Anyone who knows me will understand that I’m a bit of a fast food enthusiast. So unsurprisingly, one of my biggest reasons to be excited about going to America (twice!) last year was to sample their world-renowned collection of ‘on the go’ cuisine.
Of course, I had to try the USA’s McDonalds and Taco Bell, two of my most frequented restaurants when I’m back home in Europe, but I was primarily in search of the more American specific chains that we’re lacking in the UK – and of course dying to fill my boots with some proper southern fried chicken.
My stomach led us to multiple fast food restaurants on our travels, but I’ve listed below some of the better places that are unique to the USA, and a must try if you’re hankering for some cheap and easy meals. The key below is to give you some indication of price range in terms of meals/deals available when we went. This list does not include the various Subway and pizza places we ate at on this trip because let’s face it – you can’t go wrong with pizza, and Subway just fills a hole by scent alone.
$ – Cheap and cheerful
$$ – About average
$$$ – A little more on the expensive side (as far as fast food goes)
This restaurant was by chance recommended to us by our Uber driver on the way back from visiting Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Neither Riley or I had heard of this fast food chain but boy were we glad we stopped by. Zaxby’s was first opened in 1990 and you’ll find most stores in southern USA, dishing up delicious fried chicken, salads, sandwiches, and fries to name a few things. The presentation of the food and portion sizes also added to the appeal, the unique black plates being piled full of food. The fries were chunky and well seasoned, the bread bursting with it’s contents and the chicken, well, just how fried chicken should be.
Bojangles, a beloved stop for which I regularly had cravings for on our trip. Founded in 1977, the fried chicken here is divine and compliments the “biscuits” brilliantly – a “biscuit” being more or less what we call a scone in the UK. The cajun seasoning is like nothing I’ve ever tasted and combined with the buttery-ness of the biscuits makes an irresistible combination. They lose points only for presentation (see photo) but hey, on this occasion I came for the food, not the Instagram factor.
Basically a fancy Taco Bell, Qdoba offers an array of Mexican-style cuisine delivered very much like Subway. It originated as Zuma Fresh Mexican Grill in 1995, and several name changes later Qdoba arose, rivaling the well known Chipotle (which we didn’t visit this time round). Qdoba’s fully customisable menu makes it hard to go wrong, and if by chance you do, they have an “All-Good Guarantee” and will re-make your order on the house. We didn’t have to ask for this however, as our meals were super flavourful and above satisfactory.
Dunkin’ Donuts $
Though Dunkin’ is a global company with stores in 36 countries, it was founded in Massachusetts in 1950 and is continually viewed as an American classic. We stopped here for many a snack/brunch and found their donuts to be as divine as the ads make out. Dunkin’ Donuts menu is cheap, their servers fast and their bacon and cheese croissants were also superb and fuelled many morning museum visits.
On the couple of occasions we stopped in at Wendy’s, we got their $4 meal deal which included fries, chicken nuggets, a burger and a drink. I’ve yet to see a meal deal that cheap elsewhere. Wendy’s, founded in 1969, was third in the list of the world’s largest hamburger chains behind McDonald’s and Burger King in 2016. The food was good, you receive a huge amount for what you pay, and their buttermilk ranch sauce is divine for dipping nugs in.
Popeyes has become a firm favourite of Riley and I’s. Riley has even had a bash at making them at home in Scotland for me since! The prices here were very low for a high volume of food, much like many of the chains we frequented, and they deliver the standard but delicious, fried chicken, biscuits, fries, and sandwiches amongst other things. Popeyes was founded in 1972 and is now a worldwide chain with restaurants in 30 different countries and more than 40 states. I can only hope that one day, they’ll open up a store in Scotland.
My overall experience of America’s fast food chains was overwhelmingly positive and I knew the food would be one of the things I’d miss the most about the country. That and the large refillable soft drinks that tended to be given as standard. I also have to mention that there were a load of different things to try at some of the other chains – Taco Bell for one, was offering these Dorito Tacos and delightful Naked Chicken Chalupas…