We care a lot about fast food here. It’s a real passion point and we’ve gone deep. From breaking down the best chicken sandwiches and tenders in fast food to getting hyper-specific like exploring which fast food hamburger patty tastes best or how to put together the best Chipotle burrito build — we’ve done it all.
Have we gone too deep? Maybe!
As a result, I know more about fast food than anyone likely needs to. Do you have a question about anything fast food related? I can tell you, from the newest menu items, to where the best deals are, and whose food is the highest quality. And because I have a pretty intimate knowledge of the menus of some of the biggest fast food chains, it’s time to rank 10 of the best fast food restaurants in America.
Before we dive in here are some things to keep in mind:
- This is only a list of 10, so naturally, not every fast-food restaurant is going to be covered. For the most part, I’ve stuck to restaurants that have a multi-state presence and consistently place on our fast food rankings.
- If your personal favorite isn’t on this list and a restaurant you hate is, don’t take it personally, I’ve probably excluded it because there were 10 other restaurants I felt were more vital to review, don’t know the menu well enough to speak on it, or I’ve never been there. If your restaurant is missing, tell me, I want to know what your favorite is — plus, I’m always looking for suggestions.
- I almost always deferred to the most popular restaurants here. There are at least 10 fast food restaurants that I love more than our number 10 pick, but these brands are more obscure/just starting out/ not as well known. I wanted this list to be a list of 10 restaurants that most people have been to, or at least heard of.
Of the 10 restaurants chosen, I’ll be scoring them 1-5 on a few factors:
- Consistency: Generally, how much does the food taste the way it’s supposed to? Are the fries always cold? Does the quality vary widely from restaurant to restaurant?
- Freshness: How fresh is it, is it made to order? Are they using frozen ingredients? Quality ingredients?
- Flavor: How good is the best thing on the menu?
Okay, enough rules — let’s rank the 10 best fast food restaurants, starting with our least favorite. If you’ve read Uproxx fast food coverage in the past, you’ve seen this one coming.
- We Blind Tested Bacon Double Cheeseburgers In Search Of The Most Decadent & Delicious
- The Best Milkshakes In All Of Fast Food, Ranked
- We Blind Tested Fast Food French Fries — Here’s The Stone Cold Champ
- Tye Best-Tasting Chicken Tenders In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked
- The Best Breakfast Sandwiches In The Fast Food Universe, Ranked
10. Burger King
Total Score: 6
I, like most of America, am not a fan of Burger King. And it’s not for lack of trying. Anytime the chain drops a new menu item I always pull up to that drive-thru hoping they’re finally going to wow me. They did once in 2021 with the Ch’King sandwich, a direct response to Popeyes Chicken Sandwich. This chicken sandwich was big, juicy, and hand-breaded on-site.
It wasn’t Popeyes-level good, but it was a sign that BK was moving in the right direction.
And then the brand discontinued it, changed the preparation process to be less labor intensive, and renamed it the “Crispy Chicken Sandwich.” It sucks. And now Burger King is going back to its roots with a long chicken sandwich, which is a step in the right direction but doesn’t match the flavor and form factor of the Ch’King. Elsewhere on the menu, you’ve got the fries, which are almost always too salty if they aren’t stale and cold, chicken nuggets that are terrible, and the Whopper — which may have been a novelty at one point in the fast food space, but today just tastes like the sort of burger you get at a sad cafeteria.
This is unrelated to the food but I feel like it’s worth mentioning:
Burger King now requires its employees to say “You Rule,” and the end of every customer’s order. To which we have to ask — why? Whose day is this improving? Why Is BK focusing on sh*t like this instead of just making better food? If you make good food, all is forgiven, and considering how many fast food chains out there make legitimately good food, we know it’s possible!
Go back to the lab and start changing up those recipes BK, we want better for you!
A Whopper with cheese and a side of Onion Rings.
9. Jack in the Box
Total Score: 7
Growing up I loved Jack in the Box. At a time when fast food menus all resembled one another, it felt a bit different thanks to random inclusions on the menu like egg rolls, teriyaki bowls, bacon potato cheddar wedges, mozzarella sticks, and that delicious Oreo milkshake. These days the menu just doesn’t feel that adventurous. JiB does pretty much what the big restaurants like McDonald’s and Wendy’s do, but not nearly as well.
Not to mention JiB seems to have ended its original policy of “we don’t make it ’til you order it.” That policy ensured the food was always, at the least, piping hot, which almost always makes fast food taste better. These days the consistency is all over the place. I’ve had experiences where the food is fresh and tasty, but most of the time I’m getting something old. An old chicken strip, stale fries, cold tacos — it’s always something.
It looks like things are getting better at JiB, though. The recently launched Smashed Jack is one of the best new fast food burgers I’ve tasted this year (we’re still in January) and the new menu options like boba, and the various Munchie Meal exclusives show that JiB is still experimenting, which is always a good thing.
A Bacon Double Smashed Jack with a side of Curly Fries.
Total Score: 9
I know, I know, trust me, I know. I’m going to anger a lot of fast food fans for ranking Popeyes this low. And look, I’m even a bit mad at myself. I love Popeyes, I eat Popeyes regularly, for pleasure, not for work. But we have to be real about the things we love. The consistency of Popeyes is all over the place.
Eating here is a gamble, you never know what you’re going to get in terms of quality. And I know it’s not location-specific because I run into this at various restaurants. Part of that is the nature of making fried chicken, each restaurant is always dropping chicken, whether it be mild, spicy, bone-in, or tenders and sometimes you come in at a bad time and you get some old chicken. A few times I’ve come in and gotten old stale tenders and nuggets, or seen the cajun fries being warmed under a heat lamp rather than being fried to order.
Normally I don’t hold this against Popeyes, it’s just what I’ve come to expect. And when you get lucky, the food is amazing. But you just can’t count on it, and because of that, I can’t rank this chain any higher.
Popeyes Chicken Sandwich with a side of Cajun Fries.
7. Taco Bell
Total Score: 9
People are ride-or-die over Taco Bell, and I get it. What the chain restaurant does — stoner/drunk friendly guilty pleasure Mexican-adjacent flavors — it does incredibly well. But let’s not pretend this food is quality.
The cheese is pre-shredded, all the protein options are low-quality (the steak is downright inedible), the beans are powdered, the hot sauce (packet and sauce cup) is watery and lacking in flavor, and the produce is just sad.
But when these ingredients all combine something special happens. I can’t explain why the Mexican Pizza or the Crunchwrap Supreme ignites all the pleasure centers in my brain but it does. And given how cheap the food is and how consistent the product is (Taco Bell always tastes like Taco Bell) I always know Taco Bell is going to scratch that itch when I have it.
A toss-up between the Crunchwrap Supreme, Mexican Pizza, and Classic Crunchy Taco.
Total Score: 9.5
I’m giving McDonald’s a slight edge over Popeyes and Taco Bell because the consistency of its product doesn’t vary quite as much, but I’ve had many an experience at McDonald’s where I’ve been disheartened by cold fries or stale chicken McNuggets that taste like cardboard. And what’s with that ice cream machine that seems to never work?
At McDonald’s you’re not going to find a whole lot of fresh food, the fries are frozen before frying, same with the burgers, chicken, and most of the breakfast. For the most part, you’re essentially paying for warmed-up pre-cooked food.
The burgers have stepped up in quality as of late and if you haven’t been in the last year, it’s worth checking out. The smartest move for McDonald’s to make is to elevate their game when it comes to their core line of products, and it seems like they’re doing just that.
We have high hopes that McDonald’s continues to make improvements.
A Quarter Pounder and Fries. For the best experience, eat these immediately after ordering. Park the car if you have to!
Total Score: 11
Before the era of what I like to call New Classics (your Chipotles, Chick-fil-As, etc) Wendy’s used to be the gold standard of fast food. The burgers are made using fresh non-frozen beef, everything is cooked to order, and the menu is robust. The cheeseburgers are amazing, the chicken sandwiches are amazing, the sides are interesting — where else are you going to be able to get a side of chili and a baked potato? Everything Wendy’s does, they do well and if I’m taking a road trip, Wendy’s is always the go-to.
It just doesn’t have the quality control of the fast food restaurants we’ve ranked higher. Your experience is going to vary, sometimes your fries will be stale, or the chicken sandwich will taste like it has been sitting around for a long time. The burgers are almost always on point, so your safest bet is to order a cheeseburger.
Baconator with a side of Spicy Nuggets.
Total Score: 12
Chipotle has a lot of haters and, as a Los Angeles native, I get it. Chipotle is marketed as Mexican food, and for some people in some places throughout the country, it’s one of the only representations of Mexican food, and nothing on the menu matches the depth of flavor of an actual taqueria. My point is, Chipotle isn’t really Mexican food and when you think of it as such, it misses the mark.
But if instead you think of Chipotle as a remedy to the typical practices of fast food, it’s kind of amazing. All of the food is fresh and prepared in-restaurant daily (except the tortillas). The meat is braised in the restaurant, the guacamole is made in the restaurant, the fajitas are grilled in a restaurant, the cheese is grated in the restaurant — you get our point. They’ve got some fresh food, that’s their strength.
Has that led to some incidences of food-borne illness? Yes, unfortunately, but anecdotally, that’s never been my experience at Chipotle. One thing I don’t love about the restaurant though is its lack of consistency. Sometimes the guacamole straight up isn’t good. Sometimes you’re going to get cold beans. Sometimes the meat will be lukewarm at best.
Having said that, I appreciate what the restaurant is doing and hope that more restaurants take note and start valuing fresh ingredients as much as their hungry customer base does.
Total Score: 13
Chick-fil-A has got service down, more than any other fast food chain. And not because their employees say “My pleasure,” anytime you ask or thank them for anything. Your order comes out lightning fast, whether you’re ordering in the drive-thru or in the restaurant. More than a few times I’ve placed an order inside a Chick-fil-A, walked over to pick up my favorite sauces, napkins, and a straw, and arrived at my table only to find an employee already there with my food.
The food is always hot, and I’ve never had a mistake on any of my orders. I honestly don’t know how they do it or why other fast food restaurants can’t match up with this quality of service. And most of the food is hand-prepared in the restaurant daily. Chick-fil-A always provides a quality experience and for that, we have to rank this brand highly.
Having said that, the best menu items are all dishes I’d rather eat elsewhere. The chain doesn’t have the best chicken sandwich, doesn’t have the best fries, and doesn’t have the best breakfast. Where they really shine is those nuggets.
An 8-count chicken nugget with a side of Waffle Fries and a SunJoy (Arnold Palmer).
2. Raising Canes
Total Score: 14
Raising Canes does one thing: chicken tenders, and they do it well. The chicken is one of the few chicken chains that uses fresh non-frozen chicken tenders, hand-breads them on sight, and cooks them to order. They hand-butter their famous Texas toast and grill them to order, and they even make their own lemonade. The only thing from Raising Canes not fresh are the crinkle-cut fries, which are fried to order but frozen.
There are days when I wish Raising Cane’s had more variety, but on days when I don’t feel like eating chicken strips, I simply go somewhere else.
Overall, I wouldn’t say the food is mind-blowing because I’ll always prefer a chicken sandwich or a cheeseburger over tenders (to be fair Raising Canes has a chicken sandwich but it’s made with chicken tenders, which doesn’t count), so in terms of overall flavor, I’m going to have to knock them a point. But if you want chicken tenders, this is the place to go.
3 Finger Combo with a side of fries and Texas Toast buttered on both sides.
Total Score: 15
Oh trust me, I’m fully aware that putting In-N-Out at number 1 is going to make a lot of people mad.
I’ve heard it all before, “In-N-Out is overrated!” “The fries suck!” “The burger isn’t that good” but, I’m sorry. You’re wrong.
I have no issue if you don’t like In-N-Out, that’s a fair opinion to have, but when you start saying things like “In-N-Out is overrated” or just “In-N-Out sucks,” it seems like you’re being contrarian for contrarian’s sake. Like saying the Beatles suck or pretending Radiohead isn’t the best rock band of the 90s. It just sounds ridiculous.
Tell me how a place that makes burgers from fresh beef to order, hand-peels and fries its French fries on sight, hand-leafs its lettuce, always has ripe tomatoes, gets its buns baked fresh, and has delicious luxurious milkshakes can ever be overrated? There is a reason In-N-Out has only closed one location ever (and it wasn’t for sales reasons) — the restaurant is just remarkably consistent, fresh, and delicious.
Is it my favorite fast food burger? No actually, that would be Shake Shack, but In-N-Out always tastes like In-N-Out. I’ve eaten at this restaurant in multiple states and up and down California and it always tastes exactly like I expect it to taste. For a thing to be overrated in the first place, it has to be consistently and wildly praised, which In-N-Out is. If it doesn’t live up to the expectations you’ve put upon it in your own head, that’s… kind of on you.
If I had to choose only one fast food restaurant to eat at for the rest of my life, it would be this one, no question.
Double Double with Fries and a Chocolate Shake.