Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Top 13 Fast Food Chains

As a fast food junky myself, I must say that I was quite impressed with The Top 13s list of their Top Fast Food chain restaurants. I would much rather eat fast food than to cook something at home. Those who know me know I don't cook, but also know if I continually eat at fast food joints, I will gain weight like there is no tomorrow! So without further ado, here is the complete list from Top 13:

The Top 13 Fast Food Chains (this is copied from The Top 13 website)

Every day, roughly 45 million Americans will eat a meal from a fast food restaurant. Quite simply, fast food is an institution in American life, for better or for worse. Today's list counts down our favorite fast food chains. Since food is unquestionably a matter of taste and preference which can change on a whim, we narrowed this list down - and ranked it - by asking ourselves which restaurants we would stop at if we had our choice of any fast food chain. This list is limited to chains that operate in multiple states and either do not make food to order or offer the convenience of a drive-thru. In addition, we didn't take into account the healthfulness of the chains. With that out of the way, we present the Top 13 Fast Food Chains.

 This legendary California-based burger chain is a way of life for many living in the Western United States and is a must-stop on all of our trips to the Golden State. In-N-Out simply does burgers better than any other fast food chain. The chain is also beloved because it is still privately owned - there are no franchise locations - and the way it treats its employees, who are paid significantly more than minimum wage. The official menu is refreshingly simple, offering just three different kinds of burgers, as well as fries and shakes, but for those in the know, there is also a "secret" menu that allows you to order your burger "Animal Style" (with many toppings) or "Protein Style" (wrapped only in lettuce).

 Like In-N-Out, Chick-Fil-A pretty much only does one thing - in this case, chicken and typically of the fried variety - but they do it better than anyone else. Their basic sandwich, featuring a hand-cut and battered chicken breast topped simply with pickles on a buttered roll, is sublime, as are their waffle fries and chicken tenders and nuggets. They don't sell burgers at Chick-Fil-A, and that's fine. Our only complaint? All Chick-Fil-A locations are closed each and every Sunday.

 Wendy's narrowly beat out its arch-rival McDonald's for the third spot on this list. Each of the chains has its pros and cons, but Wendy's prevails here due to the consistently high quality of their food. Whether you order chicken or beef, Wendy's sandwiches consistently taste fresher and superior to those from the golden arches. Wendy's trump card is its fantastic spicy chicken sandwich, which has recently, at long last, been offered in chicken nugget form. We're also fans of the chain's thick shakes - known as frosties. Their fries, however, leave a little something to be desired.

 The 800 pound gorilla in any discussion of fast food chains, McDonald's employs nearly half a million people worldwide and is indisputably the king of fast food from a financial standpoint. In our view, this is just as much the product of the chain's superior advertising as it is the quality of their food. While McDonald's sandwiches are usually good - but not great - their fries are easily the best shoestring fries in the fast food game. McDonald's also has the best breakfast options of any of these chains. For many, however, none of their treats are as alluring as the classic McNugget, as the commercial below illustrates.

 Whataburger is like the In-N-Out Burger of Texas and surrounding states; it remains privately owned, it's focused on quality, and it doesn't try to be all things to all people. This chain keeps things simple, offering a basic menu of consistently solid burgers and other sandwiches which are supplemented by more varied promotional fare. For our money, Whataburger's shoestring fries are the closest competitor to McDonald's in terms of quality.

 Arby's will likely be a controversial choice for the sixth spot on this list, as people tend to either love or hate their roast beef sandwiches. Count us in the "love it" camp. In addition to those tasty sandwiches, Arby's also offers solid chicken fare and the best curly fries of any of these fast food chains. Arby's Sauce, which the chain puts atop their roast beef sandwiches, has legions of devoted fans, as evidenced by the many websites and discussions devoted to the condiment and how to make it at home. Plus, Arby's menu includes the terrific Jamocha shake, which isn't offered at other chains.

 Hands down, Taco John's is the best fast food Mexican chain, serving up better tasting and more original items than their chief competitors. The signature dish at Taco John's however, is actually a side item: Potato Olés - circular, seasoned tater tots - that can also be added to the chain's burritos (the famous Meat & Potato Burrito) or served up as "Super Potato Olés" (similar to deluxe nachos but with the Olés substituting for the chips). Unfortunately for our readers in the south and on the coasts, this Cheyenne, Wyoming-based chain is mostly located in the north and midwestern states.

Checkers (which is also known as Rally's in certain areas) has many solid food options, but they make this list primarily due to their uniquely delicious fries, which are spicy and crispy despite being larger than your typical shoestrings. Checkers' sandwiches are above average and are often available for low prices during frequent promotions. Their locations also typically sport a dual-drive through, a nice touch for getting your food fast.

 This staple of rural American fast food has many surprisingly good hot food choices (including chicken strips, burgers, and hot dogs), but it stands out enough to make this list by virtue of its frozen Blizzard shakes. The combination of whipped soft serve and sweets of your choice was a childhood favorite for us, and temptation strikes every time we pass a DQ. Plus, Dairy Queen offers the best birthday cakes in the business.

Fatburger, another California-based burger chain, offers somewhat unique burger options - it's the only one of the chains on this Top 13 that features a turkey burger as a regular menu item, and adding a fried egg is an option as well. While we prefer In-N-Out, Fatburger is not far behind by virtue of the quality of its ingredients, which seem to be a cut above most fast food chains. Several prominent hip hop artists are proud owners of Fatburger franchises, including Kanye West, Pharrell, and Queen Latifah

 Fried chicken is one of the oldest and most popular types of fast food in America, and for our money the New Orleans-originated Popeye's - which serves theirs in boxes, not buckets - is the best of the bunch. This is largely due to the presence of a spicy chicken option, flavored with Popeye's humorously named "Cajun Sparkle" seasoning. Their sides are hit-or-miss, but the red beans and rice and onion rings (where available) trump the choices you'll find at KFC.

Sub-style sandwich shops are among the most popular fast food options in America and around the world; Subway, the largest of the bunch, is the biggest single-restaurant chain in the world, even bigger than McDonald's. While we do enjoy a good sub, we rarely pick them over the less healthy, fried foods that dominate this list, and that is why you'll only see one sub chain here. Despite the ubiquity of Subway and its competitor, Quizno's, we prefer the midwest-based Jimmy John's, where the sandwich options and toppings fall somewhere between the two leaders and the bread is superior.

 Let's get this out of the way - nothing about the Kansas-born White Castle is premium in quality. In fact, the food is quite poor, but somehow White Castle, unlike virtually every other fast food chain, is able to turn this into a perceived strength by offering large quantities of those little, good-in-a-bad-way burgers for low prices. The chain has been repeatedly name-checked in movies, music, and television, most notably in songs by the Beastie Boys and in the film Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Aware of its low-budget charm, some White Castle locations even offer reservations for a sit-down dinner on Valentine's Day, complete with table service and sodas served in champagne flutes.

Now, two of my favorites to bring the Top 13 to the Top 15:

Chipotle Mexican Grill is a fast-casual dining establishment that serves authentic San Fransisco-style burritos and tacos. Founded and based in Denver, Colorado, Steve Ells opened the first Chipotle near the University of Denver in 1993. As of March 2009, there were more than 830 Chipotle restaurants, all of which are company owned, not franchised. McDonald's Corporation used to own a majority interest in Chipotle but they sold their entire stake in 2006. Steve Ells serves as chairman and CEO of Chipotle.

Potbelly Sandwich Shop began in 1977 as a small antique store run by a nice young couple. Despite the fast-paced, never-a-dull-moment world of antique dealing, the couple decided to bolster their business by making sandwiches for their customers. What began as a lark, turned out to be a stroke of genius. Soon, people who couldn't care less about vintage glass doorknobs were stopping by to enjoy special sandwiches and homemade desserts in this unusual atmosphere.

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