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"Ranking the 25 Best Fast Food Chains: A Comprehensive Review"

Updated: May 15

Exploring the 25 best fast food chains in America reveals a fascinating blend of classic favorites and regional gems. This ranking isn't just about who has the most outlets, but rather which establishments deliver exceptional quality, customer satisfaction, and value. From the fresh, Northeast-American-style sandwiches at Jersey Mike's to the iconic spicy chicken sandwich at Popeyes, these chains have distinguished themselves in a crowded market by meeting and exceeding customer expectations.

Key Takeaways

  • The list includes a diverse range of fast food chains, from sandwich shops like Jersey Mike's to Mexican eateries like QDOBA.

  • Customer satisfaction and quality of food play a significant role in the rankings, not just the number of locations.

  • Regional favorites and chains that focus on fresh, sustainable ingredients tend to rank higher.

  • Popular dishes like Taco John's potato olés and Popeyes' spicy chicken sandwich are must-tries.

  • Despite high sales, some large chains like McDonald's and Taco Bell didn't make the top 25, highlighting the consumer shift towards quality and specialty offerings.

1. Jersey Mike's

Jersey Mike's, a renowned name in the fast food industry, is celebrated for its Northeast-American-style submarine sandwiches. With a focus on fresh ingredients, each sandwich is a testament to quality and taste. The chain has experienced consistent growth, with revenues increasing annually since 2014.

Key Financials and Locations

  • 2022 sales per unit: $1.2 million

  • Total 2022 sales: $2.7 billion

  • Number of US locations: 1,129

Jersey Mike's not only offers great food but also a solid business model, evident from its rapid expansion and plans to double its locations in the near future.

2. Hardee's

Hardee's, a prominent player in the fast food industry, particularly shines in the Midwestern and Southern United States with its 1,628 locations. Known for its charbroiled burgers, hand-breaded chicken sandwiches, and biscuits, Hardee's maintains a strong presence with a total 2022 sales hitting $2 billion. Each restaurant averages sales of $1.1 million, demonstrating its significant impact in the fast food sector. The chain recently celebrated the return of the Cinnamon ‘N’ Raisin Biscuit to its menu after two decades, highlighting its commitment to meeting customer desires.

Key Financials and Locations

3. QDOBA Mexican Eats

QDOBA Mexican Eats, headquartered in Lakewood, Colorado, has made a significant mark in the fast food industry with its $745 million in US sales and a network of 670 locations across the country. Despite its robust financial performance, ranking 18th, it faces stiff competition, particularly from its close rival Chipotle. Both brands share similar origins and growth trajectories, but QDOBA is striving to differentiate itself.

In a bold move to stand out, QDOBA revamped its locations and expanded its menu to include tacos, salads, burritos, and quesadillas. This initiative is part of a broader strategy to cater to a new ideal customer persona named Quentessa, described as 'naturally magnetic' and leading a 'story-filled life'.

4. Taco John's

For many Americans, the belief that Taco John's is far superior to Taco Bell is a hill they will die on. What started as a taco stand in Cheyenne, Wyoming back in 1969 has now grown into a major fast-food chain with over 400 restaurants across 23 states. The company has won hearts and stomachs with its crispy tacos and famous potato olés (round bites of crunchy potato, sprinkled with spices).

  • Must-order: Patty melt

  • Famous for: Potato olés

  • Trademark: Taco Tuesday (formerly)

5. Popeyes

Popeyes, renowned for its Louisiana-style fried chicken, has become a staple in the fast food industry. With 2,342 locations across the United States, this chain offers not only its famous chicken but also a variety of burgers, seafood, and more. The introduction of their chicken sandwich caused a nationwide sensation, highlighting their ability to innovate and capture the public's interest.

Key Statistics

  • 2022 sales per unit: $1.8 million

  • Total 2022 sales: $5 billion

  • Number of locations: 2,342

Popeyes' menu is infused with a unique Cajun flavor, from their signature fried chicken to the creamy mashed potatoes and seasoned fries. This distinct taste profile has helped them amass a devoted following. The chain is also part of the Restaurant Brands International subsidiary, marking its significance in the fast food sector.

6. McDonald's

McDonald's Corporation (NYSE:MCD) stands as a titan in the fast-food industry, boasting a presence in over 100 countries. The brand's iconic golden arches symbolize a promise of consistent quality and quick service. In 2022, McDonald's achieved staggering sales figures, with $3.6 million in sales per unit and total sales amounting to $48.7 billion. This performance cements its position as a leader in the market, significantly outpacing its competitors.

Key Financials

The 'Accelerating the Arches' strategy, initiated in 2019, has propelled a 30% increase in sales, demonstrating McDonald's commitment to growth and innovation. This strategy focuses on enhancing digital engagement and expanding global franchise opportunities, which continues to attract local business owners.

7. Taco Bell

Taco Bell, ranking as one of America's most popular fast-food chains, boasts a staggering 6,778 locations across the United States. Known for its Mexican-inspired menu, Taco Bell offers a variety of items that cater to both meat lovers and vegetarians alike. Their innovative approach keeps the menu exciting with options like the Crunchwrap Supreme and the newer Nacho Fries.

Financial Overview

The financial success of Taco Bell is evident with each store bringing in an average of $1.6 million in sales, contributing to a total of $13.9 billion in 2022. This performance underscores the brand's widespread appeal and operational efficiency.

8. Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A, renowned for its delicious chicken sandwiches and waffle fries, continues to dominate the fast food industry with impressive financial figures. In 2022, each Chick-fil-A unit reported sales of $8.2 million, contributing to a total of $18.8 billion in sales. Despite being closed on Sundays, the chain's strategy seems to enhance its allure, with customers eager to visit before the weekly closure.

The commitment to customer service is a cornerstone of Chick-fil-A's success, often making every visit a pleasant experience. With 2,806 restaurants across the United States, each location maintains high customer satisfaction and financial performance.

Here are some of the best items to try at Chick-fil-A:

  1. Chicken Sandwich

  2. Waffle Fries

  3. Chicken Nuggets

  4. Chick-n-Strips

  5. Grilled Chicken Club

9. Wendy's

Wendy's, known for its commitment to using fresh, never frozen beef, continues to be a favorite in the fast food industry. In 2022, Wendy's boasted impressive sales figures, with each of its 5,994 stores averaging $1.9 million in sales, contributing to a total of $11.7 billion. A popular treat at Wendy's is dipping french fries into their iconic Frosty. Wendy's has also introduced a special promotion offering free chicken nuggets on Wednesdays until the end of 2023 to attract more customers.

Key Offerings:

  • Fresh, never frozen beef burgers

  • Natural-cut fries with a crispy exterior and soft interior

  • The iconic Frosty dessert

  • Special promotions like free chicken nuggets on Wednesdays

10. Burger King

Burger King, a staple in the fast food industry, is renowned for its flame-grilled burgers. Originating in Miami in 1954, this chain has consistently innovated its menu to include a variety of options such as fish, chicken, and beef burgers, alongside desserts and milkshakes. Notably, Burger King was among the first to introduce plant-based options, enhancing its appeal to a broader audience.

With 6,887 locations across the US, Burger King remains a popular choice among fast food enthusiasts. The chain's signature dish, the Whopper, continues to be a must-order item. Despite fierce competition, Burger King's unique cooking style and fresh toppings keep it relevant in the fast-paced food industry.

Financial Overview

  • 2022 sales per unit: $1.5 million

  • Total 2022 sales: $10.3 billion

11. Subway

Subway, renowned for its submarine sandwiches, continues to be a dominant player in the fast food industry. With a strong emphasis on providing a good value for money, Subway has managed to maintain a high level of customer satisfaction. The restaurant's strategy includes offering a variety of fresh, high-quality ingredients that allow customers to customize their subs extensively.

  • Number of US restaurants: 943

  • Financial performance rank: 31

  • Customer satisfaction rank: 1

  • Value rank: 13

Subway's commitment to quality and customer satisfaction is evident in its plans to expand and innovate its menu offerings, ensuring that it remains a top choice for fast food enthusiasts.

12. KFC

KFC, also known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, is a giant in the fast food industry, particularly renowned for its crispy fried chicken. With 3,540 locations in the US, KFC maintains a strong presence nationwide. The brand has evolved significantly since its inception by Harland Sanders in 1930, diversifying its menu to include not only its classic chicken but also burgers, fries, salads, and more.

In terms of financial performance, KFC's sales figures are impressive, with each unit bringing in an average of $1.3 million annually, contributing to a total of $5.1 billion in sales in 2022. This financial success underscores KFC's enduring appeal and operational efficiency.

KFC has also adapted its menu to cater to changing consumer tastes, including healthier options like a kale and broccolini salad and a premium coffee line. Seasonal offerings like the Cajun Deep Fried Turkey during Thanksgiving show KFC's commitment to meeting customer desires while staying true to its Southern roots.

13. Arby's

Arby's, known for its slogan "we have the meats," stands out in the fast food industry primarily for its unique offerings of roast beef sandwiches, which are a rarity in fast food. With a significant presence of 3,142 locations across the US, each franchise generates impressive annual sales, contributing to a total of $4.5 billion in 2022. Despite its success in sales and expansion, customer satisfaction seems to be a concern, as indicated by generally dissatisfied reviews.

Must-Order Items

  • Roast Beef and Beef 'n Cheddars

  • Smokehouse brisket sandwich

  • Curly fries

These items have become synonymous with the Arby's dining experience, drawing customers who seek these signature dishes.

14. Sonic Drive-In

Sonic Drive-In, a beloved name in the fast food industry, is renowned for its drive-in nostalgia and a wide array of menu options. With 3,418 locations across the United States, Sonic continues to be a popular choice for casual dining. Each location boasts an average revenue of $1.5 million annually, contributing to a total of $5.5 billion in 2022 sales.

Menu Highlights

  • Hot dogs

  • Burgers

  • Ice creams

  • Milkshakes

  • Chicken

Sonic's menu is particularly famous for its frozen drinks and thousands of slushie combinations, ensuring that there's always something new to try. Recently, Sonic has expanded its menu to include energy drinks, catering to a broader audience.

Despite its popularity, some customers have expressed dissatisfaction, particularly with the service aspect, which is reflected in online reviews.

15. Jack in the Box

Jack in the Box stands out in the fast food industry with its diverse menu that caters to a wide range of tastes. From classic burgers and curly fries to unique offerings like tacos and churros, this chain ensures there's something for everyone. In 2022, Jack in the Box reported impressive figures with sales per unit reaching $1.8 million and total sales amounting to $4.1 billion.

With 2,265 locations across the US, Jack in the Box is a prominent player in the fast food scene. The brand is easily recognizable thanks to its iconic mascot and has been associated with innovative marketing campaigns, including partnerships that appeal to the late-night crowd.

16. Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen, a staple in the fast food industry, is renowned for its iconic soft-serve ice cream and Blizzard treats. With 4,295 locations across the US, it stands as a major player in the fast food realm. In 2022, Dairy Queen achieved impressive sales figures, with total sales reaching $4.6 billion and sales per unit at $1.3 million. The brand's commitment to quality and value for money has consistently drawn positive feedback from customers, who describe the chain as "good quality" and "never gets old."

Choosing a favorite Blizzard flavor can be a delightful dilemma, with options ranging from classic Oreos to extravagant Turtle Pecan Cluster. Not just about desserts, Dairy Queen also offers a variety of savory items like the must-order Smokehouse brisket sandwich.

17. Five Guys

Five Guys stands out in the fast food industry not just for its really good burgers and fries, but also for the unique dining experience it offers. At Five Guys, you can customize your burger to your heart's content, choosing from a plethora of toppings that rank among the best in American restaurant chains. Despite its seemingly simple menu, there are over 250,000 possible ways to order a burger here.

Five Guys also caters to peanut lovers, offering complimentary peanuts that guests can munch on while waiting for their meal. However, it's important to note that the restaurants are off-limits to those with peanut allergies, as all fries are cooked in peanut oil.

Here are some key figures for Five Guys:

  • Headquarters: Lorton, Virginia

  • US Sales: $1.32 billion

  • Number of US Locations: 1,215

  • Customer Satisfaction Rank: 22

  • Financial Performance Rank: 22

  • Value Rank: 86

18. Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle Mexican Grill, headquartered in Denver, Colorado, has established itself as a leader in the fast-casual dining sector with a focus on Mexican-inspired dishes like tacos, burritos, and salad bowls. The brand emphasizes its 'food with integrity' policy, ensuring that all ingredients are fresh and free from preservatives. Despite facing challenges such as the E. Coli outbreak in 2015, Chipotle has maintained robust sales figures, with 2022 sales reaching $4.42 billion across its 1,987 locations in the US.

Here are some key financial metrics from 2022:

  • Sales per unit: $2.8 million

  • Total sales: $8.6 billion

  • Financial performance rank: 26

  • Customer satisfaction rank: 24

  • Value rank: 70

Chipotle continues to innovate its menu, considering new additions like chorizo to attract more customers. The company's growth is also reflected in its stock price, which has surged from around $1,500 to $2,100 over the past five years.

19. Panera Bread

Panera Bread, a prominent bakery-cafe chain in the US, is renowned for its diverse menu that includes breakfast sandwiches, soups, salads, coffee, and pastries. With 2,166 locations across the US, Panera has been a staple in the fast food industry, offering a cozy dining experience combined with quick service. The chain has undergone significant transformations with its Panera 2.0 initiative, which includes digital ordering kiosks aimed at reducing wait times and enhancing customer service.

Panera's recent menu additions include new sandwiches, salads, and a unique mac and cheese variety, which have been well-received by patrons. The chain's focus on digital integration and customer experience makes it a top choice for those seeking quality and convenience in their dining options.

20. Domino's Pizza

Domino's Pizza stands out in the fast food industry with its impressive reach and variety. With 6,618 stores across the United States and a robust menu that includes pizzas, pasta, wings, sandwiches, bread, and desserts, Domino's caters to a wide range of tastes and preferences. The brand is not only known for its extensive menu but also for its significant sales figures, boasting an average of $1.3 million in sales per unit in 2022, contributing to a total of $8.7 billion.

Key Financials and Locations

  • 2022 sales per unit: $1.3 million

  • Total 2022 sales: $8.7 billion

  • Number of Locations in the US: 4,349

Domino's is celebrated for its well-made pizzas and good value, making it a beloved choice among consumers. The brand's ability to maintain high customer satisfaction is evident from its expansive presence and consistent sales.

21. Pizza Hut

With a plethora of crusts, cheesy toppings, and grilled veggies to choose from, it's no surprise pizza lovers keep coming back to the Hut. Pizza Hut continues to innovate with menu options like the customizable My Hut Box™, starting at just $6.99, which allows customers to choose their favorite combinations of entrees and sides.

Customers can pick from signature pies like Chicken Bacon Artichoke and Spicy Fennel Sausage, or create their own masterpiece by choosing the type of dough, sauce, and toppings. This flexibility not only caters to individual tastes but also ensures a unique experience with each visit.

22. Starbucks

Starbucks Corporation, a leading international specialty coffee retailer, boasts over 38,000 locations globally. Known for its arabica coffee, Starbucks has become a staple for coffee enthusiasts around the world. The company recently welcomed three new members to its Board of Directors, enhancing its expertise in media, consumer technology, and operations.

Starbucks is not just about coffee; it's a place where you can enjoy a variety of sweet treats and seasonal favorites like the pumpkin coffee drink. With options for both coffee lovers and non-coffee drinkers, Starbucks ensures that all customers find something to enjoy. Their Easy Mobile & Online Ordering & Delivery system makes it convenient to enjoy your favorite drinks without waiting in line.

23. Dunkin'

Dunkin', formerly known as Dunkin' Donuts, is a staple in the fast food industry, particularly renowned for its coffee and doughnut offerings. America actually does run on Dunkin', with a menu that includes a variety of beverages, baked goods, and more. The brand's Munchkins, bite-sized doughnut holes, are particularly irresistible and a fan favorite.

Popular Menu Items

  • Coffee (various blends and flavors)

  • Classic Glazed Doughnut

  • Munchkins (doughnut holes)

  • Breakfast sandwiches

  • Bagels

24. Little Caesars

Little Caesars, ranking 11th among the most popular fast food chains in America, is renowned for its Hot-N-Ready pizzas and Crazy Bread. With a total of 4,203 locations across the US, this pizza chain has carved out a niche for itself by offering quick and affordable meal options. The brand's appeal lies in its promise of 'cheap and fast' food, which resonates well with its large customer base.

Here are some key offerings from Little Caesars:

  • Hot-N-Ready pizzas

  • Crazy Bread

  • Variety of pizza toppings

Despite its popularity, some customers have noted that the pizza quality can be inconsistent, with occasional complaints about the pizza being a bit stale and the cheese appearing 'very crusty'.

25. In-N-Out Burger

In-N-Out Burger, a California classic, has been a favorite since 1948, known for its simple yet high-quality menu. This fast food icon stands out with its fresh ingredients and a secret menu that's not so secret, featuring items like the Double-double and animal-style fries. Despite its regional exclusivity, it has a cult-like following, especially among those who appreciate the tastes of iconic characters like The Dude from The Big Lebowski.

Key Highlights:

  • Ranked among the best American restaurant chains.

  • Notable for its 'secret' menu that includes popular items like animal-style fries.

  • Headquarters in Irvine, California with annual US sales of $615 million.


In this exploration of America's top 25 fast food restaurants, we've seen that not all fast food is created equal. The chains that made our list distinguish themselves through a commitment to quality, unique regional flavors, and a dedication to customer satisfaction. These establishments are not just about quick service but also about delivering a memorable dining experience that resonates with a diverse range of palates. Whether it's the fresh ingredients of Jersey Mike's or the iconic spicy chicken sandwich at Popeyes, each restaurant brings something special to the table. As the fast food industry continues to evolve, these top performers show that innovation and quality can go hand in hand with speed and convenience.

Frequently Asked Questions

What criteria were used to rank these fast food chains?

The ranking was based on a combination of factors including customer satisfaction, quality of food, value for money, and the number of locations.

Why didn't major chains like McDonald's make the top 25?

Despite having high sales figures, some major chains like McDonald's did not make the top 25 due to the preference for specialized and regional brands that offer high-quality and sustainable ingredients at an affordable price.

What is the significance of the number of locations in the ranking?

The number of locations was considered to assess the popularity and accessibility of each fast food chain across the US.

Are all the chains on this list available nationwide?

Not all chains are available nationwide as some are regional. However, most have a significant presence across the country.

What types of food do these chains typically serve?

These chains serve a variety of foods including burgers, tacos, sandwiches, and other quick-service meals.

How often is this ranking updated?

The ranking of the best fast food chains is updated periodically to reflect changes in customer preferences and industry trends.

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