REVIEW: Wendy’s Strawberry Mango Chicken Salad

Wendy s Strawberry Mango Chicken Salad

Remember when putting an apple slice in a salad was considered avant-garde for fast food? We’ve come a long way since the Caesar and House salads of a decade ago, with chains like Chick-fil-A and Wendy’s giving us all kinds of fruit, nuts, and cheese combinations to serve over something green and, presumably, healthy. That said, most of these salads have been established flavor combos —- berries and blue cheese, apples and almonds, stuff like that.

But strawberries and mango? Can’t say that’s something I’ve ever heard of before.

I’m not sure how Wendy’s came up with their new Strawberry Mango Chicken Salad other than to suggest someone spilled their smoothie on top of their Greek chicken salad, and decided it was the best thing in the world. Spoiler alert: It’s not.

That’s not to say this salad isn’t close to being really, really good. But being close to really, really good doesn’t count, otherwise we’d be comparing the current Patriots dynasty to the early 1990s Buffalo Bills dynasty.

Wendy s Strawberry Mango Chicken Salad 4

Surprisingly, the mango is a hit. It’s one of those fruits that absolutely sucks when it’s overripe, but thankfully the mango in the salad is slime and sinew free. Its firm bite and tropical flavor match nicely with the familiar taste of the strawberries, with each providing a nice contrast to the greens.

Wendy s Strawberry Mango Chicken Salad 2

Wendy s Strawberry Mango Chicken Salad 3

Wendy’s grilled chicken, which got a facelift last year, is solid, with a juicy texture and robust flavor that outmatches anything I can do on the backyard Weber. Meanwhile, the mild and salty feta cheese is not that bad until you add the honey citrus vinaigrette and the honey roasted sunflower seeds.

How do I explain this?

Imagine taking a bite of something and tasting nothing but pineapple. Now, imagine adding a crunchy, slightly burnt honey-glazed sweetness to the end of that taste. Yeah, that’s what happens once the salad dressing and roasted seeds go on.

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Overall, the tastes just don’t play nicely together. Think a kazoo and a saxophone dueling for time in a pop song. What’s more, they overpower every other taste with the exception of the chicken, which suddenly finds itself the reluctant centerpiece of a tropical salsa.

I love Wendy’s commitment to salad — their Mediterranean Power Salad might just be the best fast food salad around -— but the Strawberry Mango Chicken Salad is less than the sum of its parts. That said, if you prefer your smoothies in salad form, and don’t mind overly tart citrus notes, you’ve got a total winner.

(Nutrition Facts – Full size – 470 calories, 170 calories from fat, 19 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0.0 grams of trans fat, 105 milligrams of cholesterol, 1140 milligrams of sodium, 38 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of fiber, 31 grams of sugar, 39 grams of protein, 100% vitamin A, 80% vitamin C, 20% calcium, and 15% iron..)

Purchased Price: $6.59
Size: Full size
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: xcellent grilled chicken breast. Fruits are firm, fresh, and full of flavor. Feta cheese works surprisingly well with the mango and strawberry. The evolution of fast food salads.
Cons: Dressing puts the citrus notes way off the chart and makes the whole salad taste like pineapple. Deep flavor the honey roasted sunflower seeds is too strong a contrast for the light flavors of the fruit. The salad equivalent of a kazoo and saxophone duet.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Fresh Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich

Wendy s Fresh Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich

There are few things better in fast food than really good service. Freshness, despite being something every chain claims to have a monopoly on, is one of them.

So when I pulled up to the Wendy’s drive-thru window expecting to receive the new Fresh Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich, but was instead told by a manager that “we’re waiting on them to grill your chicken,” I was pleasantly surprised.

When I finally did get my sandwich, it looked and smelled great. The fresh mozzarella appeared identical to what you’d get from a supermarket deli case.

Now I have to admit: I’m a huge mozzarella fan —- and not just the low moisture part-skim stuff that makes pizza, well, pizza. But it seems to me that mozzarella is the lacrosse of fast food cheeses.

Football, baseball, basketball, soccer, and hockey pretty much corner the sports market in much the same way American, Cheddar, Swiss, and Monterey Jack adorn 95 percent of fast food sandwiches. And while lax has carved out a nice little following in the Mid-Atlantic, it’s not ubiquitous in the sports world.

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Which doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be; nor does it mean mozzarella doesn’t deserve a place at the fast food sandwich table (caprese, anyone?). Sure enough, when I took the mozzarella off my sandwich and sampled it alone, it had a mellow and milky flavor. Some call it mild, but it’s more like nuanced, if you ask me.

The problem is that you really can’t taste the cheese when you eat the sandwich. The “creamy” basil pesto (which is more like “gloopy,” but we’ll live with it) and the salad greens give every bite an herby, slightly bitter taste, which is honestly the last thing you’re expecting with a fast food sandwich.

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The balsamic diced tomatoes — sweet and a bit tart — go a little ways toward fixing the problem. But pesto is in the driver’s seat here. It’s not a bad flavor, but it’s also not one that leaves you chomping at the bit for, well, another chomp.

When I finished my sandwich, I was amazed at how high-quality all the ingredients seemed to be. I was also amazed at how each bite seemed less the sum of its parts.

The Fresh Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich is everything you could hope for from a $5.29 sandwich at a fast food place. Yet, even though it exemplifies a triumph of the usually trite ingredient promise that most fast food chains fail miserably at, it lacks memorability. In other words, it’s a lacrosse match amidst a spring of baseball, hockey, and basketball.

(Nutrition Facts – Not available on website at time of posting.)

Purchased Price: $5.29
Size: N/A
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Fresher than Will Smith in Bel Air, circa 1990. Plump, juicy chicken breast has authentic grilled flavor. Fresh mozzarella is on point. Balsamic-diced tomatoes need to be a regular condiment.
Cons: Expensive. Lacks “wow” factor. Garlic brioche bun tastes like a regular brioche bun. Too much foliage. Pesto overwhelms sandwich. Tastes comparatively plain.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Spicy Sriracha Chicken Sandwich

Wendy's Spicy Sriracha Chicken Sandwich

Jack and Wendy went to the levee to fetch a pail of water in preparation for her new spicy innovations. Jack fell down and broke his crown because Wendy’s Spicy Sriracha Chicken Sandwich blew away his expectations.

That’s how the nursery rhyme should be updated because Wendy’s take on sriracha is impressive. My complaint with most fast food “spicy chicken” is that it’s never actually spicy. Wendy’s takes the pedal to the medal – quite possibly in a Lexus Sriracha IS – and delivers. It’ll make any O.G. Huy Fong Sriracha fan tear up.

Wendy's Spicy Sriracha Chicken Sandwich 2

They say you eat with your eyes first and Wendy’s nailed it with the vibrant but non-off-putting colors – the orange/red palette with the sriracha-infused bun, golden chicken breast, red onion, fresh green spring mix in a bright red box was working for me. Maybe there was some food psychology at work there.

Wendy's Spicy Sriracha Chicken Sandwich 3

I was also impressed by the size and poundage of the sandwich. Wendy’s didn’t skimp on the ingredients. There was a large piece of breaded chicken overflowing from the bun, a solid layer of spring mix and an appropriate amount of bacon.

The first thing I did was taste-test the bacon because soggy and stringy bacon can ruin a sandwich. Crispy? Check! The thick-cut bacon was a thing of beauty. I then proceeded to devour the sandwich. The breading itself was already a little bit spicy so I was enjoying the heat. On my third bite, I got to the sriracha aioli in all its glory and boy was it packing heat! As a balance to all the heat on heat on heat, I appreciated the red onion. It not only added a brightness to the sandwich – visually and taste-wise – but it also added a pleasant textural crunch.

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About half way through, my nose started to run a little bit from the heat; the sriracha taste bud onslaught was in full force. Each sniffle exponentially increased my love for this sandwich. I loved the “afterglow” as well; my mouth had a pleasant spicy tingle after each bite. Related to the hefty size and poundage, every bite had the perfect ratio of chicken, spring mix, red onion, sriracha aioli, and bacon.

If I had to nitpick, I couldn’t taste the sriracha jack cheese at all. It was completely overpowered by the spice in the chicken breading as well as the sriracha aioli. I also don’t think the sriracha-infused bun added anything. It was a soft bun, but nothing about it seemed sriracha-infused because there was no heat to it. Also, the more I stared at the orange-colored bun, the odder I thought an orange-colored bun was.

Regardless, I didn’t mean to eat the entire thing but I did because it was so dang good.

(Nutrition Facts – 670 calories, 35 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 110 milligrams of cholesterol, 1690 milligrams of sodium, 51 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of sugar, 2 grams of fiber, and 39 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5.39
Size: N/A
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Wendy’s packs heat and makes any O.G. Huy Fong Sriracha fan proud! Crispy thick-cut bacon is a thing of beauty. Red onion works well. Pleasant spicy tingle after each bite.
Cons: Sriracha jack cheese and sriracha-infused bun didn’t really taste like anything.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Bacon Sriracha Fries

Wendy’s Bacon Sriracha Fries

By now, we all know Wendy’s can do bacon right. But how well can they implement sriracha sauce in their tried-and-true menu favorites?

Unfortunately, Wendy’s latest special edition side dish kinda’ falls in that unhappy middle ground between slightly above average and good-but-not-really-remarkable. And in today’s hyper-competitive fast food French fry variation wars, the only thing worse than being bad is being just sorta’ OK.

The fries come doused in a thick goulash of melted cheddar cheese sauce, shredded cheddar, chopped up Applewood-smoked bacon, and a sprinkling of sweet chili sauce-imbued aioli. From the get-go, the biggest problem is that the dish just doesn’t taste sriracha-y enough. The flavor is there, but it’s way too muted. In fact, it’s so faint that at first, you don’t even realize sriracha sauce is in the mix. It just tastes like some random (and fairly generic) hot sauce.

Problem two are the fries themselves. They’re just too thin and way too salty, and strangely, they don’t do a very good job of absorbing the sriracha cheese and bacon juice flavors, either.

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But there are some positives. The cheddar cheese sauce is very thick and flavorful, and if you stir the mixture around enough you do start to pick up a more noticeable sriracha taste. The absolute best aspect of the dish, however, is the bacon. Wendy’s is rightly considered the go-to fast food place for bacon junkies, and the pieces in this new L-T-O offering are huge, plump, juicy, and super-duper crispy.

Essentially, what you are getting is the chain’s standard Baconator Fries with a meager, almost unnoticeable splash of sriracha. It’s all quite flavorful and fairly filling, but the aioli is just too weak to go out of your way to experience.

And one final word of warning: this stuff is so greasy you’re probably going to need twice as many napkins as your local Wendy’s has in stock. Take heed, potential consumers: Wet-Naps are strongly encouraged for this one.

(Nutrition Facts – 600 calories, 350 calories from fat, 39 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 1110 milligrams of sodium, 47 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 3 grams of sugar, and 14 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: N/A
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: An absolute ton of bacon. A very savory cheddar cheese sauce. Eating fries out of plasticware that looks like something out of a 1970s sci-fi movie.
Cons: The sriracha flavor is almost undetectable. A bit too much salt on the fries. Getting half a pound of grease on your palms just opening the container.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Taco Salad

Wendy's Taco Salad

I am firmly a child of the 90’s. If you don’t believe me, take a walk around my childhood home, where you’ll see way too many Lifetouch grade school portraits of me with hair moussed up to the heavens (thanks Mom).

Don’t get me wrong, though – the 90’s were a blast. I fondly remember spending weekends developing recipes with my younger sister’s Fisher Price plastic kitchen to feed to my collection of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers action figures (the Megazord was a picky eater).

And now, it seems like the 90’s nostalgia has caught on with everyone else, because there’s been no shortage of remakes over the past couple of years. From Fuller House to French Toast Crunch, everyone wants a piece of the action, no matter how horrible the reboot may be.

Take Wendy’s Taco Salad, for example. America’s second-favorite redhead (after Ronald, of course), has apparently caved into the demands of their “loyal taco salad fans” (their words, not mine), and brought back this classic dish for millennial mouths to try.

Now, before I get any angry letters from fast food historians, yes, Wendy’s did originally release the Taco Salad in the 80’s, but since they’re solely marketing this from a 90’s perspective, I thought it appropriate to lace up my L.A. Lights to head on over and sample it for myself.

Like any other fast food salad, Wendy’s Taco Salad is built on a bed of iceberg and romaine lettuce. The bed in this example is clearly a California King, because this salad is overwhelmed with lettuce. It’s as if Wendy’s forgot that there were supposed to be other toppings on this salad and went crazy with the bags of salad mix.

Wendy's Taco Salad 2

On top of the lettuce extravaganza, Wendy’s has placed a smattering of diced tomatoes and shredded cheddar cheese. I must have visited on the cook’s first day, because the pieces of tomato I received were all from the edges, and lacked any juice or flavor. Similarly disappointing, the cheese was heavily processed, and had a firm mouthfeel.

Along with the aforementioned mattress o’ lettuce, Wendy’s provides a selection of toppings to accompany the salad. These toppings – chili, tortilla chips, “signature salsa,” and light sour cream – come on the side, a sort of “taco kit” to allow you to garnish your salad as you please.

In true TIB fashion, I went all in on the toppings. While I appreciate the customization opportunity, the minuscule bowl Wendy’s provided made it difficult to mix everything together. The tortilla chips were humorously oversized for the salad, and lacked a distinctive salty kick. Their partner in crime, Wendy’s “signature salsa,” was equally as upsetting, as its sour notes overwhelmed any discernible tomato flavor.

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The standout here was the chili – while suspect in origin, its strong tomato and cumin flavor brought some much needed zest to the salad. In fact, the chili really brings the only semblance of flavor to the salad, as it’s not served with any dressing. If you don’t conserve your chili wisely, the salad turns into a real slog to eat.

While I appreciate their play for nostalgia, Wendy’s Taco Salad should go the way of Hammer Pants. You shouldn’t touch this.

(Nutrition Facts – 660 calories, 290 calories from fat, 32 grams of fat, 13 grams of saturated fat, 1 grams of trans fat, 85 milligrams of cholesterol, 1820 milligrams of sodium, 63 grams of carbohydrates, 18 grams of sugar, and 32 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5.99
Size: Full-size salad
Rating: 2 out of 10
Pros: Having an excuse to break out my Pogs. Flavorful chili. Jamming out to fast food training videos.
Cons: Reminding my mom that mousse exists. Ridiculous amounts of roughage. Sour salsa.