A few years ago, a Sonic opened about 5 minutes from my house. I had only been to a Sonic once in my life, and all I had was a delicious Lemon Berry Slush. I was excited to have yet another fast food option nearby. So was the rest of the neighborhood, because for at least 6 months after opening, it was constantly packed. The wait was often half an hour or more. They even had a traffic controller herding the hungry and thirsty masses. If you haven’t tried Sonic’s happy hour already, you are missing out big time.

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At first, I loved the drinks and the fact that there are so many. I still do. I also loved that they serve breakfast all day. My favorite menu items were the Sausage CroisSonic, SuperSonic Cheeseburger, Chili Cheese Coney, Tots, and Cherry Limeade. The value menu was pretty good too, featuring the Chicken Strip Sandwich, Corn Dog, Small Tots and Small Slush for $.99 each.

But over the last couple of years, the novelty has worn off. It’s still fairly busy at lunch and dinner hours, but nothing crazy. My visits have gone from at least a couple of times per month to every month or two. Of those value items I mentioned, the tots are the only one that’s still $.99. Since I’m mainly a value menu eater, that’s a deal-breaker. If I’m going to spend the dough for a premium item, it’d better be wicked awesome, like the Spicy Asiago Ranch Chicken Club from Wendy’s, KFC’s Doublicious, or the Big Carl at Carl’s Jr. Sonic still has a few things I like, but with the lack of value or great premium sandwiches, I don’t have a reason to go very often.

When I read that they were coming out with Spicy Popcorn Chicken, I didn’t think much of it. My initial thoughts were about how much I miss Spicy Chicken McBites and KFC’s Popcorn Chicken. My past experience with Sonic’s poppable chicken chunks was average at best. I was not at all planning to try the new spicy version, but when I saw they would be offering both varieties at half-price yesterday, I decided to give it a shot.

First of all, I want to point out how frustrating it is that every time Sonic has some kind of deal, you have to actually mention the offer to get the discount. It would be fine except my local Sonic’s employees are never aware of any promotions. This time, as with most others, the person taking my order had no idea about the 1/2 price deal and had to ask the manager about it. Then, when the carhop brought my food out, she tried to charge full price. When I told her about the discount I was supposed to get, she was confused and went back inside. She finally returned a couple of minutes later and it all got sorted out. Unnecessary trouble is created by the whole “mention this deal” thing.

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Anyway, a snack size popcorn chicken goes for an unreasonable $3.59 in my area (should be at least a buck less), and a large is $4.59 (more reasonable, but I’m thinking $3.99 sounds right). I wanted to do a comparison so I got a snack size of regular and spicy. I also ordered a plain cheeseburger because sometimes I’m a plain Jane, but that just created more problems. My conversation with the order-taker went something like this:

Me: I also want a small cheeseburger, plain. Just cheese on it.

Drive-thru jockey: Sonic Cheeseburger?

Me: No, just a small cheeseburger.

DTJ: Like the value one, the Junior Deluxe Cheeseburger?

Me: Yeah. Plain. Just cheese on it.

DTJ: So that’s a Junior Deluxe with only ketchup?

Me: No, only cheese.

10 second pause

DTJ: So that’s a Junior Deluxe with only ketchup?

Me: No, only cheese.

DTJ: Ohhhh, okay. Plain. Like, just meat, cheese, and bun. Okay.

 

At most places you just say “plain” and they know exactly what you mean, no questions asked. Not Sonic.

I also wanted to try out the two new dipping sauces, Creamy Chipotle and Berry Spicy. Unfortunately, the aforementioned carhop failed to put the Berry Spicy in the bag. I asked if the sauces were in there just to be sure, and she said they were. As I was leaving I checked the bag to be extra sure, and discovered Creamy Chipotle and Ranch. At that point I’d had quite enough of the atrocious customer service, so I just went home.

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After all that, I really just wanted to eat the damn chicken and get it over with. I was hoping it would be good so all the trouble I went to wasn’t for nothing. I popped open the containers and it was clear which one was which. The spicy chicken had more of an orange hue. I was somewhat surprised at the size; I was expecting snack size to be a little smaller. Also, the Creamy Chipotle Sauce cup was too big to fit in the handy sauce holder. Genius design, Sonic. At any rate, it was time for the moment of truth.

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I started with the regular version to establish a baseline. My first piece was fairly large and had a decent chicken to breading ratio. The breading had some crunch, but not much flavor apart from a little saltiness. The chicken was very dry and didn’t have much flavor at all. Put it all together and you get a crispy, mostly flavorless ball. I dipped the next piece in ranch which at least provided a little flavor. It wasn’t the best ranch ever; too tangy and not creamy enough. I then tried the Creamy Chipotle, but it really wasn’t good. It was smoky and definitely tasted of chili peppers, but was also unpleasantly salty. So the regular popcorn chicken sucked, but I held out some hope for the spicy chicken.

It was a little better, but still not great. The chicken in the spicy pieces was actually moist, so that was a plus. The breading had a bit more flavor; I would call it a hint of black pepper with a pinch of salt. I was happy that it wasn’t as bad as the regular chicken. Then I remembered that it was supposed to be spicy. I ate a couple more pieces, searching for some heat, but I never found it. After eating about 10 pieces, I think I might have felt one taste bud tingling. I even did a blind taste test: I grabbed similar-sized pieces of each flavor and rattled them around in my hand. They tasted somewhat different, but I had no idea which one was supposed to be spicy.

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Overall, the “spicy” chicken was meh and not spicy at all, and the regular chicken was bleh. Oh, and the service was shit. I can’t recommend trying either kind of chicken, especially at full price. At half price, at least the value was okay for the amount of chicken, but that deal is over. See you in a few months, Sonic.

Ratings: 

Regular Popcorn Chicken: 4/10

Spicy Popcorn Chicken: 5.5/10

Ranch Dip: 5/10

Creamy Chipotle Dip: 3/10

Sonic customer service: 0/10

Legit on FX: 9/10

This review: 6/10

Kate Upton: 10/10

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