The mechanized heartbeat of the fast food machine never stops! Did you think that after a month that brought us new food from Taco Bell, Wendy’s, and Burger King, we’d get rest in July? Not a chance — it’s summer, baby! This is fast food’s season, look no further than the drop date of Popeye’s famed fried chicken sandwich, which arrived on the scene in August of 2019.
When the weather is hot, the body wants fast food. Either that or we’ve spent all our money on booze and vacation and need something cheap to sustain us.
As if the temperature outside wasn’t hot enough as is, this week brings us some sweet chili heat, courtesy of Shake Shack. The brand has just unveiled its Hot Honey summer menu, which includes a new seasoning for the Shack’s fries and nuggets, three fruity mocktails, two new shakes, including one with Pop Rocks — weird — and the star of the show, a new chicken sandwich called the Hot Honey Chicken.
As you can imagine, some of these new items are definitely worth ordering and some, quite frankly, aren’t. So we taste-tested the whole lineup (so that you don’t have to!), delivering the full breakdown of each new item from worst to most essential.
Least Essential — Lime Agave Margarita, Piña Punch, and Watermelon Mint Mojito Summerades
Price: $3.29 (Small), $4.09 (Large)
Since the cocktail-inspired Summerades were easily my least favorite new additions to the menu, I’m lumping them all in together into a single entry. Each flavor leaves a lot to be desired, and after tasting each I was left scratching my head wondering just exactly who these are for. They’re not for people who want to enjoy some alcohol with their Shake Shack, because the Shack has both wine and beer, so those people are covered. So then… it’s for lemonade fans? Juice heads? I suppose if you roll up to Shake Shack and want a refreshing beverage that isn’t carbonated, this is for you, but none of the three flavors are better than classic lemonade.
Let’s start with the worst: Lime Agave Margarita. It’s very peppery with a dull bitter bite that would totally work with some tequila or mezcal. They try to make up for this with the inclusion of jalapeno and smoked salt, but the result is a super sweet drink with a weird bitter aftertaste and a cloudy unappetizing appearance. Skip this one.
Things improve a lot with the Watermelon Mint Mojito, which goes pretty light on the watermelon, but has a great refreshing minty flavor profile, with a hint of bitter over-steeped white tea worked in there to balance the sweet flavor notes out. It kinda sorta works but still isn’t really worth spending money on.
If I had to pick a favorite in this lineup, it would be the Piña Punch, which tastes like a more natural version of the fruit punch of your childhood, with notes of cherry, pineapple, blackberry and mango, giving this a gourmet Big Stick popsicle vibe. Still, I wouldn’t exactly describe any of these as more refreshing than an ice-cold Coca-Cola, and they easily have just as much sugar, if not more.
The Bottom Line
If you want some juice with your meal, by all means, go ahead and order one of these but you’ll probably be better served by getting a lemonade or an Arnold Palmer. Avoid the Lime Agave flavor at all costs.
Good but Forgettable — Triple Chocolate Chip Shake
It makes me a little sad to give something this good the “forgettable” status, but I just don’t feel like the Triple Chocolate Chip shake pulls its weight compared to everything else on the summer menu. If you love Shake Shack’s chocolate shakes, this is simply more of the same, with a richer chocolate flavor and frozen semi-sweet chocolate chips mixed in, giving you an extra little dose of chewable chocolate to enjoy between sips.
The problem is the Shake Shack straws are way too narrow to make this shake work, you’ll constantly be sucking as hard as you can to get the chips dislodged from the straw, which will absolutely result in them shooting to the back of your throat and getting lodged there momentarily. Luckily the chocolate will melt before you can choke, but a shake shouldn’t take this much effort to drink.
The Bottom Line
If you love Shake Shack’s chocolate shakes, this is definitely worth a try. If you don’t normally grab a shake at the Shack, this isn’t a reason to start.
Good — Hot Honey Fries
Don’t let the name “Hot Honey Fries” full you into thinking these are some type of sauce-drenched fries, they’re not. They’re just dusted with a sweet and spicy seasoning that greatly improves Shake Shack’s stock fries. I’m not a fan of Shake Shack’s crinkle-cut fries, I think that at a fast-casual restaurant that goes the extra mile in crafting their Angus meat burgers, hand-breaded antibiotic-free chicken, and hand-spun shakes, these frozen crinkle-cut fries are an odd, out of place misste –, so any effort to trick them out and make them more palatable is greatly appreciated.
The seasoning on these fries tastes sort of like a sweetened Tajin, with a barely-there heat that quickly settles into a sweet lingering aftertaste. It has that power that spicy food has of leaving your taste buds wanting more, but it suggests spiciness more than it actually delivers. I don’t think that’s a bad thing but set your expectations correctly, because if you want spicy fries, these aren’t quite that.
The Bottom Line
A better seasoning for your fries than salt and pepper — order these over the original!
Good — Hot Honey Chicken Bites
Price: $5.19 (6-piece) $7.19 (10-piece)
Like the fries, the Hot Honey Chicken Bites are a better version of Shake Shack’s regular Chicken Bites. The sweet and spicy seasoning pairs better with the chicken than the fries, and perfectly embeds itself into the craggy crust of these chicken nuggets — delivering a juicy bite of tender chicken with a delicious, lingering sweetened chili flavor. While I dipped both the fries and the chicken in Shake Shack’s new Habanero Mayo sauce, the sauce paired more harmoniously with the chicken, offering notes of bright citrus to Shake Shack’s garlic powder and black pepper-forward chicken batter.
As good as the chicken bites were, they still tasted like they were missing something. Luckily that gets remedied in the sandwich version.
The Bottom Line
An improvement on Shake Shack’s regular Chicken Bites. When this seasonal seasoning leaves the menu, it’ll be a major hit to Shake Shack’s stock fries and nuggets. Get it while you can.
Great — Cherry Pop Shake
I fully expected to hate this one. A vanilla coke milkshake topped with Pop Rocks (“popping candy” in this case), where am I at, f*cking Jack in the Box? This sounded like some stoner nonsense, and that’s coming from a stoner! But everything about this milkshake just works, it’s not only the best Shake Shack milkshake I’ve ever had, it’s one of the best milkshakes currently in fast food. Made using Vanilla cola frozen custard, I’m not getting any of that coke flavor in the actual drink, instead, I’m tasting a nice balance of vanilla and sweet Amarena cherry that has a natural sourness to it that (oddly enough) pairs perfectly with some Pop Rocks.
I haven’t had Pop Rocks in easily over a decade, and there is something about that popping sensation that matches up well with the decadent qualities of a nice thick milkshake. The Pop Rocks add a chewable quality to this milkshake that I really like and sort of acts like a bridge between bites. I’d strongly advise you to save this milkshake for after your meal, as the popping really doesn’t stop. Shake Shack didn’t just sprinkle some candy on the whipped cream and call it a day, this shit is embedded in the drink, giving you a dose of popping candy with every sip.
I had way too much fun drinking this thing.
The Bottom Line
I know that a milkshake with Pop Rocks sounds f*cking stupid, but just give it a try. This will exceed your expectations.
Must Order — Hot Honey Chicken Sandwich
Throughout my tasting of Shake Shack’s Hot Honey menu, I was getting a lot of sweetened heat, but identifying that sweetness as “honey” wasn’t quite hitting the mark. Honey has a distinct earthy sweetness and consistency that just wasn’t translating through the dry seasoning. But after eating the Hot Honey Chicken Sandwich, it’s clear that the menu was named for this delicious entry — which definitely delivers on the promise of honey.
The hand-breaded chicken filet in this sandwich is generously brushed with a sticky honey glaze made from shallots, oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. If that wasn’t enough flavor, it’s further elevated with some summer-y notes of bright passion fruit that give this sandwich a tropical sweetened flavor that truly feels fit for the season.
The filet is already so well seasoned that this sandwich isn’t in need of a sauce, but Shake Shack provides one anyway, brushing the toasted potato bun with habanero mayo. The mayo sauce is made using pickled habanero peppers, which add a sour acidity to the sauce that reminds me of a lime rind — a quality I didn’t really enjoy that much when used as a dipping sauce, but here on the sandwich it really helps to settle the sweetness of the glaze, adding complexity to this chicken sandwich that just isn’t present in any of the competition, yes, including Popeyes (!!!!).
The sandwiches only weak point? That lettuce. Might as well just toss it out.
The Bottom Line
It’s hands down my favorite chicken sandwich of the summer. I’d order this over Popeyes any day in a heartbeat. Time will tell how long that feeling lasts, though. I might just be charmed by the newness of it all. It’s definitely worth a trip to Shake Shack — that’s for sure.
Shake Shack’s Hot Honey Summer Menu is available now nationwide. Find your nearest Shake Shack here.