Menu innovation accelerates

Renewed R&D is powering chain menus forward after the pandemic slowed things down.
Green Street Taco
Photo courtesy of Rusty Taco

Since mid-March, chefs and menu developers have been streamlining menus, focusing on family meal packages and holiday promotions and launching LTOs already in the pipeline. With many restaurant kitchens up and running again, there’s a little more opportunity for innovation. It’s prime time for creative new menu items, and both chefs and consumers are ready.

Curry Up

Chicken sandwiches are all the rage, and fast-casual Curry Up Now is getting into the act with an Indian-accented version. The Tandoori Fried Chicken Sandwich was launched on July 6, National Fried Chicken Day. It features crisp-fried tandoori-marinated chicken topped with Bombay-dust aioli, pickled onions and a chutney made with curry leaves, pineapple and jalapeno on a brioche bun. It will now be on the fast casual’s permanent menu.

With Americans sticking close to home this summer, Chopt is taking its customers on a culinary vacation with its new Destinations Mexico menu. On offer are MexicanStreet Corn Caesar Salad, Mexicali Cobb Salad and Barbacoa Brisket Bowl. Inspired by Mexico’s flavors, these salads and bowls feature locally sourced, seasonal ingredients.


Consumers are still looking for takeout and delivery dinner options, and SAJJ Mediterranean has several new entree plates to go. Three chef-curated options are available, each of which includes a protein, turmeric rice, salad, hummus and sauces. The Protein Plate offers a choice of steak shawarma, chicken shawarma or chicken kabob, while the Vegan Plate features a trio of sumac cauliflower, garbanzo beans and roasted eggplant. SAJJ also offers a customizable plate that guests can build their own plate.

Fresh is an operative word for summer menus, and Del Taco delivers with its all-new guacamole. It’s a combo of ripe avocados, handmade pico de gallo, fresh-squeezed lime juice and special seasoning. Fresh guac and chips sells for $2, but customers can also get it at no additional cost as a topping on the chain’s Epic Burritos.

For a limited time, Rusty Taco is bringing one of its secret menu items into the open with the launch of the Green Street Taco. It features roasted pork blended with housemade tomatillo sauce, topped with jalapeno ranch, cotija cheese, cilantro, onion and avocado, all enclosed in a warm flour tortilla. The LTO was created by a franchisee in Dayton, Ohio.

Protein Bar & Kitchen rolled out an varied summer menu. The limited-time offers include a Summer Protein Bowl (roasted tomatoes, marinated mushrooms, chicken, egg, greens, toasted almonds, hemp seed blend, micro herbs and avocado cream), Coconut Lentil Curry, Salmon & Summer Vegetables and Basic Beach—a mango, pineapple, strawberry, banana, golden milk and coconut milk and shake.

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