McDonald's golden arches (Photo by iStrfry , Marcus on Unsplash)

Fast food can often be described by some groups as a cornerstone of the American lifestyle. Even if you pride yourself on never stopping at a McDonald’s on a road trip, we can bet you’ve had a Mickey D’s fry at least once in your life. Come on, don’t lie. There’s no judgment here. Whether you’re enjoying an “animal-style” burger from In-N-Out or a Blizzard from the DQ, you can always expect consistency and swiftness regarding these American chains. But with a country filled with tasty drive-thru options, which are crowned as the best fast food chains in America? That’s exactly the question we at StudyFinds have asked ourselves today. So, whether you’re craving a classic burger, crispy chicken, or a decadent dessert, these top fast food chains are sure to satisfy your taste buds.

However quick fast food may be, according to a recent study, some are just not fast enough. The survey of 2,000 U.S. adults found that twice as many people prefer the drive-thru to actually entering a store on foot. A third of those who prefer drive-thrus claim they will “always” choose that option when it’s available. Results showed that people use the drive-thru for many reasons, most commonly for coffee or fast food, at least three times a week. What is it about the drive-thru that appeals to so many Americans? Three in five can’t deny that it tends to be the faster option. With our busy lives and packed schedules, drive-thrus provides a quick and hassle-free way to accomplish multiple tasks in one go. Whether it’s grabbing a morning coffee on the way to work or picking up prescriptions after a long day, drive-thrus save us precious time and effort.

Whether wealthy, middle-class, or poor, all economic levels of Americans love their fast food options. A new nationwide study finds that 79 percent of U.S. adults said they ate fast food at least once in the previous week. Contradicting a long-held popular belief that poor Americans are the predominant fast food consumers, even the richest of those surveyed are eating at the quicker, cheaper chain restaurants at nearly the same volume. Despite having more choices available to them, the convenience and affordability of fast food seem to attract people from various socioeconomic backgrounds. This suggests that fast food is not solely a result of financial constraints but rather a preference for quick and inexpensive meals.

With that being said, which drive-thru should you visit next? Luckily, we at StudyFinds have researched across multiple expert sources to bring you the best fast food chains in America. Don’t agree with our list? No worries! We would love to hear from you in the comments down below. 

person holding hamburger
In-N-Out Burger (Photo by Blake Guidry on Unsplash)

The List: Best Fast Food Chains in America, According to Experts

1. McDonald’s

Who else could be number one other than the iconic golden arches? Probably the most famous fast food chain in the world, “McDonald’s is an American fast food company founded in 1940 as a restaurant operated by Richard and Maurice McDonald in San Bernardino, California, United States. They rechristened their business as a hamburger stand. In 1955, Ray Kroc, a businessman, joined the company as a franchise agent and proceeded to purchase the chain from the McDonald brothers,” describes The Top Tens.

a sandwich sitting on top of a wooden table
McDonald’s (Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash)

“Okay, we had to start with arguably the most famous fast-food chain in the world. With over 13,000 locations, it’s no surprise McDonald’s comes up every time you look up ‘food places near me.’ People continue to love all the menu items at McDonald’s: burgers, fries, chicken, and more,” explains Restaurant Clicks

“Almost everything on the McDonald’s menu is iconic. We’re talking about things like Big Macs, Quarter Pounders, and Happy Meals. Even the Egg McMuffin is a breakfast icon. But nothing surpasses this chain’s French Fries. Served in a distinctive red container, McDonald’s French Fries are crispy and thin and have a savory, salty flavor that’s impossible to resist (most likely due to the beef flavoring added to the fries during processing). While we’re not ready to compare them to crack, there’s something addictive about these fried potatoes that keeps us coming back for more,” adds 2 Food Trippers.

2. Dairy Queen

We don’t want to be dramatic, but you haven’t lived until you’ve headed down to your local DQ for some fried food and a Blizzard. “Known for its sweet treats, Dairy Queen has come a long way from its origins in Illinois in 1940. Today, the chain serves up lunch and dinner alongside the famous soft-serve ice cream,” says Money.

“Read customer reviews of Dairy Queen, and the vast majority are glowing. Many have similar feelings that this fast food restaurant has ‘good quality’ and ‘good value for money.’ That’s a pretty great combination right there! So if you’re in the mood for an ice-cold soda, head to Dairy Queen for all of your refreshment needs,” comments Restaurant Clicks.

“Known for its ice cream, Dairy Queen is also famous for sweet-treat inventions like the Peanut Buster Parfait and the Blizzard. Dairy Queen is much more than just an ice cream shop these days, as it also serves burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, and fries. There are more than 6,800 Dairy Queen locations around the world, and the uber-popular brand shows no sign of slowing down,” writes Stacker.

3. In-N-Out Burger

We know, we know. You can’t enjoy the magic that is In-N-Out unless you’re a West Coaster, but it’s just that good. It’s so good that it earned a high ranking on our list. “There’s nothing clandestine about the ‘secret’ menu at In-N-Out—it even has a page on the Cali chain’s website. But the not-so-covert items still garner a cult-like following among those who make the pilgrimage out west for smashed burgers and animal-style fries. Besides, who can argue with the tastes of The Dude from ‘The Big Lebowski?'” asks TimeOut.

yellow and red In-N-Out Burger signage
In-N-Out Burger (Photo by W on Unsplash)

“Since there are no In-N-Out franchises, the menu and vibe at each West Coast In-N-Out location are the same. We can’t say the same about the East Coast In-N-Out locations since there are none. Due to its not-so-secret menu and emphasis on freshness, In-N-Out is the epitome of destination dining for travelers like us,” notes 2 Food Trippers.

“Known for their simple menu of burgers and fries, In-N-Out is a West Coast classic that, sadly, no one east of Texas gets to experience. For now, the chain hasn’t put any more stores in Texas, and dreams of us East Coasters enjoying those succulent Double-Double burgers and legendary Animal-Style fries have been sucked down the drain. I won’t let my disappointment ruin their ranking, though, as In-N-Out is a well-oiled fast-food machine,” reports Guilty Eats.

4. Chick-fil-A

Yes, you can get some nuggets and a chicken sandwich at McDonald’s, but if you really want to talk about chicken, there is no better spot than Chick-fil-A. The ever-expanding eatery, “Chick-fil-A leads in the chicken segment, followed by KFC, Popeye’s, Raising Cane’s, and Wingstop,” explains The Street.

person holding white and red box
Chick-fil-A (Photo by Brad on Unsplash)

“As they famously claim, they didn’t invent the chicken sandwich, but they did perfect it, and that slogan is truth in advertising. You can search all you want, but you will not find a soul who has had a bad meal at Chick-fil-A, and their chicken sandwiches are so legit that they don’t require mayo,” describes Guilty Eats.

“This Southern favorite—which recently opened its first location in New York City—is the eighth-largest food chain in the U.S. by sales. The fried-chicken chain has recently diversified its menu, adding a kale and broccolini salad, a premium coffee line, new sauces, and a barbecue-bacon sandwich in an effort to take on competitors,” writes Business Insider.

5. Wendy’s

Last on our list, but certainly not least, is Wendy’s. The chain is most popular for their fresh, never frozen patties. “Ranking higher than Burger King is the beloved redhead! The real question is, which flavor Frosty do you get: chocolate or vanilla?” asks Eat This, Not That!

Wendy's mobile app
Wendy’s mobile app (Photo by rafapress on Shutterstock)

“There are certainly people out there who will cape for Wendy’s at all costs, and can you fault them? The quality of their food doesn’t waver no matter which location you visit, and their value menu has become quite legendary within the fast-food world,” says Guilty Eats.

“It’s always hard to list the best fast food chains as there are so many. Many would argue that Wendy’s should come out on top, and, if we’re honest, the top five of this list could all be number one. Here we have the beloved all-American redhead, and the food at Wendy’s is just as beloved. You just have to decide on one thing when heading to Wendy’s: which flavor frosty do you want? Okay, then, get both,” concludes Restaurant Clicks.

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

About Jilly Hite

Janelle is a freelance writer from New York. Her writing focuses on parenting, tech, business, interior design, education, and telling people’s inspiring stories. Janelle has written for Mustela and Newton Baby and has bylines in Pregnant Chicken, Syracuse Woman Magazine, the Baldwinsville Messenger, and Family Times Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in literacy from the State University of New York at Oswego.

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  1. KENNETH L GRAY says:

    In no way shape or form is McDonald’s number one. Way overpriced now and a food is a whole lot smaller.

  2. Howie Loox says:

    I’m originally from Bklyn,NY & In & out is going to be available on the East Coast in the near future. They recently announced.

  3. Marjorie Landry says:

    No way i&o beats Whataburger. I’ve had both.

  4. Dean says:

    Obviously you haven’t been to these francises in the North West Ohio, Specifically Toledo area. The service at all but one has gone straight down hill. The food is poor at best and the cost is outrageous, I’m sorry bit $8.00 for a fish sandwich, because they want to shove there drinks down your and fries that never rot.