Chain restaurants dominate the American food experience. They’re cheap, fast, and filling. You can take your family or rock up solo and it’s always all good. You can get a decent burger, an okay plate of pasta, some “not half bad” tacos, and all the so-so fried chicken you could ever eat.
Slipped jabs aside, we do like the mega-chains enough to ask: What’s the best restaurant chain in America? Which group of restaurants truly stand above the rest? Is it the burger joints that dominate every interstate and town across this nation? Is it the chicken shacks? Or, maybe it’s the places slinging pizzas.
We went over to Ranker to find out which chain restaurants reign supreme. After over 130,000 votes, a top ten emerged with some shocking omissions and rankings. The most shocking is probably the fact that McDonald’s — the unquestioned leader of the chain restaurant movement — didn’t place in the top ten.
Could this be because of a confusion of the difference between “chain,” “fast food,” and “franchise”? Probably. But we can’t excuse the fact that none of these spots is a dyed-in-the-wool pizza joint. How could there be a top ten with no pizza? It’s insanity!
So we added a sub-category to give pizza some love.
10. Olive Garden
Olive Garden has a lot of fans out there. It’s fast Italian-American grub that a middle-class family can actually afford. Olive Garden also runs the roost when it comes great promotions and giveaways to their loyal customers. Who doesn’t want to live on all-you-can-eat pasta for months at a time?
Pizza served: Maybe. Their Meatball Pizza Bowl gets some credit.
Okay, KFC is a legit option. One, they’re everywhere — even in corners of the country that Popeye’s hasn’t reached yet. Two, their chicken is a classic staple of many a dorm room, dining room, and boardroom feast. It’s adaptable and comforting. Add some slaw, mashed potatoes and gravy, and maybe a biscuit or two and you’ve got something good going on.
Pizza served: Ugh. They had the Chizza. It was not a hit.
8. Taco Bell
Ah, the Bell, it’s the dream restaurant of many a stoner from sea to shining sea. It’s hard to argue with the goodness that is a late night Taco Bell run. So, really, it’s kinda shocking to see Taco Bell so low in the rankings. We’d have assumed top three was a lock.
Pizza served: Ish. The Mexican Pizza on the T-Bell menu is neither Mexican nor is it pizza, but it is tasty.
IHOP feels like it has two purposes in life either as a place you go between a night of binge drinking and bed or the place you go after you wake up from a night of binge drinking. Pancakes, syrup, eggs, bacon … it all sounds like the perfect spot for a hangover cure if you ask us.
Pizza served: Pancakes don’t count. Even if you cover them with toppings.
6. Reb Robin
Red Robin is an interesting choice. The burgers and fries and pretty solid all things considered. And their milkshakes, ahem, are great. Red Robin feels like the perfect middle ranking restaurant where everything is well-priced and satisfying. Also, this is what the chain category should be based around — sit down spots like the Robin and IHOP. How so many fast food spots snuck in here is beyond us.
Pizza served: Yes! But getting pizza at Red Robin is a serious mistake. You have to have a serious hankering to risk it.
Subway always feels like the healthy fast food lunch option. You can build your own sandwich so the healthiness of your lunch is on you. The soft bread subs are a decent way to get in calories at a low price to help you push through the back half of your day. The cookies are pretty dope too.
Pizza served: Um… Subway has a pizza sub and serves personal pizzas in the Virgin Islands but if you want Italian at the sandwich joint you need the meatball sub.
4. Dairy Queen
Ah, the ol’ DQ, where Blizzard dreams and chimichanga fantasies come to life. Dairy Queen has a lot going for it from the soft serve ice cream that’s been a crowd pleaser for decades alongside a surprisingly diverse menu of burgers, chicken, hot dogs, and fries. Now, if they’d only bring back the $1 fried burritos.
Pizza served: Nothing even comes close.
3. Five Guys
Five Guys beat out a lot of other burger joints to make it to the top three. Besides beating big hitters like Burger King and Micky-D’s, they also beat out In-N-Out and Shake Shack, which is sure to raise a hackle or two among hardline burger lovers out there.
Still, Five Guys has damn fine burgers and great fries. It’s also relatively inexpensive and always fast.
Pizza served: “You came for a burger, dammit. You order a burger.”
Wendy’s at second feels like a miracle comeback/win of 1980s Winter Olympic proportions for the burger chain. We guess all that ‘never-frozen’ shade they throw at the other burger chains with their on-point social media presence is paying off. Having really good burgers helps too.
Pizza served: No. But they’ll probably tweet us a correction.
The simple pleasures of a well-fried piece of chicken on soft buttery buns are hard to beat. And, here we are, with Chik-fil-A dominating the rankings at number one. It tracks for us, Chick-fil-A focuses on doing great chicken sandwiches well and they deliver. So, kudos to them for topping this ranking.
Pizza served: Sorry, the close-talking affectionate Romans weird the CEO of Chick-fil-A out.