Do you have a favorite fast food restaurant that unfortunately only has locations in one region? I grew up in New England loving Friendly’s but it doesn’t exist on the West coast. I found a new favorite in SoCal because it is the home of our beloved In-N-Out Burger.
10. Sweet And Savory
Let’s not over think this, but isn’t there something special about sweet and savory? Juicy fried chicken and crisp golden waffles are a great example of this tantalizing flavor combination. This combination used to be considered a strange pairing that many people used to question, but it is meal that has definitely caught on with chains such as IHOP and Dairy Queen offering their own take on this should food classic. Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles is famous for this delicious mash up that is equally suited to breakfast or dinner. Roscoe’s has been a beloved Los Angeles institution since opening in Hollywood in 1975 by a man named Herb Hudson. This is a famous chain that locals enjoy and out of towners feel compelled to visit. There are six other locations in addition to the famed Hollywood location. Although the chain continues to have a core fanbase it did experience some tough times about a decade ago. The rap star, Snoop Dogg bought the chain and rescued it from bankruptcy. Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles has been repeated referenced in popular culture including in the movies Rush Hour, Jackie Brown and Swingers.
9. A Friendly Neighbor
For people who grew up in New England Friendly’s restaurants are like childhood fun food come to life. They offer the usual patty melts, burgers and pancakes and eggs. However, the Friendly’s the chain really shines with its ice cream menu. I grew up loving the massively awesome Reeses Pieces Sundae, but the current favorites include the Nor’ Easter Pothole Sundae, Mint Cookie Crunch and a Waffle sundae for all the Roscoe’s fan on the East Coast. Friendly’s opened in 1935 and has its headquarters in Wilbraham, Massachusetts. The company boasts 177 locations across the northeast and also sells a selection of its ice cream treats in super markets. Friendly’s offers an ice cream treat known as the Jubilee Role that has become a holiday tradition for many families. But if summer is your favorite holiday it also offers a sherbet watermelon role that is as refreshing as it is delicious. Back in 2015 the iconic restaurant chain opened its first drive-thru window at its location in Westfield, Massachusetts. This is a welcome change for customers who want their Friendly’s burgers and shakes on the go just like they can get at places like McDonald’s. Friendly’s has gone through some tough times, but seems to have come back strong so hopefully the company will continue to serve my favorite ice cream.
8. Custard’s Last Stand
I had never heard of the Culver’s restaurant chain until now, but that’s the thing about these regional chains. They often enjoy an extremely loyal following in a given region, but stay under the radar outside their area. Culver’s has operated in the midwest since 1984 and has quietly developed a fine reputation as a welcoming family spot that offers quality meals. You don’t hear a lot about frozen custard in many places, but in the Wisconsin area Culver’s is famous for this frozen dessert. This chain is also known for its savory butterburgers, milkshakes and because it’s Wisconsin – cheese curds. The Culver family had been involved in the fast food restaurant business in various capacities before opening their first restaurant. Culver’s currently has 695 locations spread primarily across the midwest, but they do have locations as far west as Colorado. In 2000 Culver’s opened a casual twist on their standard restaurants. Blue Spoon Creamery Cafes offer sandwiches, soups and salads and compete with the sandwich shops that offer lighter, more healthy fare. I’ve never been to the Wisconsin are, but when I do visit I intend to visit a local Culver’s and enjoy a butter burger and a frozen custard.
7. Tacos in the Lone Star State
I love Mexican food and there is plenty of good Mexican food in California, but can you get good Mexican food in other regions of the country? You can certainly get it in Texas and part of the reason is this Austin based chain, Taco Cabana. This taco chain opened its doors in 1978 and has been a Texas hit ever since. Everyone has heard of Taco Bell, but in Texas its Taco Cabana. Unlike many fast food restaurants, Taco Cabana prepares most of its food fresh everyday including the in-house made tortillas. The restaurant features an open kitchen area in full view of the customers where items are flame grilled. This chain is also known for its popular partially covered patios where customers can enjoy outdoor dining. The patio design is a remnant of the original open air taco stand the Felix Stehling opened in San Antonio. In a move that many customers appreciated, Taco Cabana began selling Margaritas and beer, which pair very well with tacos and burritos. In 2018 the chain began offering all day breakfast items, but the tacos remain the most popular items. As of 2017 Taco Cabana boasts 176 locations in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. This chain seems to be set up for success and Mexican food will only continue to increase in popularity with American diners.
6. Clean As Krystal
Krystal’s restaurants was founded in 1932 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This regional chain is most known for its square sliders or mini hamburgers with steamed onions. Although the company was founded during the hard times of the Great Depression, the owners, Rody Davenport Jr. and J. Glenn Sherill, were confident that customers would embrace a restaurant that offered quality, inexpensive food served in clean locations. Their faith paid off and Krystal’s has been an institution in the southeast ever since. Although something of a legend has grown up around the chain’s name – the story goes that Mr. Davenport’s wife saw a lawn ornament in the shape of a crystal ball and opined that “clean as a crystal” was a good way to market one of the tenets of the business: cleanliness. A “K” is used just to make the name slightly more exotic. A number of Krystal locations have featured a crystal ball as part of the restaurant’s design. In another nod to crystal, the food used to be served on real porcelain plates instead of the usual paper products used by fast food chains. By 2002 the chain had expanded throughout the South and had 420 locations in 11 states. The chain is most known for its sliders, but the restaurant also offers small hot dogs called pups. In a crowded fast food market, Krystals seems to have carved out a successful niche for itself.
5. The Crazy Chicken
Mexican restaurants have been known to do some very good things with chicken. El Pollo Loco takes it to the next level, but do they do some crazy stuff? maybe not crazy, but the California based fast food chain is bonkers about offering its customer fresh ingredients and is especially lauded for its fresh chicken broiled over an open flame. Juan Fransisco Ochoa founded the first El Pollo Loco in Mexico in 1974. he followed this with his first U.S. location six years later. If you’ve ordered food in California than you probably know how popular avocados and guacamole are. They are pretty ubiquitous and not just on Mexican food. El Pollo Loco takes these seriously and according to its web site the employees start every day slicing up avocados to make their own fresh guacamole recipe. The chain restaurant offers a wide variety of offerings including family chicken meals, burritos, bowls and stuffed quesadillas. For more health minded customers El Pollo Loco offers some lighter options such as salads, pinto beans and a chicken tortilla soup. Although Mexican cuisine isn’t really known for its desserts, I can attest to the fact that El Pollo Loco’s cinnamon churros make an excellent dessert, breakfast treat or afternoon snack. Also, if you’re not a huge fan of traditional salsa the restaurant offers its own avocado salsa (big surprise, right?) as a tasty alternative.
4. Shaking Things Up
“Shake” is of course in the Shake Shack name, but this fast food chain seems to tout their delicious burgers even more than its frozen drinks. Surprisingly, Shake Shack did not start its life in New York City as a shake or a burger joint, but as a simple hot dog cart parked near Madison Square Park in 2001. In 2004 the cart started selling its well known milk shakes and Angus beef hamburgers. Since its humble beginnings Shake Shack has been one of the fastest growing fast food chains and offered stock for sale and became a public company in 2014. Most of the company’s 208 locations are on the East Coast, but it does have some restaurants in Los Angeles and Las Vegas as well as some international locations. Shake Shack’s milk shakes receive good reviews from customers and critics alike, but its signature menu item is the ShackBurger, a classic American burger that comes with either a single or a double hamburger patty and a “secret sauce.” The menu also includes frozen custard and beer and wine selections. In an effort to expand its brand recognition Shake Shack has partnered with a firm called Staple Design. This company has helped Shake Shack to create accessories such as t-shirts and sunglasses that the company calls Shack Swag. I’ve never had a Shake Shack burger and shake, but it sounds like it’s worth the short trip up to Los Angeles to give it a try.
3. Mr. Bojangle’s
Chicken and biscuits is a traditional combination that has long been popular in the Southeastern United States. Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits was founded in 1977 in Charlotte, North Carolina and has been a popular place for chicken and biscuits ever since. Loyal customers rave about the cajun spiced food that gives it a chicken leg up on much of its fast food chicken competition. Bojangles’ expanded rapidly and celebrated the opening of its 300th store in 2003. Much of its expansion took place in traditional Southeastern states such as Florida. The company currently has more than 600 stores in 11 states and in foreign countries including China and Mexico. Bojangles’ offers a fairly diverse menu considering it is heavily focused on fried chicken. Customers can choose from a number of combos, family meals, boxes and side dishes. Most meals come with the cajun spiced fried chicken. The biscuits are a big part of it because they are such a wonderful comfort food and are almost a perfect food with a pat of butter. Customers can also choose the healthier option of grilled chicken, but this is not nearly as popular as the traditional fried chicken and biscuits. I like desserts as much as I like fried chicken and biscuits so I was gratified to learn that this fast food chain offers sweets including a cinnamon biscuit, Bo-Berry biscuit and a sweet potato pie. As good as these desserts sound I’d have to try the chicken first and then have dessert!
Whataburger makes no apologies for the fact that it touts its hamburgers as the best in the business. I’ve never had a burger from Whataburger, but everyone I’ve spoken to who has says they are among their favorite. It is a San Antonio, Texas based chain founded in 1950 when it opened its first store in Corpus Christi. As of 2017 there were 824 Whataburgers across the Southwest and Southeast. In addition to its signature Whataburger and Whataburger Jr. there is also the Justaburger. As its name implies the Justaburger is a simple affair topped only with mustard and pickles – although you can actually get one with any toppings you like. Like many fast food chains, Whataburger offers a breakfast menu. The bacon was so popular with customers that the company began selling packages of its bacon in supermarkets in 2014. It also sells its salsa, a dry pancake mix and several versions of ketchup, mustard and barbecue sauces. There has been some confusion with a similar hamburger chain based in Virginia called What-A-Burger, which is also a regional, family owned fast food chain. Eventually the two franchises wrangled in court over their similar names, but until 1970 the two companies had not even been aware of each other. In 2015 Whataburger celebrated 65 years and offered free upgrades on its meals to its customers.
1. SoCal’s Most Popular Burger
If you’ve recently moved to Southern California or are just visiting you’ve probably been told you need to go to In-N-Out Burger. This regional fast food chain is a family owned fast food chain that has been a SoCal favorite since the first one opened in October 1948 by Harry and Esther Snyder. The company’s headquarters are located in Irvine, California, the heart of SoCal. The chain has expanded to other areas of the west including Arizona, Utah and Oregon. Unlike many fast food chains In-N-Out Burger has neither gone public or franchised its operations. The family has always been very much concerned with quality of the food and the quality of the customer experience. This concern for the overall quality of the restaurants has created an unusually loyal following that visits the chain on a regular basis. The Double Double, a cheeseburger with two patties is probably the favorite among customers. A not-so-secret secret menu allows customers in the know to order special variations of menu items such as grilled peppers and onions on burgers, called animal style. You can also get a Neapolitan milk shake layered with strawberry, vanilla and chocolate goodness made with real ice cream. Little touches like this combined with quality food and a well trained and friendly staff make for the most popular burger joint in the Golden State.