Because if you get vanilla, you’re probably a monster.
McMuffin – 1972
Fast food for breakfast: so simple, so beautiful. The Egg McMuffin got us out of bed early for some let’s-pretend-it’s-really-egg, (Canadian) bacon, and cheese, all on an English muffin. The perfect one-handed, on-the-go start to your day. It's such a big deal, in fact, that the inventor got an official obituary by the Associated Press. Next step: serving it all day.
McRib – 1981
The cult favorite. The McRib inspires intense passion in a select few of us — in part because its limited availability makes it a rare and momentous treat — and it is the poster child for specialty fast food items. There was even a Simpsons episode about it, so come on.
McNuggets – 1983
Can you believe McNuggets weren't a (nationwide) thing until the 1980s? Now you can't imagine any fast food restaurant (and a lot of not-so-fast food places) not having bite-size chicken pieces somewhere on their menu, dipping sauces and all.
McDLT – 1984
A noble pursuit. In 1984, McDonald’s attempted to solve one of fast food’s toughest predicaments: how do you keep the cold stuff (lettuce, tomato, etc) cold and the hot stuff (burger, cheese) hot? The answer was two Styrofoam chambers linked into the service of one sandwich. And it worked for a few years before environmentalists got all fussy and McDonald’s pulled the plug.
Chipotle – 1993
Like Subway, but for burritos. Also that whole organic thing, I guess.
Double Decker Taco - 1995
Everyone loves a crunchy taco, but they don't like when they fall apart in your hand when the shell inevitably shatters. So what about a protective layer of soft tortilla, cemented to the foundation with refried bean glue? The day is saved.
Pizza Hut Stuffed Crust – 1995
Is pizza fast food? If it’s Pizza Hut, it is, as few restaurant chains anywhere have done more to revolutionize the way their signature foodstuffs are made. The introduction of stuffed crust was a seminal moment in chain pizza history. Cheese, inside the crust. Pizza, you eat back-to-front. Madness.
BK Chicken Fries – 2005
The best thing to happen to chicken since the McNugget. Burger King’s “fit in your cup holder” chicken fries combine two favorites – chicken nuggets and French fries – into one beautiful, portable menu item.