Everybody loves to eat fast, quick, and cheaply. The fast-food market caters to these needs very well, but there is still a hierarchy of best fast-food chains that customers relate to and love on many levels. So, to help you make a fast meal-time decision, here are the 10 Best Fast Food Restaurants of 2021.
Chipotle is a major powerhouse in the modern fast food business. They were once owned by McDonald’s, so it makes perfect sense that it now has expanded to more than 2,000 restaurants around the world. But, it is also a divisive establishment, with passionate lovers and haters. The backlash that has arisen over the last few years was kind of for a good reason. Chipotle has had several well-publicized health scares hitting their restaurants over the years, including E-coli, norovirus, and hepatitis outbreaks. Since then, its reputation has diminished somewhat among customers, but there is no denying that it is still a major player among today’s fast-food brands. It has slowly built itself into a household name by modernizing a lot of what we considered to be fast food. It was one of the first ‘fast casual’ restaurants that began the trend of mid-range casual fast-food dining catering to people who want a cheap, fresh, and healthy meal and don’t mind sitting down to enjoy the food in a restaurant setting for a while. It scores points for the overall health and freshness of the food, boasting fresh vegetables, rice, and beans, and other Mexican-inspired meals that taste fresher than the average fast-food taco or burger. But, again, that’s assuming you weren’t one of the unlucky customers to be served during an outbreak.
9. Panera Bread
Panera Bread serves many purposes. As a relatively new chain compared to some of the other fast-food giants, Panera is first and foremost a very decent bakery, serving high-quality artisanal bread, baked daily at all of its chain locations. It also specializes in sandwiches, soups, salads, homemade desserts, coffee, and other pretty healthy fare, which makes it a unique fast food experience compared to other chains on the list. It has a regular menu for dine-in and takeaway and most of its locations are sit-in restaurants, although standalone cafes with drive-thrus exist, too. Usually found in strip malls or attached to larger shopping centers rather than along highways, Panera Bread caters to people who are on the go, but still don’t mind more of a ‘restaurant experience’. While it’s not as widespread as many of its competitors, it’s focus is on fresh food, quality and customer service, Panera Bread still has about 2,000 stores located across the US and has gradually expanded over the last decades. At some point as a public company, it was even the best performing restaurant stock in America, delivering massive returns to its shareholders. Panera has become a cherished brand overall, with no sign of slowing down. Returns to shareholders, quality products, plus happy customers, makes for a great business. And, let’s be honest, the coffee is pretty decent too!
8. Taco Bell
Being one of the only Tex-Mex fast-food chains with such a widespread appeal, Taco Bell belongs on this list of best fast-food restaurants. Its distinctive menu is very different from other fast-food chains as it offers combinations of tacos, fajitas, burritos, nachos, churros, and other Mexican-inspired foods that are full of flavor – the complete opposite of the average burger and fries joint. The wide array of menu items available is mostly what made people so addicted to this chain, which boasts over 7,000 restaurants across the world and serves over two billion people each year. With this eye-popping number, it makes Taco Bell one of the most popular and widespread fast food restaurants ever. It is known for its whimsical marketing strategies too, which are meant to win over customers, increase popularity and drive up numbers. In 2001, when the Space Station Mir was reentering the earth’s atmosphere, Taco Bell built a giant target bullseye in the middle of the pacific ocean and put out a press release saying that if any part of the space station hit the target, every person in America would get a free taco. Unfortunately, the target was missed, so nobody ended up getting a free Taco Bell taco, but the company did buy a big insurance policy just in case it happened. Now, that’s dedication! Taco Bell is so well known, having been around since the sixties, and has built such a dedicated fan base that its popularity is undisputed and can easily be crowned king of Tex-Mex fast food.
Consistently rated among the best fast-food restaurants, Chick-fil-A has become a legendary institution of sorts and counts itself as the largest chain specializing in chicken sandwiches. It’s also one of the most pronounced fast-food brands in North America, with over 2,600 restaurants to its name, and franchises in 47 states. It has been around for a while, too. Chick-fil-A started its life back in the sixties and went through a couple of name changes before settling on Chick-fil-A. There has been some controversy surrounding the chain when it comes to the owners religious and political views, but this hasn’t cut into profits or its devoted fan base. People are massive fans of this chain for one reason alone – the chicken it offers is simply tender and delicious. And it also takes special care with customer service, so it scores high marks in multiple areas and is in no danger of slowing its gradual expansion across the continent. The sandwiches are simple and tasty, often featuring large and juicy hunks of fried chicken breast or tenders, with very little adornment, a simplicity often solicited in the fast-food world. It even offers a lot of options for people who are calorie conscious, as it’s the only notable chain that offers nuggets that are grilled instead of breaded and fried -there’s even a kale salad if you really want to get wild.
Nobody really goes to Starbucks for the food, but it’s still there, and overall this chain seems to always rank high in popularity. It’s so well known these days that a Starbucks franchise can be found in just about any city in the world, and on just about any street corner, too. There is such a wide array of coffee selections it’s hard not to find something that fits your cravings, even if you’re not a caffeine fanatic. Design-wise, Starbucks has not been afraid to experiment with the look of its restaurants, making efforts to conform the look of its shops to local city environments in order to blend in better with the surroundings. Not everywhere needs or wants a bright green and white Starbucks awning. This coffee chain has surprisingly even won over customers in very astute coffee countries like France and Italy, maintaining a simple philosophy that a customer basically has a right to any coffee concoction – no matter how odd sounding – in any size that they could possibly dream of. The food, however, sometimes leaves a lot to be desired, and there have been complaints online about dried out, stale or soggy sandwiches prepared way before they end up in the display case, but few people come into Starbucks to eat a meal, anyway. The coffee is where it’s at, and Starbucks’ total domination of that corner of the market deserves recognition as one of the highest-rated, most popular fast food brands.
Culver’s is not as well known as some of the other fast-food chains on this list, but it should be. The chain specializes in fast food, however, it’s almost more like fast-casual. With an indulgent menu of succulent food, they are often a step above its competitors in taste, quality, and overall look.Culver’s also excels in the dessert department – its frozen custards are in a league of their own compared to the standard fast-food soft serve or milkshakes and are legendary among fans of the chain. Culver’s prices might be slightly higher than the average fast-food restaurant, but that’s because the quality of its ingredients is higher, and the chain has taken great care to maintain a balance between cost-effectiveness and great, fresh products. Overall, Culver’s has less name recognition and fewer stores – under a thousand – compared to the big giant brands, but it has slowly been expanding, and word of mouth has helped the company become a major contender. When considering the future of its business, which is now centered mostly in the midwest and some parts of the southern US, Culver’s seems intent on maintaining quality first and worrying about expansion to every other part of the world later. Plus, it even has a mascot – a must have for every great fast food brand – a custard cone named Scoopy, who beckons customers to the restaurants when they enter. And it’s hard to say no to Scoopy and even harder to say no to Culver’s.
Subway is the standard, reliable sandwich chain, and also easily one of the most popular in the world. Actually, it is the biggest fast-food chain in the world – at least, in terms of the number of locations. Subway has rarely messed around too much with its menu, keeping to the popular bread and fillings combo, which score fairly well in the health department. It has also been consistently favored among customers who prefer something a little lighter for lunch than a greasy burger. The chain has introduced a few new items over the years, but not too many, wanting to make sure the quality stayed the same. It recently capitalized on the current chicken craze by introducing a spicy barbecue chicken sandwich and they previously offered a barbecue rib sandwich, both for a limited time. But, otherwise, what Subway really specializes in is the make-your-own sandwich line, where you can throw whatever kind of meat and toppings onto your choice of bread. Traditionally, the sandwich comes as a combo with a bag of chips and a drink for a very low price, which makes it score high in cost-effectiveness. Just ask the fans of the chain who are hooked for life.
3. Five Guys
When it comes to the pure simplicity of making a burger absolutely delicious, Five Guys scores very high on the list of best fast-food restaurants. Maybe the chain is still considered the new kid on the block compared to the legacy brands like McDonald’s and Subway, but what it lacks in experience, it compensates for in tastiness. Basically, whatever it does, it does it well. The burgers are so beloved that lines sometimes form outside a restaurant during rush hour, everywhere from California to Singapore. Started around Arlington, Virginia, thirty-some years ago, Five Guys began small before gradually beginning to catch on. Things really took off when they started receiving some big-name recognition over the years. It never hurst when American presidents and celebrities start name dropping your chain. Today, Five Guys has over fifteen hundred locations worldwide, mostly located in the US, but has also branched out to other territories on several continents, with great success. A simple menu can be deceiving, but perfecting a burger is no easy task. Five Guys excels with its juicy, charred patties and simple toppings, making the creations look effortless and mouthwatering. The taste is delicious, perfectly seasoned, and the buns contain more eggs than a regular bun, which makes them sweeter and even more addictive. Five Guys is considered to be one of the most talked-about fast-food brands online, so, really, you can never go wrong with a burger from Five Guys! Has the internet ever been wrong??
There’s no denying that McDonald’s reaches the top of any chart or list when it comes to fast food: it is easily the most widespread, most recognizable fast-food brand in the world. McDonald’s perfected its standard recipes a long time ago, and yet it continues to work and adapt to modern times and is not afraid to experiment with new menu items, restaurant designs, and marketing upgrades – which is what keeps people always coming back for more. The pandemic has made for a terribly challenging year for many fast-food restaurants, and even McDonald’s had to close several hundred locations as a result of losses. However, it constantly proves to be one of the most reputable and resilient brands around. Almost anywhere you go, you will find a familiar McDonald’s open near you, often all night long. You would have a hard time finding a city somewhere in the world where a McDonald’s franchise doesn’t exist since it makes a strong effort to adapt its menus to cater to local tastes, making it the most popular, common fast food restaurant in the world – a record that has been longstanding for decades. You just can’t really beat McDonald’s when it comes to its delectable food, brand recognition, and global popularity.
Where McDonald’s might be seen by some people as merely assembly-line food, Wendy’s made a big effort in recent years to make its food look and taste more rustic and “handmade” compared to other burger chains. The changes to the menu and look of the restaurants have made a big difference, especially since its square burgers underwent significant testing to try and find a middle ground between a fast food burger and something you might find at a backyard barbecue. The result is that Wendy’s makes some of the best burgers around right now, given the size and scale of its operation. And it’s not limited to burgers – Wendy’s also has a large selection of food that caters to many tastes, even vegetarians who might want a healthy salad that doesn’t come served to you on the side as an afterthought. There is also a hardcore fanbase who goes crazy for Wendy’s chili, cheese fries, and baked potatoes, which are harder to find on other widespread fast-food menus. It should also be noted that Wendy’s is an institution in the industry, ranking in the top five of fast-food sales consistently year after year, thanks to its fans, delightful food, and continuous effort to stay on top of its game.