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Chains pushing both health and indulgence with new menu items

Taste Tracker: Bowls from Portillo’s and Red Mango, an ooze fest at Weinerschnitzel and a booze fest at Quaker Steak & Lube.
Portillos Bowls
Photos courtesy of Portillos

Judging from recent chain menu launches, it looks like health is battling it out with indulgence to win share of stomach. New items run the gamut, from superfruit power bowls and low-carb cauliflower mash to gooey cheese sauce, donuts topped with sugary cereal and neon-colored cocktails.

Bowls continue to be a popular platform, with Red Mango taking the healthy route. The chain partnered with Pitaya Foods, a supplier of nutrient-dense superfruits, to launch a collection of four Power Bowls. The Pink Bowl features dragon fruit and the Hawaiian Bowl is based on coconut and banana. Also in the lineup are a Coconut Acai Bowl and Berries & Acai Bowl; all are topped with additional fruit, coconut and granola.

Technomic reports that immune-boosting ingredients are highly sought after as a result of the global pandemic and calling out these specific nutrients on the menu can grab interest.

Also opting for health as a selling point is Qdoba. The fast casual is testing Mexican Cauliflower Mash in Indianapolis, with the potential of offering it as a lower-carb rice alternative. The item is made with cauliflower oven-roasted in-house and blended with fresh cilantro, pico de gallo and sour cream. Guests can order the mash with any burrito or bowl or try it in Qdoba’s new Cauli-Mash Low-Carb Chicken Bowl.


But other chains are betting on those comfort-food cravings that escalated during quarantine.  Portillo’s is rolling out new items on its permanent menu that repurpose the chain’s meaty sandwiches into breadless bowl formats. The Classic Beef Bowl features Portillo’s Italian beef, while the Chicago Combo Bowl combines beef and Italian sausage; for an extra charge, guests can add peppers and cheese. The nine Barnelli’s restaurants in the chain are also offering the Italiano Bowl, a combo of Italian, beef, a meatball, marinara sauce and grated Parmesan.

A concept that originated with bowls is welcoming fall with two seasonal specials. JINYA Ramen is launching Karaage Chicken Ramen, a ramen bowl made with thin noodles, chicken soup, shio dare, green onions, bamboo shoots, crispy chicken, karaage chicken sauce, seasoned egg and nori. The other new item on JINYA’s chef specials menu is Spam Musibi.


For consumers whose idea of comfort food is Southern barbecue, Krystal is menuing Memphis BBQ Siders as a limited time offer through Oct. 11. The LTO was developed in partnership with the National Pork Board, which represents American pig farmers. The sliders, which sell for $1.69 each, are made with slow-smoked pulled pork tossed with Memphis-style barbecue sauce and sandwiched on small steamed buns with a pickle.

But gooey, melty cheese can be as comforting as a warm blanket, and Wienerschnitzel is banking on its appeal with its cheesy ooze fest. The promotion spotlights the chain’s new cheese sauce in three items: Double Cheese Chili Fries, Double Cheese Fries and a Double Cheese Chili Dog. Along with the cheese sauce, the chili fries are piled with chili, while the double cheese fries boast shredded cheddar and the chili dog includes American cheese.

Taco Cabana

Taco Cabana is also focusing on cheese in its latest menu launches. As part of the chain’s QuesoMania campaign, customers can order up queso with corn, cotija cheese and hot sauce; queso with chorizo, beans and jalapenos; and queso with ground beef and pico de gallo. The new quesos sell for $2.99 to $4.29 depending on size and are currently available in five Texas markets. The chain is also expanding its margarita selection with six new flavors: green apple, pineapple chamoy, tamarindo, spicy guava, sangria and strawberry mango.

Margaritas—along with other cocktails and sangrias—are the focus of Quaker Steak & Lube’s latest offerings too. The ramped-up beverage menu includes three new margaritas: The Motor City with citrus flavors; Strawberry Passion, highlighting strawberry and passion fruit; and the Formula 1, a blend of blueberry puree with tequila and ginger beer. Sangria fans have the choice of Peach Bliss, a light sangria, or Grand Prix, a more classic red wine version. Eight other new cocktails round out the list, ranging from Quaker Steak’s riffs on the old fashioned and hurricane to a boozy Arnold Palmer.

Froot Loops

For those seeking indulgence in a sweet childhood treat, three chains are offering up shakes, donuts and ice cream cones featuring Froot Loops cereal and Pop Tarts. The nostalgic sweets include PDQ’s frosted strawberry shake, Tim Horton’s dream donuts with Fruit Loops and Wienerschnitzel’s dipped cone and shake blended with the crushed fruity cereal.

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