Cheez-It Crunchwraps, Sabrina Carpenter’s Espresso Ice Cream & 12 Other New Restaurant Menu Items You Need to Know About

Isn't that sweet? I guess so

the best new restaurant menu additions of summer 2024, including a watermelon smoothie, brisket bowl and dolly parton donuts
Jamba Juice/First Watch/Krispy Kreme/PureWow

No matter how committed to clean eating you are, or how refined your palate is, if you clicked on this story, you know: Nobody can resist the occasional late-night drive-thru run. Or the comforting familiarity of a chain restaurant where the portions are bigger than your head and reliably consistent, no matter where you are. (There’s a certain satisfaction in sliding into a booth at Chili’s even if it’s miles away from the one you used to frequent on Fridays.)

You’ve got your go-to order, but sometimes, you want to mix things up. And this summer, a whole slew of fast food, fast casual and casual-casual restaurants are offering a whole lot of newness. Here’s what to consider when the next time your stomach’s growling and you can’t imagine preheating an oven.

Need Ice for a Party? Head to a McDonald’s Drive-Thru (No, Seriously)

applebee's sweet and crispy chicken sandwich

1. Applebee’s Sweet and Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich

On the heels of retiring its Dollaritas, Applebee’s is offering a few new ways to get you into the “Fancy Like” chain. Namely, the return of late night half-priced apps, and four new chicken sandwiches. Most are some combination of crispy chicken, bacon and cheese, though there’s one standout in the bunch: the Sweet and Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich. This chicken breast is breaded and slathered with Asian chili sauce, piled atop a bed of coleslaw on a brioche bun.

chili's big smasher burger with fries

2. Chili’s Big Smasher Burger

A new addition to its Three for Me menu—and the first burger innovation in three years—the Big Smasher Burger feels like a shot fired at two all-beef patties with special sauce. (The Big Mic, obviously.) Unlike the fictional McDowell’s, their burger features one half-pound patty, though it is topped with diced red onions, lettuce, pickles, American cheese and Thousand Island dressing.

Given the “Smasher” name, when I tried it, I was hoping for a bit more caramelization and seasoning—like a classic smash burger—but that’s hard to achieve with a patty this thick. It’s an elevated take on a fast food patty, and I’m here for it.

cheesecake factory's 2024 new menu items, including mexicali salad
cheesecake factory

3. Cheesecake Factory Mexicali Salad

It’s not every day that a salad is so delicious it can compete with a cheesecake—let alone an Oreo-studded, ganache-topped Cheesecake Factory cheesecake—but that’s the strange reality we uncovered after PureWow editors tested the brand’s latest menu additions. The Mexicali Salad boasts major flavor and crunch, thanks to the combo of fire-roasted corn, jicama, diced onion, white beans, pepitas and avocado, all tossed with mixed greens and coated with a chile-lime vinaigrette and Cotija cheese. Top it with chicken, steak or shrimp and never look back.

first watch brisket hash bowl
first watch

4. First Watch Shishito Brisket Hash

Now through August 11, the brunch chain is offering five summertime menu additions, ranging from carnitas breakfast quesadillas to strawberry tres leches French toast. I’m most excited about their Shishito Breakfast Hash. Picture potato hash layered with blistered shishito peppers, smoked brisket, sweet corn, house-pickled red onions, cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese, then topped with two eggs and roasted garlic aioli. You’ll never settle for an egg McMuffin again.

jamba juice watermelon tajin smoothie
jamba juice

5. Jamba Juice Watermelon Tajín Smoothie

Tajín’s chili-lime seasoning has long been a popular watermelon topper, so honestly, it feels long overdue as a star smoothie ingredient, especially as the swicy trend continues to dominate the food scene. Jamba Juice’s riff is indulgent, featuring a blend of watermelon-flavored grape juice, raspberry sorbet, strawberries, pineapples and mild Tajín hot sauce. (If spice isn’t your thing, they also launched a watermelon lemonade smoothie.)

jimmy john's firecracker wrap and cookie and drink with chips
jimmy john's

6. Jimmy John’s Firecracker Wrap & Confetti Cookie Sandwich

Further proof 2024 is Swicy Girl Summer? Sandwich chain Jimmy John’s unveiled a duo designed to meet your sweet and spicy needs in one meal. First, a Firecracker wrap, which features turkey, salami, ghost pepper cheese, crushed Firecracker Jimmy chips (aka spicy chips), garlic aioli, along with a slew of veggies, mayo, oil and vinegar, all rolled up in a red jalapeño tortilla. Then, you can cool things down with two sugar cookies sandwiching buttercream frosting.

dolly parton and krispy kreme donuts

7. Krispy Kreme x Dolly Parton Doughnut Collection

Forget working 9-to-5—I’m convinced Dolly Parton doesn’t sleep. She’s been rolling out collabs, from baking mixes to cast iron pans, and her latest is equally sweet: a Southern Sweets doughnut collaboration with Krispy Kreme. It features four next-level treats, from a peach-filled-and-brown-sugar-icing topped Peachy Keen Cobber doughnut to Chocolate Crème Pie (a glazed doughnut covered with chocolate brownie cream and whipped vanilla topping, then sprinkled with crumbled chocolate cookies).

There’s also the Dolly Dazzler, a strawberry-iced doughnut glittering with gold, pink and white sanding sugar and topped with a chocolate butterfly, and my favorite, the Banana Puddin’ Pie. As the name suggests, it's a donut filled with banana pudding, topped with yellow and white icing and wafer cookie bits.

grandma mcflurry with mcdonald's french fries

8. McDonald’s Grandma McFlurry

What, pray tell, is in a Grandma McFlurry? Tongue-slicing ribbon candy? Butter mints found at the bottom of Nana’s purse? I had to ask an employee, and it turns out, “grandma” = butterscotch. As in, vanilla ice cream swirled with butterscotch-flavored syrup and butterscotch bits.

tropicana x milk bar orange soft serve
milk bar/tropicana

9. Milk Bar Orange Squeeze Soft Serve

OK, this launch hits me personally: Growing up in Florida, every orange grove had a gift shop with a soft serve machine that’d dole out vanilla, citrus—or, the best of both worlds, vanilla-orange swirl—ice cream. All of the groves near me have been turned into strip malls, sadly, but I can finally get a taste of nostalgia, thanks to Milk Bar’s collab with Tropicana. From June 20 through August 21, you can snag a cup or pint at any Milk Bar store, or via Seamless, DoorDash or UberEats.

new restaurants pizza 2
pizza hut

10. Pizza Hut Melts

The chain that rewarded you with personal pan pizzas for reading has expanded into new territory: burgers. Specifically, a Cheeseburger Melt, which takes the Hut’s Thin n’ Crispy pizza crust and turns it into a folded bun that’s stuffed with beef, applewood-smoked bacon, onions, mozzarella and cheddar. It’s served with a mysterious “Burger Sauce,” which looks Thousand Island-y and Redditors describe as tasting like mustard or cheese (?) and pickles.

starbucks summer drinks: summer berry starbucks refresher, summer berry lemonade starbucks refresher, and summer skies starbucks refresher, side by side

11. Starbucks Summer-Berry Refreshers

Move over, Pink Drink—there’s a blue (and red) drink in town. Three, actually. Starbucks has deemed its Summer-Berry Refreshers the “official drink of summer.” Each one features Boba-inspired raspberry pearls, but they’re not gummy or jelly-like; these orbs are juice-filled, creating a burst of flavor as soon as you bite on them. As for the blue drink itself, it’s a blend of raspberry, blueberry and blackberry flavors, shaken and served over ice. You can enjoy it as is, as the Summer-Berry Refresher, or have it mixed with lemonade (just ask for a Summer-Berry with Lemonade), or try the Summer Skies Refresher, which is a cloudier take on the original drink, thanks to the addition of coconut milk. 

taco bell cheez-it crunchwrap and tostada

12. Taco Bell Big Cheez-It Crunchwrap Supreme & Tostada

It was whispered about for weeks, and it turns out, the rumors are true: Those maniacal geniuses at Taco Bell supersized a Cheez-It and turned it into the base for both a Crunchwrap and a tostada, and I have never rushed to a drive-thru faster. (Go ahead, judge me.) While the cheesy flavor comes through, all the sour cream in the Crunchwrap rendered mine crunch-less. Still, I have no regrets.

sabrina carpenter espresso ice cream

13. Van Leeuwen x Sabrina Carpenter Espresso Ice Cream

The song you can’t get out of your head is now going to taunt you in a whole new way. Sabrina Carpenter teamed up with Van Leeuwen to create an espresso ice cream that’s mixed with fudge brownies, chocolate chips and fudge swirls, and it’s available in stores and online starting June 28. Isn’t that sweet? You don’t have to guess. I know so. And if you head to stores before supplies run out (because this is a limited-time deal), you will too.

whataburger caramel latte shake

14. Whataburger Caramel Latte Shakes

Ms. Carpenter isn’t the only one making espresso a summertime treat. Whataburger’s Caramel Latte Shake is now in stores everywhere, and yes, it features real espresso—along with a generous serving of vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce to round things out. Pair it with a Bacon Steakhouse Double Burger and live your best (most indulgent) life.

candace davison bio

VP of editorial, recipe developer, cookbook author

Candace Davison oversees PureWow's food and home content, as well as its franchises, like the PureWow100 review series and the Happy Kid Awards. She’s covered all things lifestyle...