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Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme
Photograph: Courtesy Taco Bell

The best fast food restaurants in the US

Famished and in a hurry? Discover the best fast food restaurants in the US, ace on-the-go joints for burgers, fries and more

Written by
Tim Lowery
Patty Lee
Scott Snowden

Just because it's called 'fast food' doesn't mean it has to be 'inferior food.' From iconic originals like Taco Bell’s burrito-quesadilla hybrid Quesarito to reliable standards like a simple fresh-made burger, fast food restaurants offer an array of hand-held goodies that will satisfy your hunger fast. Now more than ever, the options are dizzying, and no matter where you live you likely have dozens of options within a short drive.

Perhaps you seek out the absolute best restaurants in America, be it Mexican, Italian, French or some other cuisine type. But sometimes there’s nothing better than a pit stop at one of the best fast food restaurants in the country. Whether hitting up the drive-thru for a quick meal or a hangover cure, there are many worthy occasions when fast food eats (including burger joints, chicken chains, Americanized Mexican spots and other fast food favorites) are the way to go.

So which fast food chain is the best? Here are our favorites, and you’re sure to find one in your neighborhood. If not, start planning your next road trip so you can visit these spots along the way while checking out the best places to visit in the US (and if you can find a good fast food joint, our list of the best gas station snacks will help).

RECOMMENDED: The best burgers in America

Best fast food restaurants in the US

Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

1. In-N-Out

There’s nothing clandestine about the 'secret' menu at In-N-Out—it even has a page on the Cali chain’s website. But the not-so-covert items still garner a cult-like following by those who make the pilgrimage out west for smashed burgers and animal-style fries. Besides, who can argue with the tastes of The Dude from The Big Lebowski? 

Must-order: Double-double

Photograph: Courtesy Zaxby's

2. Zaxby's

Speaking of fried chicken, Zaxby’s is one of the rulers of the roost—at least in the South. Dreamed up by two childhood pals on a Statesboro, Georgia basketball court, the comfort-food spot slings out crispy bird in a number of forms (tenders, wings, etc.), plus a house-made, addictive Zax sauce. 

Must-order: Chicken finger plate

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen
Photograph: Courtesy Popeye's

3. Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

It’s all about the spice, people. Popeyes’ hush-hush blend imbues Cajun flavor into many of its beloved dishes, from the signature fried chicken and creamy mashed potatoes to those generously-seasoned fries. It’s no wonder the New Orleans-born restaurant has amassed an uber-passionate following. 

Must-order: Spicy chicken

Photograph: Tom Dubanowich

4. Wendy's

Fun fact for young folks: Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas starred in more than 800 commercials for the brand, hawking its burgers in a soft-spoken, grandfatherly demeanor. He passsed away in 2002, but his signature never-frozen beef patties and iconic Frosty desserts live on. 

Must-order: Chocolate Frosty

Photograph: Courtesy Whataburger

5. Whataburger

Down south, Whataburger’s orange and white stripes are almost as iconic as McDonald’s golden arches, signaling meaty goodness in the form of wide, thin patties on a toasted five-inch bun. They’re not just skilled with beef, however—as much as its namesake hits the spot, Whataburger devotees will tell you that there’s no better hangover cure than the honey butter chicken biscuit.

Must-order: Patty melt

Taco Bell
Photograph: Courtesy Taco Bell

6. Taco Bell

Taco Bell shows no sign of slowing down, debuting a new item seemingly every week. Hell, even its boozy cantinas are continuing to expand. But despite all the additions and newfangled spins on its Mexican fast food, one thing remains a constant: a stoner-friendly, late-night-worthy and cheap menu that hits all the right notes—if you’re stoned…or out super late…or broke.   

Must-order: Burrito Supreme 

Photograph: Courtesy Biscuitville

7. Biscuitville

As its name suggests, this family-owned chain in North Carolina and Virginia is obsessed with biscuits. According to the company, the made-from-scratch pucks only call for three ingredients (flour, buttermilk and shortening) and get turned out every 15 minutes, guaranteeing warm, fluffy biscuits at all hours.

Must-order: Ultimate country ham biscuit 

Photograph: Courtesy Arby's

8. Arby's  

While the fast-food powerhouse's slogan may be “we have the meats,” no meal is complete without a side of tough-to-quit curly fries. And 55 years into its run, Arby's still serves up those classic Roast Beef and Beef 'n Cheddars. 

Must-order: Smokehouse brisket sandwich

Dairy Queen
Photograph: Courtesy Dairy Queen

9. Dairy Queen

There are few things as nostalgic—or satisfying—as watching a Dairy Queen clerk do the obligatory Blizzard flip. The hard part is, of course, deciding which add-in best complements DQ’s lusciously thick vanilla soft serve—the straightforward classics (Oreos, M&Ms) or the over-the-top combos (Turtle Pecan Cluster, Peanut Butter Cookie Dough)? Psst: The burgers ain't too shabby here either. 

Must-order: Oreo Blizzard 

Photograph: Courtesy Culver's

10. Culver's

True to its Wisconsin roots, the secret to Culver’s exceptional burger is butter. The patties come sandwiched between buns that get a swipe of dairy before hitting the grill, resulting in a delicious package that’s best paired with another midwest specialty: frozen custard. 

Must-try: ButterBurger


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