The expectations for this summer are high, with terms like “renaissance” and “return,” and superlatives like “best” or “craziest” being thrown around. And, as an industry that’s especially skilled in leaning into national marketing opportunities, the fast-food space is not one to ignore such an exciting time. As the hype around this summer keeps growing, so do the fast-food menus.
From ridiculously celebratory to more practical and refreshing, chains have been rolling out new menu items that’ll go hand-in-hand with hot summer days. They look beautiful and promisingly refreshing, but which of these new drinks and sweet treats are worth the hype of their own?
I tried six of the buzziest new summer releases to find out—here’s how they ranked. For more, check out We Tried the Most Popular New Iced Coffees and This Is the Best One.
McDonald’s Strawberry Watermelon Slushie
This slushie, which recently made its debut at Mickey D’s, looks to be a classic in every sense. Bright red, it comes in a cone-topped plastic cup that allows for its entire grandeur to be taken in at once. I was eager to taste the strawberry and watermelon combo, and had high expectations from that first slurp. But then it just tasted . . . red.
Unfortunately, beyond the clear cup with McArches etched on, there’s really nothing that sets this slushie apart from a gas station staple. While it wasn’t bad per se, I simply can’t validate any hype on this one.
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Taco Bell’s Baja Blast Colada Freeze
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the first experience of a new fast-food item largely depends on how well it was executed by the specific location you ordered from. In the case of this Baja Blast, the Taco Bell I ordered from under-delivered. I get it—things are busier than ever, especially in the newly-maskless New York City. But this Baja Blast filled only three quarters of the cup and looked a little worse for wear.
That said, the flavor of this bad boy made up for any initially lackluster impression. While still ultimately just a slushie, the Baja Blast has a slightly carbonated kick that sets it apart, making for a memorable and unique tasting experience. Definitely worth grabbing for a park hang this summer.
Dunkin’s Berry Powdered Donut
If you’re a fan of Dunkin’s classic powdered donuts, you’ll love this summery upgrade. The Berry Powdered Donut looks appealingly modern—apparently lavender is an “it” color right now—and its taste does not disappoint.
Every bit as buttery and textured as a regular Dunkin’ powdered donut, the berry flavor packs a subtle punch from the moment it hits your mouth. Of course, the reigning flavor here is still Dunkin’s classic donut taste, so quite a bit hinges on individual feelings about that. For me, while this new delicacy was good, it was still a bit too heavy to rank much higher on a summer round-up.
McDonald’s Caramel Brownie McFlurry
I know, I know: talk about heavy. A McFlurry is in no way light or healthy, but honestly, for the moments in which you’re looking to indulge and cool off, this guy does the trick.
The new McFlurry flavor makes a strong first impression, with chunks of brownie and caramel visibly dotting the top. The Mickey D’s vanilla ice cream flavor is a nice compliment to the dense add-ins, and for the first seven or eight bites, this dessert is pure heaven. The reason it didn’t rank higher? All the bites thereafter. As is commonly an issue with McFlurries, the bottom becomes plain vanilla ice cream pretty quickly. Still good! But definitely less enticing than we were originally led to believe.
Starbucks’ Dragon Drink
There’s no other way to put it: this drink is cool. Literally—it’s an iced, caffeinated beverage made with real dragonfruit and coconut milk—but also figuratively. The name, the fresh fruit floating on top, the color! I can’t get enough.
While slightly on the sweet side for my taste, the Dragon Drink is definitely worth all of the summer 2021 hype. It’s refreshing and tropical and tastes truly hand-crafted. I give it a 10/10 and will be bringing it to the beach on summer afternoons.
Shake Shack’s Strawberry Salted Limeade
Don’t walk, run! Shake Shack’s limited-edition Strawberry Salted Limeade is one of three new flavors the chain rolled for a limited time. It’s only available until June 30, which means we have exactly one month to enjoy this bad boy.
Unlike the other summer creations, Shake Shack’s Limeade is more refreshing than just plain sweet. Its taste is just as layered as its name would lead you to believe, and while it’s great on its own, we can also picture it making a mean mixer for beginning-of-summer cocktails.
For more, check out the 108 Most Popular Sodas Ranked By How Toxic They Are.