We ate dozens of meals at restaurant chains in 2018. Here are the 6 absolute best things to try right now.

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fast food 2018Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

2018 was another bizarre year.

Food-poisoning outbreaks swept America. Meghan Markle was forced to stop eating mussels. IHOP changed its name to IHOb and everyone lost their mind.

And through it all, we just kept eating - dozens of fast-food meals, in fact, as we dove deep into McDonald's breakfast menu, gorged ourselves on a road trip, and consumed hundreds of shrimp.

After tasting innumerable fast-food menu items, just a handful stood out. Whether they're new menu items, like IHOP's new burger line, or just new to us, such as Torchy's queso, we can't stop thinking about these six dishes months after we tasted them.

Here are the six best chain-restaurant menu items we ate in 2018:

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Taco Bell's fries

Taco Bell's fries

In late January, the fast-food chain added $1 nacho fries to the menu for a limited time. Instead of taking the classic fast-food route, Taco Bell tops its fries with a spicy seasoning and serves them with a side of nacho cheese.

The fries were one of Taco Bell's most successful launches of all time, and for good reason. By ditching fast-food traditions in favor of a spicier fry, paired with nacho cheese, Taco Bell crafted one of the best new menu items of the year by a long shot.

Read more: Taco Bell's limited-time fries paid off big for the chain, and now they're coming back

IHOP-slash-IHOb's burgers

IHOP-slash-IHOb's burgers

IHOP's short-lived name change to IHOb — International House of Burgers — set the internet aflame in June. Many people were unconvinced that IHOP's burgers could ever compare to its pancakes.

However, we found the burgers, which had been recently relaunched by IHOP, shockingly good. The Cowboy BBQ Burger and the Big Brunch Burger were both well-seasoned and imaginative takes on hamburgers in an industry stuffed with imitators.

Read more: IHOP changed its name to IHOb to promote its new lineup of burgers. They're shockingly good.

Torchy's queso

Torchy's queso

The best new-to-us menu item we tried this year was Torchy's queso. Torchy's entire menu was pretty fantastic, from the masterfully balanced street corn to its massive, unorthodox tacos.

But, the thing we couldn't stop eating long after we were stuffed was the queso. Sure, Torchy's is more fast-casual than fast food, but to ignore a cheesy dish we're still thinking about months later would be a far greater sin.

Read more: We visited a cult-favorite Texas taco chain that's trying to take over America. Here's why Chipotle should be terrified.

Sonic's onion ring

Sonic's onion ring

Picking a favorite from Sonic's menu proved to be a struggle, as we visited the chain for the first time in our lives. Should we highlight a limited-time offering, like the Pickle Juice Slush, that proved to be much tastier than expected? Or, did we need to highlight a classic, like the Ocean Water slush?

Ultimately, we settled on the less flashy but pleasantly confusing onion rings as a dish that epitomizes the chain's charm.

The onion rings have a distinct sweetness that was originally derived from mixing the batter in the same tubs as the chain's ice cream. Later on, this sweetness was kept to ensure fans wouldn't miss the distinct taste of these delicious rings.

Read more: Arby's parent company is acquiring American fast-food icon Sonic in a $2.3 billion deal. We recently visited the burger chain for the first time — here's what it's like to eat there.

Whataburger's patty melt

Whataburger's patty melt

Whataburger, Sonic, and Torchy's were three of the highlights on a road trip we took through the southern US over the summer. As with Sonic, we wanted to highlight Whataburger's menu, but struggled to decide which items stood out above the rest.

The Patty Melt made the list, as it brought an old-school flair you won't find at many burger chains. However, if we were being completely honest, Whataburger left us wanting more — so keep an eye out to see if a yet-untasted menu item from the chain makes the 2019 list of the best items we tried.

Read more: I visited Whataburger, a Texas chain with a cult following, for the first time. Here's what it's like.

Buc-ee's breakfast tacos

Buc-ee's breakfast tacos

Buc-ee's may not be a restaurant chain per se, but the gas-station chain had some of the best food we ate all year. The brisket, the pastrami Reuben, the chips — it was all delicious.

The standouts were the breakfast tacos, perfectly packaged amalgamations of cheese, potato, eggs, bacon, and beans. The foil wrapping sealed in the heat, creating a well-melded breakfast begging to be devoured.

Read more: We visited a convenience-store chain with a cult following in Texas, and we were amazed by what we found

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