Welcome to Fast Food Nation! When I left Germany back in 2005 I only knew McDonald’s, Burger King and of course Germany’s most popular fast food: the Döner Kebab (it’s actually Turkish, but who cares, it’s AWESOME!).
So once we stepped foot on American soil during our first USA vacation in 2004, we had a hard time to try out new restaurants, because we just didn’t know what it was, what they offer and how much it would cost. Unfortunately, our increasing hunger almost always made us play it “safe” (can’t believe I say that) and go to McDonald’s, because that’s what we knew. Today, I try to avoid most fast food restaurants, after learning more and more about food in the US from sites like Food Babe and 100 Days of Real Food.
If you can’t help but try some of the American fast food restaurants out there (I can’t blame you, since I was once curious too), here’s a break down of some very popular fast food chains in America.
FAST FOOD RESTAURANTS
The Fast Food industry is changing with more health conscious menu items and fresher ingredients. McDonald’s is the forerunner of this trend and after remodeling their restaurants to a more modern look and feel, they also added smoothies, oatmeal and more salad options to their menu. But Fast Food chains in general still use a lot of canned, frozen and pre-packaged ingredients to keep the cost down. Let’s take a look at what’s out their in Fast Food Nation and what kind of food you can expect when you’re in a hurry and budget is tight.
Arby’s is the second largest quick-service sandwich chain in the U.S. with more than 3,400 restaurants system wide. In addition to its classic Roast Beef and Beef ‘n Cheddar sandwiches, made in store daily,Arby’s is also known for its deli-style Market Fresh line of sandwiches and salads, Curly Fries and Jamocha Shakes.
Bojangle’s is a Southeastern regional chain of quick service restaurants specializing in spicy, “Cajun” fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits. There are nearly 500 locations in 10 states.
Burger King is the second largest fast food hamburger chain in the world and home of the original Whopper – a quarter pound hamburger.
Checker’s operates in 28 states plus D.C. and specializes in hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, and milkshakes.
Chick-fil-A has over 1,700 restaurants in 38 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, and specializes in chicken sandwiches. Unlike most fast food restaurants and retail chain stores, all Chick-fil-A restaurants are closed for business on Sunday.
Chuck E. Cheese’s
Chuck E. Cheese’s is a sit-down pizza restaurant, complemented by arcade games, amusement rides, an animatronic show, and other diversions, such as climbing equipment, tubes, and slides − all mainly directed at younger children. As of March 2014, it operates 577 restaurants.
Church’s Chicken is specializing in fried chicken. The menu consists of fried okra, cole slaw, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and honey butter biscuits being staples. Their entree choices include sandwiches, nuggets, tacos and a spicy flavor option for the chicken.
A family-oriented concept, CiCi’s is known for its pizza, pasta, salad, and dessert buffet featuring up to 20 varieties of pizza, all offered for about $5 per adult. There are approximately 600 franchised and corporately owned restaurants in 35 states.
Dairy Queen, often abbreviated DQ, serves a variety of frozen treats, such as soft serve Ice Cream.
Founded in 1960, Domino’s is the second-largest pizza chain in the United States (after Pizza Hut) and the largest worldwide, with more than 10,000 corporate and franchised stores in 70 countries.
Since its founding, Dunkin’ Donuts has grown to become one of the largest coffee and baked goods chains in the world, with 11,000 restaurants in 33 different countries. The chain has grown to include over 1,000 items on their menu, including doughnuts, bagels, other baked goods, and a wide variety of hot and iced beverages.
The In-N-Out menu consists of three burger varieties: hamburger, cheeseburger, and “Double-Double” (two hamburger patties and two slices of cheese). French fries and fountain drinks are available, as well as three flavors of milkshakes.
Jack in the Box
The chain has 2,200 locations in 21 states, primarily serving the West Coast of the United States. Their menu includes the Jumbo Jack, Sourdough Jack, Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit, and the Ultimate Cheeseburger.
Jimmy John’s has grown to more than 1,900 locations in 43 states. It specializes in gourmet sandwiches.
KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) is a fast food restaurant chain that specializes in fried chicken. The extended menu includes chicken fillet burgers and wraps, as well as salads and side dishes, such as French fries and coleslaw, desserts, and soft drinks
Krispy Kreme is an American global doughnut company and coffeehouse chain.
McDonald’s is the world’s biggest fast food chain and primarily sells hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken, french fries, breakfast items, soft drinks, milkshakes, and desserts. In response to changing consumer tastes, the company has expanded its menu to include salads, fish, wraps, smoothies, fruit, and seasoned fries.
Papa John’s Pizza
Papa John’s Pizza is the fourth largest take-out and delivery pizza restaurant chain in the United States with over 3,200 locations.
Popeyes serves chicken dishes in mild and spicy flavors and offers sides such as Red Beans and Rice, Cajun fries, mashed potatoes with Cajun-style gravy and Cajun rice.
Quizno’s specializes in offering toasted submarine sandwiches and has over 1500 locations. Quiznos is the second-largest submarine sandwich shop chain in North America, after Subway.
Salsarita’s has locations in 19 states and serves queso, customizable burritos, tacos, salads, bowls, quesadillas, nachos, signature salsas and fresh-made guacamole.
Sonic has over 3,500 restaurants in 43 U.S. states and is known for its use of carhops on roller skates. Sonic’s menu consists of some classic fast food items, such as hamburgers and french fries as well as other “carnival-like” fare such as onion rings, corndogs, and hotdogs.
Subway is one of the fastest growing franchises in the world, with over 42,000 restaurants in 107 countries and territories as of June 2014. Subway’s core product is the submarine sandwich (or “sub”). In addition to these, the chain also sells wraps, salad, and baked goods.
Taco Bell has over 6,500 locations and serves a variety of Tex-Mex foods including tacos, burritos, quesadillas, nachos, other specialty items.
Wendy’s is the world’s third largest hamburger fast food chain with approximately 6,650 locations, following Burger King’ 12,000+ locations and McDonald’s’ 31,000+ locations. Wendy’s menu consists primarily of hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, French fries and beverages, including the Frosty.
Zaxby’s is offering prepared-at-order chicken fingers, chicken wings, sandwiches, salads, and appetizers.
FAST CASUAL RESTAURANTS
This is where the traditional Fast Food Restaurants are striving to, because it proved to be more successful with the consumer than pre-made sandwiches and burgers during the last recession according to The Wall Street Journal. Very successful Fast Casual Restaurants like Chipotle and Panera Bread are using more upscale menu items and fresh ingredients appealing to the more sophisticated consumer.
Chipotle Mexican Grill
Chipotle Mexican Grill specializes in burritos and tacos. Its name derives from chipotle, the Mexican Spanish name for a smoked and dried jalapeño chili pepper.
Fatburger’s tagline is The Last Great Hamburger Stand. While it is a fast food restaurant, the food is cooked and made to order. Some Fatburger restaurants have a liquor license, as well as Fat Bars.
Firehouse Subs specializes in hot subs. Founded by former firemen in 1994 Firehouse Subs serves sandwiches with meats and cheeses, “steamed” hot and placed on a toasted sub roll. Locations offer a family-oriented atmosphere, with a firefighter theme that includes fire equipment throughout the store and a menu that features sandwiches with themed names. They offer hot sauces in a range of intensities.
Five Guys is a fast casual restaurant chain focused on hamburgers, hot dogs, and French fries.
Jason’s Deli offers a standard deli style menu including traditional sandwiches such as Po’boys and muffalettas. Each deli has a salad bar and a daily soup selection. They also serve other items, such as baked potatoes, pastas and salads. The restaurant chain eliminated high fructose corn syrup, trans fat and MSG from its food and is also offering gluten free choices.
There are currently over 300 McAlister’s Deli locations in 23 states and their menu includes deli sandwiches, “Texas-size” spuds (baked potatoes), soups, salads, and desserts, as well as catering items such as sandwich trays and boxed lunches.
Moe’s Southwest Grill
Moe’s Southwest Grill is a fast-casual restaurant serving southwestern items such as burritos, tacos, nachos and quesadillas.
Panda Express serves American Chinese food such as the popular Orange Chicken, Firecracker Chicken Breast, Beijing Beef, Grilled Teriyaki Chicken, and Kung Pao Chicken. Combo meals are served with fried rice, steamed rice, chow mein, or mixed vegetables.
Panera Bread is a bakery-café fast casual restaurant and serves soups, salads, pasta, sandwiches, and bakery items.
Qdoba Mexican Grill
Qdoba is a Fresh Mex restaurant serving Mexican-style cuisine such as burritos made in the San Francisco burrito style, tacos, quesadillas, taco salads, chile con queso, tortilla soup, Mexican gumbo, and fresh guacamole.
Rubio’s, is a fast casual “Fresh Mex” or “New Mex” restaurant chain specializing in Mexican food, with an emphasis on fish tacos.
Which Wich? Superior Sandwiches is specializing in sandwiches and salads. It currently has 256 locations open in 37 states across the US.
While fast food is already fairly inexpensive, you can easily save a few more bucks by getting a discounted gift card through sites like Raise.com* (for an additional $5 off your order of $75 or more, use promo code RAISE75AF). Starbucks gift cards usually have the biggest discounts with over 20% off. If you can’t get through the day without your coffee, this will save you a lot of money.
Some of the restaurants above are definitely better than others, it’s still considered fast food though. That doesn’t mean it has to be totally bad for your health, but you should probably not rely on their food as your primary source of nutrition. Just have fun exploring and make up your own mind. The USA offers so many choices for everything and fast food is definitely not lacking variety.
As for myself, every now and then you can find me at Panera Bread, Jason’s Deli and even Chic-Fil-A (they lure in my daughter with their playground every time). What’s your favorite fast food restaurant and which one do you avoid at all means?
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