A Guide To America's Regional Fast Food Chains

The most beloved fast food chains you've never heard of, from Cook Out to Runza.

I lived in Austin for five years, so I have long been a fan of Whataburger. I've eaten my share of Double Meat Whataburgers, usually after a long night of drinking, waking up later to the piquant taste of mustard and onions, letting out an early morning belch that reeks of beef and bun. That thick, bulky, Texas-style burger free of smashing and special sauce is a breath of fresh air. But the more I talk about it with reverence, the more I'm corrected by my friends currently living in Austin. The superior burger, they claim, is P. Terry's. — Danny Palumbo

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Crown Burgers Is Utah’s Crowning Fast Food Achievement

Drive anywhere in Utah and you're just as likely to see a regional fast food burger joint as a McDonald's or Wendy's. These local burger stands are known for their beefy pastrami burgers, and if you Google where to get them, you might notice a lot of Greek sounding names: Yanni's Greek Express, Apollo Burger, Olympus Burgers, and Atlantis Burgers all sell the Jewish-deli-inspired sandwich. But one restaurant gets more national recognition than the others, and it's Utah's crowning achievement: Crown Burgers. — Danny Palumbo

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Fatburger Deserves As Much Love As In-N-Out

All the Southern California hamburger hype is usually directed toward In-N-Out, but for a lot of Angelenos, another burger chain supplants it: Fatburger. While there are nearly 100 locations in the United States, Los Angeles is where the beating heart of Fatburger resides. — Danny Palumbo

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Nebraska’s Fast Food Is Stuck in the Past

If you're not currently in Nebraska somewhere, you might be asking, "What the hell is a runza?" An outsider's answer: A runza is a Midwestern bread pocket filled with ground beef, onions, sauerkraut or cabbage, and sometimes cheese. The Runza restaurant chain isn't small, either: Though it's not nationwide, it boasts 85 locations, mostly in Nebraska. After that, there are a few in Colorado, two in Iowa, and one in Kansas. I stopped at one to sample a few runzas and some fries. — Danny Palumbo

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The Forgotten Fast Food Giant of California

Regional fast food chains are bizarre and beautiful. These local favorites tend to remain local, either because there's no interest in going national or the menu just doesn't have broader appeal; some chains are so oddly specific that they just wouldn't make sense anywhere else. One such restaurant is Baker's Drive-Thru, a string of fast food restaurants based in the Inland Empire region of Southern California, founded by a man whose monumental contributions to fast food have been largely lost to time. — Danny Palumbo

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New Mexico’s Fast Food Hits Different

New Mexico contains some of the most enticing fast food in the United States. They have Whataburger, In-N-Out, the severely underrated Blake's Lotaburger, and tons of little food stands where green chiles, tamales, burgers, and plenty of Tex-Mex abound. It's a proverbial ransom of beef and spice—so it's fitting that a fan favorite in Albuquerque is Mac's Steak in the Rough, a fast food drive-in known for its deep-fried steak fingers. — Danny Palumbo

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This Is Why Los Angeles Has So Few Dairy Queen Locations

Dairy Queen just isn't a part of Los Angeles ice cream culture; in fact, there are few Dairy Queens in Southern California to begin with. Instead, you can get a Twister at Fosters Freeze, the far more recognizable chain here. — Danny Palumbo

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Why Zankou Chicken Should Go National, and Why It Definitely Won’t

Zankou Chicken is the most beloved Middle Eastern food in Los Angeles, a lighthouse of sorts to Angelenos. As soon as you see one, you're immediately grounded by its familiarity. That's in part because the city isn't oversaturated with locations; there are only 12 restaurants listed on the Zankou website, so it still feels special and unique to the area. It's not like driving down Sunset and seeing the same Starbucks/Pizza Hut/McDonald's combo every few blocks. No, Zankou is the rare fast-casual chain that churns out food at chain-restaurant scale while offering an intimate, spectacular experience. It could be huge. But will it ever franchise? Probably not. — Danny Palumbo

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Is Cook Out All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

One of the best things about relocating is the chance to try new food. So, after a recent move to North Carolina, I was eager to visit a particular regional fast food chain that seems to dominates the area's low cost/high calorie scene. And no, I'm not talking about Waffle House. I'm talking about my first ever visit to Cook Out. — Josh Wussow

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The Best Order at Toppers Pizza Isn’t the Pizza

Toppers was all the rage back in college, partially due to the fact that it was situated less than a football field's length from the University of Wisconsin dorms. In the ensuing decade, these franchises sprouted up like vape shops around college campuses throughout the Midwest, offering a wide menu of saucy, tangy, and sweet flavors. And when you pair a 3 a.m. closing time with the proximity to higher education, well, it's not hard to see the reason behind Toppers' success. — Josh Wussow

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Rocky Rococo Is the Paragon of Pan-Style Pizza

Look, Pizza Hut, I like you. And Jet's, we've had some good times. But when it comes to pizza chains, nobody does pan-style like Rocky Rococo, which has been serving some of the finest pies in the Midwest since 1974. — Josh Wussow

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What Happens When a Beloved Regional Chain Goes National?

Beef-A-Roo is the best fast food restaurant you've probably never heard of. Founded in Rockford, Illinois, in 1967, the mini-chain specializes in roast beef sandwiches, milkshakes, cheese fries, and a plethora of vegetarian options—they were doing plant-based burgers before Impossible meat was even born. As someone who grew up in the area, I made Beef-A-Roo an integral part of my life, and every time I go back home I need to get a helping of cheese fries and a strawberry milkshake, or else what's even the point of being in the greater Rockford area? — Brianna Wellen

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