Panda Express, Del Taco and McAlister's launch non-holiday LTOs

Taste Tracker: Snooze and Toasted Yolk elevate breakfast; Capriotti’s plays up Thanksgiving; Jimmy John’s embraces pickles; and a smattering of seasonal specials.
Photo courtesy of the brands

Consumers looking for Thanksgiving and Christmas specials can find a multitude at chains around the country. But some operators are betting that not all diners are quite ready for the deluge of holiday specials. This week’s menu news covers all bases.

Panda Express is testing a whole new menu category this month at its Innovation Kitchen in Pasadena, Calif. It’s an appetizer bundle of Dim Sum Bites featuring Lobster & Shrimp Dumplings, Mini Chicken Wontons and Apple Pie Roll; they’re priced at two for $3.75 or three for $5. Panda is also turning up the heat with Blazing Bourbon Chicken, an LTO that runs through Jan. 2. The stir-fry combines crispy boneless chicken bites and fresh veggies, wok-tossed in a sweet-and-spicy bourbon sauce fired up with Hot Ones Last Dab Apollo hot sauce.

Birria has arrived on the menu at Del Taco, both as a classic Shredded Beef Birria Taco and Quesadilla with consommé dip on the side, and in a definite departure from tradition as Shredded Beef Birria Ramen. It took the culinary team more than four months and 16 iterations to develop the ramen—a combo of beef broth, wavy ramen noodles, birria-style shredded beef, diced onions and chopped cilantro.

Six new limited-time offers debuted at McAlister’s Deli, three based on pulled pork. There’s a Honey BBQ Pork Sandwich, Honey BBQ Pork Spud and Ultimate Honey BBQ Pork Nachos. Rounding out the savory LTOs is Homestyle Lasagna Soup with turkey sausage, and on the sweet side, Butter Pecan Cheesecake and a Red Velvet Cookie.

Breakfast and brunch also get some love this season. Snooze A.M. Eatery is offering Cranberry Orange Pancakes and Short Rib and Gruyere Polenta, and to drink, a Vanilla Cranberry Cosmo and Cranberry Orange Snoozius (house-made vanilla cranberry juice and orange juice topped with whipped cream.)

Bacon is the star on Toasted Yolk’s menu, starting with Sweet ‘n Spice Bacon—thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon with brown sugar and a hint of spice. It can be ordered as a side or on the Chicken Bacon Ranch Arnold, composed of chicken tenders, tomato, bacon, avocado slices and a poached egg on an English muffin. There’s also a Bacon Jam Burger and Maple Bacon Donuts with candied bacon and pecans. Meanwhile, Huddle House is serving up premium beef for breakfast in the Prime Rib Tips Omelet, loaded with Swiss cheese, mushrooms and onions along with the beef. Prime Rib Tips Stuffed Hashbrowns also feature the ingredient, as does a Prime Rib Tips Sandwich.

Customers at Jimmy John’s can now choose a new chip to munch along with their sandwich. In honor of National Pickle Day on Tuesday, the chain is debuting Pickle Jimmy Chips, flavored with a balance of salt, sour and dill notes.

Capriotti’s kind of celebrates Thanksgiving all year long with The Bobbie, a sandwich layered with slow-roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, handmade stuffing and mayo. But for the holiday season, the sandwich shop is introducing mashed potatoes as a side and turkey gravy for a potato topping or dip for the sandwich. It’s all the Thanksgiving favorites rolled into one.

Thanksgiving is big for Maggiano’s, which does both dine-in and catering business for the holiday with a spread of traditional dishes. But the full-service chain is currently embracing other seasonal flavors, too. Butternut Squash Ravioli in Brown Butter Sauce is a pasta dish that reflects late fall in every bite, while Savory Crab Cakes in Lobster Cream Sauce offer a popular but slightly luxe take on seafood. For dessert, there’s Pumpkin Praline Cheesecake and to sip, a boozy Bourbon Peach Smash.  

Speaking of sipping, Modern Market Eatery’s new Tangerine Hibiscus Lemonade can brighten up the darker days of winter. It features Oregon Fruit in Hand’s pourable Tangerine Velvet blended with freshly brewed hibiscus and berry botanical tea.

Click on the video link here to get a closer look at all the food and drinks trending on menus this week:

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