The Best Fast-Food Items for $1 or Less

$1 fast food
Courtesy of Del Taco
Courtesy of Del Taco

Ever since Dave Thomas introduced the concept of the fast-food value menu back in the day, chains have scrambled to give customers at least a few ultra-cheap options. But now that we're in a fast-food arms race to see who can pack as much stuff into a $5 box -- chicken sandwiches count as sides now, and it's madness -- the focus has shifted from the humble $1 value menu. Fear not: Some chains are still offering at least a few things for a buck or under. Here's how to get the most bang for your buck at the nation's biggest fast-food chains. 

Burger King cheeseburger

Burger King


Sure, it's the home of the Whopper, but you know what? The Whopper's just a slightly bigger version of this, but with tomatoes and lettuce. And no cheese. You're paying more -- like, $3 more -- for something that's actually somehow made worse than this cheesy, flame-broiled, simple pleasure. It's not called Whopper King for a reason.

Del Taco
Courtesy of Del Taco

Del Taco

Value Taco

We handily crowned Del Taco’s value menu the best in the country a while back, and for good reason: There are 17 items for under $1, ranging from a solid tostada to breakfast tacos, mini quesadillas, and a honking’ bean, cheese, and rice burrito. But at the end of the day, our hearts still belong to the old-school crunchy taco, the kind of cheese-and lettuce-covered wonder that all but screams Taco Tuesday with every bite. Like Jack in the Box, it’s Midwest mom food. Unlike that weird version, it’s exactly what you want a fast-food taco to be.

Jack in the Box tacos
Jack in the Box

Jack in the Box

Two tacos

Jack in the Box knows its audience, and oftentimes that audience is people who really want to eat a bunch of greasy, fried stuff at 4:20am. And thus, the star of its $1 menu is a pair of tacos that seem like they were thrown together by a Midwestern mom who forgot that she had kids: the shells are see-through, the lettuce is haphazardly chopped and slightly wilted from the heat, the meat is confusing, and there’s a slice of American cheese on there. Unlike that Midwestern mom, Jack doesn’t get mad at you for rolling up to its window and asking for them after midnight.

Day-Old Bread

Jimmy John’s

Yeah, it’s just a loaf of rapidly expiring bread. But think of all the things you can do with it!

McDonald's drink


A big-ass drink

Is it a cheat to just include a drink for the Golden Arches? Maybe. But we're also flinging French fries at a moving target here (also, there are no $1 French fries at McDonald's, so doing that in a literal sense is too costly for this article). Ever since the death of the iconic Dollar Menu, McDonald’s has been a fickle mistress when it comes to its value menu, re-dubbed the 1-2-3 menu. Nothing is sacred in this construction, which saw the price of OG Dollar Menu items like the superlative McChicken and the McDouble -- basically a double cheeseburger with only one piece of cheese, and the best burger deal on the menu -- jump up 100%. The items and prices on the 1-2-3 change on a whim. The only constant is the bucket of soda you can score for a buck. That’s any size of any soft drink. (Unless you want Hi-C, in which case you’re shit outta luck.) Sure, maybe next week the McChicken will be back. But if not, hey, at least you can balance out the extra buck you’re spending on a big chicken nugget with mayonnaise with an extra 64 ounces of corn syrup. 

Sonic mini tots
Sonic Drive-In


Mini Tots

If the TV is to be believed (it is!!), then it’s customary when visiting Sonic to sit in the car for a long period before ordering, debating the merits of fast food and the world with your milquetoast middle-age comedian friends. But that debate should always include a little cup of tots, which you can get for under a buck and consume while contemplating getting MORE tots to go with your shake, burger, and extra tots. We like these tots, is what we’re saying.

Taco Bell Shredded Chicken Mini Quesadilla
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Taco Bell

Shredded Chicken Mini Quesadilla

True, it doesn’t look especially appetizing. Unless you’re a crow, maybe? But despite its appearance, our in house Taco Bell expert declared this soupy, cheesy mess of slightly spicy shredded chicken the third-best bite on T-Bell’s entire menu. And considering he’s eaten everything on it, we’re obliged to take his word for it.

Wendy’s Frosty
Cole Saladino/Thrillist


Small Frosty

Wendy’s may have invented the value meal and is a pioneer of the whole “cram a bunch of stuff in a box, count chicken nuggets as a side, and sell if for $4” movement, but of late, their dollar offerings have dwindled. Sure, when you can get a Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger, fries, nuggets, and a drink for $4 they’re technically a dollar each, but we’re not here for technicalities, dammit. We’re pretending we have but one tattered bill in our pocket. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel: The glorious Frosty, that paragon of the fast-food dairy world, somewhere between a shake and a concrete, unchanged by time, and all the more perfect for it. Leaving Wendy’s without it is a crime. And hey, since it’s a buck, might as well spring for that $4 meal. Rounding it up to $5 means you can dip some fries in it. And maybe some nuggets. That sounds gross, but hey, it apparently worked with Coke

White Castle cheese slider
White Castle

White Castle

Cheese Slider

At about $.30 a bite (or $3 a bite, if you’re me), the Whitey’s cheeseburger isn’t exactly the most economical of fast-food snacks, especially when you remember that somebody went and poked five holes in it. But between the pickle, cheese, grilled onions, and springy steamed bun, there’s at least, like, $4 worth of flavor in one. Even better, they’re so cheap you can buy them by the case.

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Thrillist senior editor Andy Kryza thinks the best $5 box is just five McChickens and a side of mayonnaise. Follow him to dispatches from an angry doctor @apkryza.