Fast food has been consistently popular all over the world for decades, for reasons that are pretty compelling — it’s tasty, it’s filling, and most of all it’s cheap. Much has been made in recent years about the health impact of these foods, but it’s done little to keep customers away. After all, a typical fast food restaurant allows a family of four to eat for $20, and in this economy that’s a likely source of repeat business, regardless of the health implications.
Still, would people be willing to pay more for fast food if it were made with better ingredients? Would they be willing to pay more for a hamburger made of high-quality beef? What if it was made from fresh Kobe beef from the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan and smothered in foie gras and black truffles, while perched atop a brioche truffle bun dotted with edible, 24-karat gold leaves? Would the average fast-food consumer be willing to part with a few extra bucks for such an experience?
Over the past few years, several businesses have tried to find the answer to this question by creating their own variations on fast food and giving them unnervingly high prices. Some were one-of-a-kind items with proceeds earmarked for charity, and others remain regular items on the menus of upscale restaurants. But what they all have in common is a price many times higher than anything normally found inside a Happy Meal.
What are some of the most outrageously expensive fast foods ever made? Click ahead to see them, in order of least to the most expensive.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Updated 9 August 2012
Created by: Wendy’s
Location: Tokyo, Japan
The Wendy’s fast-food chain is best known for its square hamburgers, “Where’s the beef?” commercials of yesteryear, and most of all, its modestly priced menu. However, the company has introduced an uncharacteristically high-end item for the Japanese market.
For a limited time, Wendy’s is offering its Tokyo customers the Lobster Surf & Turf Burger for approximately $16, according to BurgerBusiness.com, a burger-centric Internet resource run by Scott Hume, formerly of Restaurants & Institutions magazine and Advertising Age magazine. The burger uses Omar lobster meat, imported from Canada.
Created by: The Brentwood
Location: Los Angeles’ Westside
The Brentwood restaurant has served the culinary needs of Los Angeles’ Westside clientele since 1999. Its menu includes every comfort food conceivable, from burgers and fries to macaroni and cheese, and everything in between. However, just because they serve comfort food, don’t expect to be presented with a $10 check from your server when you’re done eating.
The Brentwood is located in one of the most upscale areas in the U.S., so the food is priced accordingly. On the menu, a $28.50 fish taco sits alongside a $24.50 plate of fried chicken and a $16.50 shrimp cocktail. At one point, the restaurant offered a filet mignon taco sold for $38.50, but sadly it no longer appears on their menu.
Created by: Stephen Bruce
Location: Serendipity 3, New York City
Serendipity 3 has been a New York City institution since 1954. It’s a popular tourist attraction that was frequented by such legends as Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, and Andy Warhol, and served as the setting for multiple films, most notably the 2001 romantic comedy Serendipity, starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsdale.
Owner Stephen Bruce has always known the value of a good publicity stunt, so on June 23, 2010, otherwise known as National Hot Dog Day, the restaurant offered the "Haute Dog," a foot-long frank grilled in white truffle butter and covered in black truffles and foie gras. It sold for $69, earning the Guinness World Record for the most expensive hot dog in the world.
Created by: Melisse
Location: Santa Monica, Calif.
Melisse is a French restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica, Calif. It specializes in seasonal entrees, and in the time that it’s been open for business it’s won two Michelin Star Awards. It’s also been rated the No. 1 restaurant in Los Angeles by Zagat.
One of the seasonal delicacies that Melisse offers is a white truffle, which is only available from October through December. During those months, the restaurant serves it in a macaroni and cheese entree that costs $95 a plate.
Created by: Barclay Prime
Location: Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia
Most major American cities have at least one trademark food item. New York City has the bagel, Chicago has deep-dish pizza, and Philadelphia has the Philly cheesesteak. The sandwich consists of thin slices of steak and melted Velveeta cheese on a roll, and you can get one anywhere in the city for just a few dollars.
Barclay Prime, a luxury steakhouse near Philadelphia’s historical Rittenhouse Square, offers its own upscale take on the sandwich. Until very recently, it offered a $100 cheesesteak sandwich made with Kobe beef, Taleggio cheese and poached lobster. In 2011, the sandwich was redesigned, but the restaurant has yet to disclose its details.
Created by: The Asian Palm Civet
Location: Southeast Asia
Price: $600 a pound
Today’s coffee drinker has more options than ever before. The most demanding caffeine connoisseur can find the exact one-pound blend of espresso-roasted, half-French, quarter-Colombian, quarter-Ethiopian beans his or her heart desires, simply by handing the Starbucks barista two dollars for a cup. However, only the true sophisticate knows about civet coffee, the rarest variety on earth, which can sell for as much as $600 a pound.
Civet coffee’s outrageous price tag is due to its rarity and its unorthodox harvesting method. It comes from a coffee cherry that only grows in Southeast Asia, and the tree is inhabited by a weasel known as the Asian Palm Civet. The animal eats the cherries, digests them and then excretes the hard centers. Harvesting the undigested portion, though highly unappetizing, yields a final product that can sell for as much as $50 a cup.
Created by: Frank Tujague
Location: The Westin New York at Times Square, New York City
Few foods are as heavily identified with New York City as the bagel. Other cities have their own variations on it, all profitably sold and happily consumed. However, no other U.S. city has ever come close to capturing that certain je ne sais quoi particular to the New York bagel.
Although the bagel is readily available at any time of day or night to anyone with a dollar to spend, Frank Tujague, executive chef at the Westin New York at Times Square, decided to deviate from its standard business model in 2007. He fashioned the world’s most expensive bagel by topping it with white truffle cream cheese, goji berry jelly, and gold leaves. The price for this creation was $1,000 and all proceeds from its sale were donated to the Les Amis d’Escoffier Scholarship, a charity benefiting impoverished culinary students.
Created by: Norma’s
Location: Le Parker Meridien New York, New York City
The omelet is a no-brainer food that requires a minimal amount of ingredients and preparation. For this reason, it has taken its rightful place in the mass consciousness as the first choice of rushed diner patrons looking for a quick breakfast.
Norma’s restaurant inmidtown New York City’s Le Parker Meridien hotel has given this convenient food an unusually upscale treatment. Their “Zillion Dollar Frittata” features eggs, lobster, and 10 ounces of sevruga caviar. The cost is $1,000, bringing new meaning to the term “power breakfast.”
Created by: Domenico Crolla
Pizza is a popular fast food that can stretch a few dollars into a satisfying, if greasy, meal. Domenico Crolla, one of the U.K.’s foremost creators of Italian cuisine, operates a restaurant called Bella Napoli that specializes in gourmet pizzas going far beyond the average $2 slice.
In 2006, Crolla created the most expensive pizza on record. Dubbed the “Pizza Royale 007,” its toppings included cognac-marinated lobster, champagne-soaked caviar, venison, and edible flakes of 24-carat gold. Crolla estimated that the pie was worth approximately $3,700, but it fetched $4,200 on an eBay auction from lawyer Maurizio Morelli.
Created by: Hubert Keller
Location: Fleur de Lys at Mandalay Bay Casino, Las Vegas
The hamburger has been the fast-food gold standard for decades, and the first thing many people think of when they want a quick and inexpensive bite. There have been multiple attempts to recast it as a high-end item, such as the one created by celebrity chef Daniel Boulud with wine-braised short ribs, which cost $120. The Old Homestead Steakhouse in Boca Raton, Fla., created the Tri-Beef burger in 2005, whose mixture of Japanese Wagyu, American Prime, and Argentine beef drove its price up to $125. Even Burger King got into the act, introducing a Japanese beef burger at its West London branch that sold for $186.
All of these hamburgers are bargains compared to the FleurBurger. Designed by chef Hubert Keller, the FleurBurger is available only at Fleur de Lys, a restaurant in Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Casino. The burger is made of Kobe beef, topped with black truffles and foie gras, and served on a brioche truffle bun. It comes with a bottle of Chateau Pétrus 1990, which is imported from Italy and served in Ichendorf Brunello champagne flutes, which the customer gets to keep. Customers also receive a certificate that the restaurant mails home, proving the authenticity of the purchase. The final price tag for the experience is $5,000.
Created by: Serendipity 3
Location: New York City
The ice cream sundae brings many idyllic images to mind, such as the laughter of a child, with a dimpled, cherubic face dotted with glistening chocolate sauce and errant dabs of whipped cream. The New York City restaurant Serendipity 3 is world-famous for such concoctions, and it made headlines in 2004 when it created the “Golden Opulence” sundae in observance of the restaurant’s 50th anniversary.
Priced at $1,000, the dessert easily set the Guinness World Record for most expensive ice cream sundae. It features Tahitian and Madagascar vanilla bean ice cream, edible leaves of 23 karat gold, sauce by Amedei Porceleana, and salt-free dessert caviar. Anyone thinking about ordering one is required to make a 48-hour advance reservation.
In 2007, Serendipity broke its own record with the intentionally misspelled “Frrozen Haute Chocolate,” priced at $25,000. This sundae raised the stakes set by “Golden Opulence” by using 28 cocoas and an 18-karat gold bracelet with white diamonds at the dish’s base. It also comes with a side of Knipschildt Chocolatier’s $2,600-a-pound La Madeline au Truffle, and is eaten with a diamond-encrusted golden spoon that the customer can keep.