REVIEW: Wendy’s Bacon Queso Burger

Wendy s Spicy Queso Burger

Historically, fast food “spicy burgers” have been pretty underwhelming.

Try as they may, neither Burger King’s Angry Whopper nor Carl’s Jr.’s El Diablo Thickburger lived up to the hype, and let’s not even get into the deluge of disappointing spicy-in-name-only chicken sandwiches that we’ve seen over the last couple of years.

Wendy’s themselves are no stranger to so-so spicy sammiches, such as the okay-but-that’s-about-it Jalapeno Fresco Spicy Chicken Sandwich from 2015. And while their latest and greatest tongue-torching burger makes a few noticeable improvements over their last foray into hot-ass hamburgers, the Bacon Queso Burger still feels more than a few degrees shy of being a truly top-notch, perspiration-inspiring product.

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The quarter-pounder burger comes topped with a creamy poblano queso sauce, a heaping helping of fire-roasted salsa, three strips of Applewood smoked bacon, some chopped up red onions (an aside, but is it just me or do those things look more purple than red?), and a smattering of shredded cheddar cheese. And all of it is wedged between two roasted red jalapeno buns, which I didn’t even notice until I Googled the product after I already ate it, which, yeah, should tell you just how potent the jalapeno taste is here.

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First, the good. Wendy’s has long had some of the best bacon in fast food, and this limited-time-only offering is no exception. Secondly, the beef is flavorful and doesn’t get lost amid the goulash of other ingredients. And thirdly, the poblano queso sauce has a unique taste and texture (thicker than aioli sauce but still not thick enough to be a traditional fondue) that doesn’t have an analogue at any other mainstream burger chain.

Unfortunately, there are more negatives than positives here. The salsa is way too pulpy and has virtually no spiciness, and it doesn’t blend that well with the queso at all (at first, I thought they just dumped a bunch of chili on the burger and called it good.)

Additionally, the onions feel (and taste) way out of place – that is, if you can even taste them at all after rubbing up against so many different sauces. And I was not a fan of the shredded cheese adornments – the icy cold taste and texture clashes with the rest of the burger AND every time you go for another bite it seems like half of the cheddar falls out.

Speaking of which, this might be the messiest non-Sloppy Joe sandwich I’ve ever eaten – forget tying on a bib; you’ll probably have to eat this one with a beach towel wrapped around your shoulders.

But the ultimate transgression of Wendy’s new burger, of course, is that it isn’t spicy enough. It’s unique and fairly flavorful and pretty filling, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to making good on that particular advertising point. And when you can’t deliver the primary thing your L-T-O marketing promises, can we really consider the offering as a whole anything less than a substantial disappointment?

(Nutrition Facts – 550 calories, 290 calories from fat, 29 grams of total fat, 14 grams of saturated fat, 1.5 grams of trans fat, 110 milligrams of cholesterol, 1,140 milligrams of sodium, 36 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of sugar, 2 grams of fiber, and 33 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $4.49
Size: Single patty (also available in double and triple versions)
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: The bacon is juicy, plump, and delicious. The hamburger patty is flavorful and filling. The queso tastes unlike anything else you’ve probably had at a big name burger joint.
Cons: The product isn’t spicy – at all. The salsa is too clumpy. The shredded cheese adds nothing to the experience (and in fact, detracts from it). Realizing beard + queso burger = shame the hard way.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Bacon Queso Fries

Wendy s Bacon Queso Fries

Bacon. Cheese. Potatoes.

As far as I’m concerned those are three of the major food groups. Toss some nuggets and a Chocolate Frosty in there and you’ve covered them all –- the Wendy’s Food Pyramid.

Make no mistake; Wendy’s ever evolving innovative menu makes her The Queen of Fast Food. I’m never disappointed in their releases. So when I heard about this new queso line of products, I was all in.

The ad claims queso “makes everything better.” Far be it from me to call out the validity of Wendy’s crack marketing team, but I’m not sure it’s true.

Case in point – Wendy’s Bacon Queso Fries.

I love Wendy’s fries. I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I eat them monthly, but let’s just say it’s quite often. Too often.

The large order of Bacon Queso Fries come drenched in “spicy” poblano queso, with generous helpings of shredded cheddar and strips of Applewood smoked bacon.

Okay, so, as you can see, this isn’t exactly the prettiest dish. Obnoxious people like to tell us that “we eat with our eyes first,” so these fries were already off to a rough start.

The queso was warm and immediately made me feel like I was trying Wendy’s take on nachos.

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The little green poblano peppers added a nice heat kick, but you won’t be running for a large Frosty to offset the burn. These are probably right on par with Wendy’s Spicy Chicken products at the very bottom of the Scoville Scale.

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The shredded cheese wasn’t necessary, but I guess it added a mild flavor balance and another textural element. Speaking of, the bacon was firm and stayed a bit crispy, so that was good. Wendy’s usually comes through with the bacon.

The first few bites were satisfying, but after a while the spice mixed with the fry and bacon saltiness got overbearing. I can’t believe I’m whining that something was too salty, but, man, were these salty. The queso spice dried out my mouth, so it intensified the salt tenfold. I definitely recommend having a drink nearby when you’re eating these, if only to re-moisten your mouth.

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Another knock is these got unappetizing as they lost temperature. By the time I was halfway done, they were cold and clumpy, so I lost interest in shoving the rest down. I hate wasting food, but I couldn’t finish.

I appreciate Wendy’s continuing to put out fry variations, but these didn’t hold up to the previous few concoctions I tried. I’d definitely prefer a smaller portion. Maybe if I had a friend to share with, I would have given these a higher score. Plus, I’d have a friend, and I desperately need those.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Serving – 510 calories, 30 grams of fat, 10 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 630 milligrams of sodium, 47 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 2 grams of sugar, and less than 15 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: N/A
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Wendy’s has great fries. Bacon was on point. Queso was tasty when hot. Not too spicy. The Wendy’s Food Pyramid. The price was right for the size.
Cons: Way too salty. Got cold quickly. Clumps of plasticky cheese after a couple minutes. Pretty huge serving size. Forever alone 🙁

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.