After 4.5 years living in the USA on a busy schedule, and at times living out of hotel rooms for over a month, I got used to eating quick service meals. I thought I’d share some of the ones you should try while you are in the US. I’ve tried to put these from favourite to least so you can prioritize which ones you would like to try. So here goes…

1. Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A is incredible. They make fried chicken and it is delicious, but that’s not the only thing that make’s Chick-fil-A one of my top fast food places in the US.

The Marketing

As a marketer myself, Chick-fil-A’s campaign quickly caught my attention in the US. You might be driving down a major freeway like the I95 and see cows trying to write “Eat More Chicken.”

The Service

One of the best things about Chick-fil-A is the service. Frequently in any other quick service restaurant, I will find myself thinking, “I could jump behind the counter and serve myself faster and better.” But I don’t experience that at Chick-fil-A. Their staff are trained exceptionally, they make you feel welcomed and their restaurants are clean. They have some of the highest demand of any restaurant in the US, but they move through the lines super quick. Every staff member is positioned with purpose to help you get your food super fast. I only wish other fast food restaurants could learn from them.

There was only one Chick-fil-A restaurant I’ve been to that wasn’t great, and that was at DFW airport in Texas, but the rest have been awesome.

Chic-fil-A quick service restaurant

The Values

I also like that Chick-fil-A sticks to their values over their profits. They believe that everyone of their staff members should have time for family so they are closed on Sunday. As disappointing as this can be when you try to go through the drive through after church, I respect them for it. I’m not the only one, Kanye West even wrote a song about it.

The Food

Chick-fil-A is obviously known for its chicken. I usually either get the number 6 (chicken strips 4 count) or if I’m feeling healthy, the SouthWest Salad, with chicken nuggets instead of grilled chicken, and Lime Avocado dressing. They are also known for their very addictive Chick-fil-A sauce as well as their waffle fries. In the drinks, you probably want to give their lemonade a try, but they also have great milkshakes and a Frosted Lemonade. It’s a cross between a lemonade, slurp and ice cream – a little weird but worth a try.

2. Firehouse Subs

Firehouse Subs is a bit like Subway but without trying to be healthy, and so much more delicious.

Their service is fantastic, with just about every person who enters the store they yell, “Welcome to Firehouse.” All of their subs are really good, but I struggle to go past the brisket sub when I’m there – it is melt in your mouth good.

3. Bolay

If you are travelling around the US, you might find that it gets really hard to find healthy alternatives for dining, especially in the quick service category. That’s why we love Bolay’s healthy food bowls. With stores located throughout Florida, Bolay is a place where you can get your health fix and enjoy delicious flavors at the same time. 

Bolay quick service food bowl
Bolay quick service food bowl

Depending on the size of the bowl that you pick, you’ll choose a base (typically a type of rice, noodles or quinoa), veggies, porteins, and add ons. They even have healthy drinks here. My personal favourite is the steak, but the pork was really good too. Bolay is on the more pricey side of quick service meals but totally worth it.

4. Chipotle

Chipotle is a Mexican quick service restaurant set up in a similar way to Bolay (I think Bolay may have taken much of their layout form Chipotle actually). They do burritos, tacos and bowls. When you get to the front of the queue, you’ll move along with your order letting the different attendants know what options you want…

  • Burrito, Taco or Bowl?
  • Brown rice, or white rice?
  • Pinto or Black beans?
  • What meat you want
  • Salad and salsa options

And of course whether you want some guoc and chips (we recommend you get the guoc and chips)

I liked the burrito personally. There are plenty of other Mexican restaurants around the US. Moes is another restaurant that is very similar to Chipotle, but I prefer Chipotle most of the time.

5. PDQs

PDQs is another fried chicken restaurant, similar to Chic-fil-A in some ways, but more expensive. You will mostly find PDQs in Florida, but there are some stores in other locations on the US East Coast. They are my Chic-fil-A Sunday alternative! They have a pretty broad range of sauces to choose from, their fries are pretty good and they have a great range of shakes too.

PDQ's Chicken
PDQ’s Chicken

6. Culver’s

Welcome to Delicious – that’s usually how the staff great you at Culver’s. In my opinion, Culver’s is one of the better burger places in the US, and that is reflected in the price. Aside from great burgers, they also make these cheese curds – it is basically deep fried cheese, and you dip that in ranch dressing (we never promised this list was going to help you lose weight).

They also have some great ice cream dessert options. In the US, they often talk about concretes and custards – to me they all seem like soft serve ice cream so I’ve never really mastered the difference in definitions. You can add different flavours to your Culver’s concrete mixer. My personal favourite was blueberries and Oreos. Don’t knock it ’til you try it!

7. In-N-Out Burger

Located mainly on the West Coast of the US, and started in California in 1948, In-N-Out Burger wasn’t something we really had very often so it was a treat. They do burgers and fries, which isn’t particularly novel in the US, but these guys do it better than a Wendy’s or McDonalds in my opinion.

IN-N-OUT Burger sign
IN-N-OUT Burger sign

8. WaWa

WaWa is a gas (petrol) station rather than a quick service option but I’m including them here as I love their food. They have a set up where you walk in and order your food on a touch screen, you take the receipt, pay for it then come back and your food is probably just about ready. The subs, shakes and smoothies are really good, especially considering it is servo food.

9. Sonic’s

The first time someone said, “Let’s meet at Sonic’s,” I thought we were going to be playing Sega. Sonic’s is another burger place, and has plenty of options when it comes to shakes and ice creams. I’d  say their drink and dessert options are more broad than Culver’s but not the same quality, but that is reflected in the price. They will sometimes even have a half price on shakes after 8pm. 

The real difference with Sonic’s is that they are a true drive in restaurant, where the servers still use roller skates and will serve you your meal in your car. Most of the time I find that people just use the drive through though.

10. Five Guys

Five Guys Burgers and Fries is similar to In-N-Out Burger but they cook their fries in peanut oil. I’m allergic to peanuts so I have never been game to try their fries, but their burgers were great. Chic Fil A also use highly refined peanut oil for their waffle fries but I have never had an allergic reaction there.

11. Zaxbys

Zaxbys is another fried chicken place. I have mixed feelings about Zaxby’s. Their fried chicken is pretty good and their salads are massive, but I have been there and their service has been ridiculously slow. Once when going through the drive through, the staff member accidentally upended my soft drink all over me and my car, so needless to say, I was not impressed, but he was just a kid. I used to love their birthday cake shake, but unfortunately they discontinued those a few years ago.

12. Steak ‘N Shake 

One store that is not getting rid of their shakes any time soon is Steak ‘N Shake. Just so you don’t get disappointed, when they say steak, they don’t mean a normal cut of beef ?. Their definition of steak is pretty much burgers, but they’re still pretty decent and it is a lower priced option. They are open 24 hours a day. You can choose to dine in, or drive through. Their burgers are better if you dine in, but you do need to tip so take out can be cheaper. Their restaurant is laid out like a typical diner. I recommend the Frisco Melt.

13. Arby’s 

Arby’s is an interesting fast food restaurant. They are known for their Roast Beef sandwiches (rolls), but also serve a range of other meats. I used to get the Gyro which is a bit like a souvlaki. They are also known for their curly fries, but they aren’t my favourite fries in the US.

14. Taco Bell

Taco Bell have just recently opened a store in Australia, but they are every where in the US. You’ll find low priced Mexican food, like tacos and burritos. You can usually get a meal for about $5-6 so if you are on a budget or want a quick snack it might meet your appetite. Just be aware that you might experience the Taco Bell regrets after eating.

15. KFC

You might think, “What’s the big deal? KFC is everywhere,” and you’d be right. KFC in the US doesn’t even have hot chips, or fries! They have wedges, but no sour cream and definitely no chicken salt! What they do have is KFC buffet! You heard me right, KFC in the US has an all you can eat option when you dine in.

KFC popcorn chicken
KFC popcorn chicken

Sounds like a great idea to begin with, but you’ll probably regret it later, that’s why I like to call it the dirty bird – that insatiable craving satisfied, immediately followed by that, “Why did I just do that to my body?” feeling. This is why they use Tums in America, but that’s another story.

16. Wendy’s and McDonalds

Wendy’s and McDonalds come in at the bottom of the pile for me. I used to eat at Wendy’s every Sunday (cos Chic-fil-A was closed) but I had a couple of bad experiences with it. Both restaurants offer low priced options but it is also reflected in the lack of quality. McDonalds in the US is much worse than in Australia. I once got a quarter pounder and couldn’t finish it because the meat tasted that bad.

What about Pizza?

In my opinion, chain pizza restaurants aren’t that great in the US, and there are plenty of options to choose from. We frequently used Papa John’s, and Hungry Howies, but most of the time you are better off going with a local non chain pizza option.

There are tons of other fast food options in the US – what is your favourite? Let us know in the comments below.