It is probably no surprise that being thrifty about food is extremely difficult for us, no matter how the economy is doing; even our vast knowledge of happy hours and hole-in-the-wall Mexican food can't save us. With that in mind, we set out to discover some cheap, readily available treats that will hardly leave a dent in your wallet. So turn the page for our Top 5 Fast Food Sides & Desserts…
5. McDonald's Apple Pies: This is the quintessential fast food dessert. The flaky crust and too-sweet gooey filling may not quite remind you of mom's, but if you can forgive the evil corporation behind atrocities like the McFish, then it will sing to you of childhood and innocence, of spelling tests and soccer practice. The revelation that it is in fact made with apples (and neither potatoes nor ostrich eggs), as well as the generous two-for-a-dollar price tag, only adds to the appeal.
4. Jollibee 'Zert Pie: Take the unmistakable Americana of McD's apple pies, flip it on its head and inject it with Nitrous Oxide and you'd have something like Jollibee's peach mango 'Zert Pie (unless, that is, you blow yourself to pieces first). The crust retains the golden-brown glow, but also has the unique smell of carnival-style funnel cake. Instead of a sweet and slightly spiced goo, the filling is a viscous lava flow of tropical candy flavor on which you will definitely burn your tongue again and again. It's worth the pain.
3. Popeye's Red Beans & Rice: We are naturally inclined to be skeptical of a fast-food company's claims of authenticity, so Popeye's Louisiana motif always feels rather hollow. However fake the decor, commercials, and even the food seems, though, they've got an ace in their pocket in their Red Beans & Rice. We're not quite ready to call this a real Creole dish, but we are ready to call it delicious. It turns out to be what is basically a hearty bean soup, laced with smoky bacon flavor (and nibs) and just a little bit of the eponymous rice. It may not legitimize Popeye's Louisiana pretensions, but it's definitely a start.
2. El Pollo Campero Sweet Plantains: The transplanted Guatemalan chain is primarily known for their chicken; heck, it's even in the name. It's their side dishes, though, that keep us coming back. The Yuca Fries are superb, solid on the outside but total mush on the inside, and the plantains perfectly straddle the line between dessert and side. They're sweet and ridiculously greasy, sticky and way too hot, but sitting in your car in the parking lot none of that matters. The fragrant, gooey little slices will be devoured before you've even considered the dipping sauce. And good thing, because the sauce is bland and only mutes and cools the glory of this fried fruit.
1. Jack in the Box Sampler Trio: This monster of a snack box from the stoner-pandering chain is also an intriguing study in culinary parallelism. When you open the box you are confronted by three nearly indistinguishable fried brown sticks and three packets of sauce. Which log is which, and what sauce goes with it? As it turns out, it doesn't really matter. If you happen to mistakenly dunk your poppers in sweet and sour sauce, your egg rolls in zesty marinara, or your mozzarella sticks in buttermilk house sauce, it will almost certainly taste just as good. And if it really works, well, you've just invented a new fusion dish and you're well on your way to opening your own food truck.