December 4, 2023

Healthy Breakfast

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Best Fast Food Breakfast: Which Chains Make the Best Breakfast?

best fast food breakfast
Image by Maitane Romagosa and Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist
Image by Maitane Romagosa and Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist
Welcome to The Fasties, Thrillist’s third-annual fast food awards! The awards feature more than a dozen categories celebrating all the best foods that came out of drive-thru windows over the past year—from the Best Coffee Nuggets to the Best Spicy Chicken Sandwich, and many more. Check out the full list of categories and winners.

Maple bacon chicken croissants, hash brown steak burritos, donut bites, mocha iced coffee… okay, we’ll stop before you get too hungry reading about breakfast at fast food chains. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

Breakfast is now available at many fast food restaurants, and they’re flooding the market with super-creative takes on the morning meal. We visited more than a dozen major chains to determine the best breakfast in the fast food arena—based on availability, innovation, and their flagship items. The next time you’re craving a breakfast sandwich, we’ll tell you where to go. This is the best breakfast in fast food.

It feels like Lunchables Brunchables were the inspiration for Subway’s breakfast, which is a combo of an egg, cheese, and assorted lunch meat on a flatbread or whatever other bread you’d like. The Bacon, Egg and Cheese is limp and tasteless. These flatbreads tend to evoke edible cardboard, so maybe opt for those Brunchables instead.

Breakfast at Krystal is available until 11 am. It’s pretty clear that breakfast isn’t this snack-sized burger chain’s forte, but if you have to go here for breakfast, here’s what you need to know. The signature item is the Sunriser, so stick to that. It’s similar to Krystal’s signature little burgers, only instead of a burger patty you have a choice of sausage or bacon along with egg and cheese.

Other options include the Original Scrambler Bowl—grits topped with scrambled eggs, cheese, and a sausage patty—though it’s not particularly flavorful and not worth ordering. On the other hand, the Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit is a pleasant surprise. The egg is advertised as “fresh cracked” and actually tastes like it. The biscuit is dense but with enough butter that you’ll forgive it. The Chik Biscuit is unbearably dry and only salvageable if you add your own sauce.

Look, you just ate a whole bagful of steaming sliders in the wee hours of the morning, so you’re probably not going to White Castle for breakfast. But if for some reason you choose the petite patty palace over the many other chains serving better breakfast options, there’s one way to make the most of it: order everything. The one good thing about this breakfast menu is the variety of items paired with the chain’s characteristically small portions. That means you can order several things—say, a basic Breakfast Slider with bacon, another Breakfast Slider with sausage, a Belgian Waffle Slider, a Chicken & Waffles Slider, and a heaping sack of Hash Brown Nibblers—and take care of your every breakfast craving, savory or sweet.

That eternally happy Burger King always has a smile plastered on his face, but he won’t be happy with what we’re about to say.

The good news is that the egg and cheese-based Croissan’Wich (with bacon, ham, or sausage) is still as solid of a breakfast item as it was when it debuted in ‘83. Almost everything else is a bit of a mess, including overstuffed and overly salty offerings like the Fully Loaded Buttermilk Biscuit (ham, sausage, bacon, cheese) and the Egg-Normous Burrito (sausage, bacon, eggs, hash browns, cheese). French Toast Sticks—another holdover from the ‘80s—remain a crowdpleaser, but that isn’t enough to stand out in a breakfast landscape rife with innovation.

When it comes to breakfast offerings, the menu at Bojangles is unsurprisingly limited to biscuits (it’s just what this regional chain does). That means you’re in luck if you’re into biscuits. The Pimento Cheese Biscuit is hearty and quintessentially southern, while the basic Egg & Cheese Biscuit is only okay. Avoid the bacon and chicken biscuits—they’re dry and boring. The standout here is the Bo-Berry Biscuit, a heart-shaped biscuit studded with blueberries and topped with a drizzle of icing. They’re served warm (so be patient) and will satisfy a sweet tooth. One upside to Bojangles’ breakfast menu is that it’s available all day.

Breakfast burgers should taste like breakfast. If you can’t taste the breakfast parts of this Breakfast Burger (like eggs and hash browns) because the beef patty overwhelms every other flavor in the sandwich, it ain’t worth ordering.

Overall, the breakfast program is limited to a handful of sandwiches and burritos, a few biscuits, and French Toast Dips for anyone with a sweet tooth. One highlight is the generous portion of folded egg found in the solid Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit, but the real winner is the Big Country Breakfast Burrito. A hot, fresh tortilla wraps up scrambled eggs, cheese, bacon, sausage, ham, and hash browns that are covered in a warm sausage gravy that improves every ingredient it touches. It coats the burrito. It will coat your mouth. You will want more.

Let’s play a Jeopardy-like game! Here’s the clue: This meat is rarely seen on any other fast food chain’s breakfast menu. The answer: What is carne asada?

Not only can you find that tasty protein option at this Tex-Mex-style joint, but it’s the best part of the breakfast menu, which offers a smorgasbord of tortilla-based entrees. Take the overflowing Breakfast Toasted Wrap with carne asada, which smells heavenly and tastes even better, as it’s combined with eggs, hash browns, cheddar, pico, and salsa casera. A simpler—yet equally satisfying—selection is the Breakfast Burrito, which we used to order with the chain’s spicy chorizo (it was sadly discontinued), but now comes with your choice of carne asada or bacon inside.

Add the ultra-sugary (and ultra-delicious) iced coffee for a buck along with Donut Bites, and enjoy a solid ending to the meal.

The drive-in chain doesn’t care if you show up at 11:01 am and want breakfast food, even though most fast food joints stopped serving it a half-hour ago. It’ll let you order Texas toast, burritos, and French toast sticks all darn day and night. But don’t order just anything off its breakfast menu. Skip the SuperSONIC Breakfast Burrito, a jumble of ingredients (egg, sausage, jalapeño, onion, tots, tomato, cheddar) that don’t work well enough together to form a cohesive meal. The Bacon BREAKFAST TOASTER (their caps, not ours) fares better, as it’ll remind you of a grilled cheese sandwich with an egg that you’d make in your kitchen if you weren’t so lazy, or tired.

On the sweeter side of things, its Cinnabon Cinnasnacks are sugary dessert egg rolls best dipped into its refrigerated cream cheese frosting. Eat more than one and your dentist will find out and schedule a cavity filling. And if you leave a Sonic without getting an iced coffee poured over its famed nugget ice, you’re making a huge mistake. It’s a creamy, caffeinated java that’s worth pairing with any breakfast item.

It’s a rite of passage for anyone in a Whataburger town to feast on a late-night breakfast of taquitos sometime after 2 am, but even at a more civilized hour, breakfast at Whataburger wows. The variety’s impressive, too. In addition to its signature Taquitos with fluffy scrambled eggs, American cheese, and choice of bacon, crumbled sausage, Hash Brown Sticks, or chorizo when available, you’ll find sandwiches on biscuits (jalapeño-cheddar or regular) with a hard-fried disc of egg, cheese, and choice of meat (including a nice, kinda-spicy sausage patty that tastes way better than the pizza topping crumbles in the taquitos), as well as breakfast sandwiches with the same fillings on burger buns instead.

The Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit has become a greatest hit in recent years with a fried chicken tender and a gooey honey butter sauce that only gets better the more you add on. Even the fluffy, crispy-around-the-edges pancakes taste like they’re from a diner instead of a drive-thru. In all honesty, there’s not a single breakfast item here we wouldn’t order on the regular.

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

Right off the bat, Jack in the Box earns points for having 16 wildly different breakfast items. Mini pancakes! Burritos! Biscuits! Croissants! And you can order ‘em all day and night. Not all of it is worth your money—a mostly generic breakfast sandwich line’s sole highlight is the crisp, hickory-smoked bacon. The stacked Loaded Breakfast Sandwich (eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, and cheese) looks perfect for Instagram, but even though copious amounts of egg and bacon look cool, it feels more like a dare than a well thought-out breakfast item.

Contrast that with the simple Breakfast Jack, and you might be surprised to learn that it’s the best breakfast meal on the menu. It’s not a sexy item, but it’s the tastiest thing they’ve got—a supremely thin fried egg, sliced ham, and American cheese on a bun so pillowy you could sleep on it during a cross-country flight. Order it with a Mocha Sweet Cream Iced Coffee that tastes exactly like chocolate milk and you’ve got a great start to your morning. Or night.

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

The fast food restaurant that invented Fourthmeal in 2007 somehow does not serve breakfast all day. This feels like a missed opportunity for a chain that prides itself on being innovative, especially at breakfast. The Waffle Taco was the talk of the internet in 2013 when it launched in select cities, before being unleashed nationwide in 2014. The Waffle Taco is no more, but there’s still plenty worth talking about.

These days, Taco Bell’s breakfast menu is mostly composed of toasted breakfast burritos, which you can order with various breakfast meats (or no meat!) and with or without a hash brown inside. The Cheesy Toasted Breakfast Burrito‘s rubbery sausage is a miss, but the Hash Brown Toasted Breakfast Burrito is a lovely, eggy, cheesy, potato-filled bundle of breakfast joy that doesn’t even need meat to be satisfying (pro tip: order it vegetarian).

Same goes for the Breakfast Crunchwrap, which is required ordering thanks to its warm, inviting Creamy Jalapeño Sauce and a crispy hash brown wedged inside to provide the crunch in the name. Don’t forget a side of buttery Cinnabon Delights—you might as well while you’re here, right? And if you really want to go all in on the Taco Bell breakfast theme and take the experience to the extreme, throw in a soda for breakfast. Really. You can sip a Mountain Dew Kickstart Orange Citrus soda, which packs about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee (92mg). If soda for breakfast isn’t your thing (we wouldn’t blame you), then you can always opt for T-Bell’s new Cinnabon Delights hot coffee or Cinnabon Delights iced coffee.

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

There’s something to be said for a chain that does the little things right. If you haven’t been to a McDonald’s drive-thru lately, you’re in for a treat. Pre-order your meal via the McD’s mobile app and when you select the option to pick it up in the drive-thru, you’ll get a code to give the employee. That’ll save Erin from getting the mobile order for Aaron. And the bag of food they hand you might also have your drink inside it, thanks to a clever cardboard insert that holds it upright.

Mickey D’s has been serving eggs and hotcakes since the ‘70s, and despite shelving All-Day Breakfast, there’s still plenty worth waking up early for. Many chains cram sweet and savory in one sandwich, but they end up looking like overstuffed suitcases and tasting like a mid-tier hotel breakfast buffet thrown in a blender. The McGriddle, however, is perfectly engineered—a buttery, meaty, cheesy sandwich you can eat while driving. The Egg McMuffin remains a top fast food breakfast sandwich, with a perfect ratio of egg, cheese and meat on a flawlessly toasted English muffin. And McDonald’s is an old dog with new tricks, as the Hot and Spicy McChicken Biscuit capitalizes on the chicken biscuit craze with a legitimately hot offering. McCafe provides all the lattes, iced coffees, and Frappuccino ripoffs you want at a fraction of the price. It all adds up to a fantastic breakfast.

Illustration by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

If you know anything about Chick-fil-A it’s that it’s closed on Sunday, it’s made controversial donations in the past and, oh right, it has some of the best chicken and biscuits in fast food (no slight to Popeyes, which is also excellent… but it’s not open for breakfast). Strangely, Chick-fil-A’s breakfast has not garnered breathless praise like the rest of its menu. You might think that having limited menu options, serving breakfast until 10:30 am, and only being open six days a week would hurt its chances of ranking high on our list. But nope. The food is so good that we can safely say it’s among the best you can get.

The Hash Brown Scramble Burrito is a great place to start. Scrambled eggs, hash browns, chopped up chicken nuggets and cheese combine for a confusingly delicious start to the day. This burrito doesn’t need eggs at all—you can hardly taste them. But there’s so much satisfying, fried goodness to enjoy that it’s tough to complain.

The Chicken Biscuit is a special thing. Does it help that every location continually bakes biscuits all morning long, ensuring that you get one that emerged hot and fresh from the oven that morning? Yes. The Chick-fil-A Chicken Biscuit is adorned with nothing. It doesn’t have to be when all you need is perfectly fried chicken and a buttery biscuit for a couple bucks. Sometimes a chain doesn’t need a breakfast item with bells and whistles when the breakfast item is one giant bell and whistle.

Because every breakfast needs coffee, Chick-fil-A pours a solid hot java (we think it’s the second best in fast food), and some of the best iced coffee in the game, as well. It’s not quite the quality level of a third wave cup, but it’s certainly competitive with Starbucks cold brew or McDonald’s McCafe.

Let’s skip over the english muffins and biscuits with bacon/sausage, egg and cheese, the chicken, egg and cheese bagel or the Greek yogurt parfait. They’re all fine and dandy if you’re looking for something simple. But the most standout, unique item is the Chick-n-Minis. The mini yeast rolls that feature a honey butter spread are airy, sweet morsels that should go in the fast food hall of fame. Tiny, perfect chicken nuggets get placed in each roll, and the result is a breakfast food we didn’t know we needed every morning. 

Image by Maitane Romagosa and Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist

Wendy’s huge, national breakfast menu launched at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, and because that was the worst possible timing of a new product launch (and generally the worst possible time), it failed miserably. Just kidding. You would have thought, right? Instead, the geniuses at Wendy’s developed an incredible breakfast lineup that’s so damn creative and delicious, it actually gained the chain a ton of new customers. With options like classic sandwiches, biscuits sandwiches, croissant sandwiches, savory sides, sweet sides, coffee, and more, Wendy’s breakfast menu has something for just about any vibe—and we’re happy to say its the best breakfast in fast food right now. Let’s dive in.

The headliner menu item is the Breakfast Baconator, a big, breakfast-y twist on the regular menu staple. It’s like a burger crossed with brunch crossed with your friend daring you to try to finish it before 8 am. Wendy’s stacks them with sausage, two layers of bacon and cheese, a fried egg, and some hollandaise-Swiss cheese sauce for good measure. It’s… a lot. It might be a tad too hefty to eat with one hand in the car, but its size is by no means a con here. You’re gonna be full. And depending on what you did the night before, you might feel less hungover afterward.

Yes, the Breakfast Baconator is as great as it sounds, but it’s the breakfast chicken lineup where Wendy’s leaves other chains in the dust. The Maple Bacon Chicken Croissant is an absolute triumph: crispy fried chicken nestled in a soft, easy-to-eat croissant, and coated in a mind-blowing maple butter spread that every competitor should rip off immediately. The Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit also nails the sweet and savory duo by combining that delicious bird with a hint of sweetness on a buttery biscuit. Then there’s the Hot Honey Chicken Biscuit, which packs a level of heat that’s appropriate for an early morning meal with its eye-opening habanero hot honey sauce. 

Now let’s talk about the sides. While you can’t go wrong with a simple hash brown, Wendy’s has opted for Seasoned Potatoes—thick, natural-cut wedges seasoned with salt, black pepper, and garlic powder. They’re a hearty, satisfying choice for the hungriest of breakfast eaters, especially paired withe Breakfast Baconator. And on the opposite end of the sides spectrum, you’ll find the Oatmeal Bar and Apple Slices for grease-free options to round out your meal.

No matter what you get, you should wash it down with a genius Chocolate Frosty-ccino (cold brew coffee plus Frosty flavoring) that’s better tasting than 75% of Starbucks’ Frappuccinos. And way cheaper. Speaking of cheaper, Wendy’s routinely offers breakfast discounts and deals via its mobile app, which means there’s a good chance you can score the best fast food breakfast for less.

Fast Food Breakfast FAQ

What are the healthiest fast food breakfast options?
Sometimes, you have to grab breakfast on the run. That doesn’t mean you are ready to abandon your healthy eating goals, though. Here are the five healthiest fast food breakfast options according to a nutritionist with Eat This, Not That!

  • Starbucks’ Hearty Blueberry Oatmeal
  • McDonald’s Fruit and Maple Oatmeal
  • Dunkin’s Veggie Egg White Omelet

What time does McDonald’s stop serving breakfast?
At McDonald’s, breakfast is served between 5 am and 11 am, except on Fridays when it’s served until 11:30 am. As for other fast food chains, breakfast is typically served at Taco Bell between 7 am and 11 am. Wendy’s serves breakfast between 6 am and 10:30 am. Breakfast at Burger King is served until 10:30 am.

Do any fast food chains serve breakfast all day?
Only a few fast food chains serve breakfast all day, and as a breakfast enthusiast, that’s a bummer. Luckily, Jack in the Box, Bojangles, and Sonic Drive-In do offer all-day breakfast.

What’s the cheapest fast food breakfast?
Getting a cheap fast food breakfast isn’t too hard, especially if you’re trying to get a sandwich on the go. You can get a McDonald’s Sausage McMuffin from the breakfast value menu for $1.19, and an Egg & Cheese Biscuit for $1.39. At Wendy’s you can get a Sausage, Egg, & Cheese breakfast sandwich for 99 cents. The Burger King Sausage Biscuit comes in at under $2, but these prices tend to vary depending on location.

Which fast food chains have the best coffee?
You can’t go wrong with a cup from major coffee chains like Starbucks and Dunkin’, but it’s harder to find good coffee from, say, the burger chains. To help, we created a whole separate ranking of the best fast food coffees—check it out for the winner.

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