10 American Fast Food Chains You’ll Hate Yourself For Loving

(AP Photo/Mark Kennedy)

(AP Photo/Mark Kennedy)

The U.S. is home to an estimated 160,000 fast food restaurants stuffing 50,000 customers full of meat, cheer and saturated fat every single day. I’m guessing many of them are bedazzled British expats who secretly can’t get enough of America’s scrumptious cheap fare.

In-N-Out Burger
If you’ve spent time in California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, or Texas, I don’t need to explain to you why this chain is on my list. Those fries… oh my. The burgers may be small compared to their rivals’ offerings, but they’re unreasonably delicious. As a New Yorker, I regularly cry myself to sleep over the fact that I live thousands of miles from the nearest branch.

Why you’ll hate that you love it: When you’re there, you’ll eat like a pterodactyl after a 10-day detox.

Shake Shack
We New Yorkers may not have access to In-N-Out, but this shiny new chain is our recompense. The original branch was a hot dog stand in Madison Square Park. Those must have been some pretty special wieners for the business to grow into a seven-state operation in a mere seven years. These days, it’s the burgers we covet: four-ounce blends of sirloin, brisket, and short rib. And don’t even get me started on the sublime shakes.

Why you’ll hate that you love it: It’s places like this that convince you obesity and heart disease are worthwhile hazards.

Popeyes
This southern fried chicken joint can be equal parts revolting and spectacular. Which dish falls into what category depends largely on which branch you frequent, but the biscuits are reliably excellent.

Why you’ll hate that you love it: You’ll feel like you need to take a shower afterward. And, let’s face it, their chickens probably didn’t go to Harvard. Or outside. Ever.

Chipotle Mexican Grill
Their burritos barely count as junk, right? Or they wouldn’t if you had the willpower to opt for the burrito in a bowl and utter the words: “Hold the sour cream and the cheese.”

Why you’ll hate that you love it: You’ll find yourself thinking that it’s economically feasible to eat here everyday instead of cooking food at your house.

Dunkin’ Donuts
America runs on Dunkin’, or so their powerful marketing machine would have you believe. I’ll admit there’s something filthy but great about plunging a whopping great ring of grease, sponge and frosted sugar into mediocre coffee.

Why you’ll hate that you love it: One donut is never enough. You’ll hit double figures before you’re satisfied.

Five Guys
It’s not Shake Shack or In-N-Out, but it still just about counts as high-end fast food. The fries are hot, crunchy and pretty much worth killing for. Best of all, you get to design your own burger.

Why you’ll hate that you love it: Branches of Five Guys tend to be eerily quiet and utterly lacking in atmosphere. They are also a tad pricey.

White Castle
They put delightful little onions in the burgers. In fact, the patties are steamed over the onions. So don’t bother if you don’t like onions. Or buildings that look like they’re constructed from white Lego.

Why you’ll hate that you love it: It’s the closest American equivalent to Britain’s nearly defunct, reliably depressing but delicious burger chain, Wimpy. Remember them? They did the onion thing too.

Taco Bell
Look no further for Americanized Mexican food and mushy, anonymous but unspeakably delicious taco “meat.”

Why you’ll hate that you love it: You pride yourself on being cultured, but you secretly like Taco Bell more than real Mexican food.

Arby’s
Piles of roast beef as far as the eye can see. Dead cow never looked or tasted so great.

Why you’ll hate that you love it: Any pretense you had about one day becoming a vegetarian—or at the very least someone who only eats “happy” animals—goes out of the window every time you step into an Arby’s.

Long John Silver’s
Before they ditched trans fats, the seafood joint’s “Big Catch” was “scientifically proven” to be the worst meal in America. Naturally, this made me want to try it immediately. So yeah, basically, it’s fish and chips. Seriously, America? This is your best shot at killing me with a meal? Pur-lease.

Why you’ll hate that you love it: Even post trans fats, their food will make you sweat pure oil and smell like day old crab.

Which U.S. fast food restaurants are your favorites? Any particular places you miss from home, U.K. expats? Tell us below:

See more:
10 British Flavors Americans Will Never Widely Appreciate
10 Strange Things Brits Find in American Supermarkets
10 American Foods Brits Will Learn to Love

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.

See more posts by Ruth Margolis
  • Meadowend

    Cheesecake Factory – the place where many of their clients start with dessert, because the mains are so huge if you eat one you won’t have room for dessert.

    And Sizzler – not for the steaks, surprisingly, but for the best shrimp outside a branch of Legal Seafoods. Legal Seafoods is, hands down, the best chain of seafood restaurants I’ve ever eaten in, anywhere. But if you can’t find one of their restaurants then a McCormick & Schmick will do…

    • Sherri

      None of those restaurants Meadowend listed are considered fast food. Those mentioned are all blah cookie cutter chain restaurants. If you want to eat in sit-down restaurants I heartily suggest you skip all the chain places and eat at local independent neighborhood restaurants.

      • Aggie Ci

        The snobbery that just because it is a chain restuarant it is subpar is annoying. Most of the time I go to places that are NOT chains they are subpar. So there!

    • Sheridan Clark

      You kind of missed the part about fast food, Meadowend. Sizzler is the closest to fast food being that they have or at least had a buffet.

  • biosshadow

    I would like to add that Five Guys have now opened in the UK. actually they have almost doubled in the number of stores in 8 month. see: https://www.fiveguys.co.uk/findstore

  • Will

    You should really try Krispy Kreme for amazing donuts. They are a Southern staple, though when the first store opened in NYC, the line stretched around the block.

  • LarryVaughn

    I ate the best burger I’ve ever tasted in my life at Johnny Rockett’s. Is that good or bad?…. I never even liked burgers before I went to the USA. Mostly because every single one I’d ever tried in the UK was totally overcooked cheap meat, with a huge dry bun that sucked all the moisture out of your mouth. I thought I’d better give one a try when I got to America just to say I’d done it. Damn! You people can make a burger!

    • frozen01

      You should try the gourmet burgers at a nicer pub style restaurant, or one of those places where you can “build your own”. They’re amazingly good.

    • MWL2

      Johnnys is a good spot with atmosphere.

  • frozen01

    White Castle
    Why you’ll hate that you love it: Just wait a few hours and you’ll know why.

    • MWL2

      I dunno why folks insist, maybe I have a sound constitution.

  • Grand Moff Vixen

    If anyone happens to have a chance, and is in the midwest, try Culver’s. They have some of the most awesome pub-style burgers I have ever eaten, even over many sit-down restaurants. I should know, my girlfriend’s son works as the assistant manager at one of the local franchises. Yum!

  • Italian Beef

    Portillo’s in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. You’re welcome.

    • frozen01

      I second this. Best quick-service restaurant I have ever been to, and their food tastes real, not over processed like so many places.

  • Jwb52z

    I think people forget that restaurants that are well known are generally only in cities. Where I live, we’ve only just in the last few years started to get a known restaurant or two and I live out in practically the middle of nowhere. For example, I live in Texas, but the nearest In-N-Out Burger place is several dozen miles away.

  • Alibia de Vente

    Chick-fil-A. How did it not make the list? Starbucks?

  • Bennett Seacrist

    Sliders are awesome.

  • Just another person

    Chick-fil-a is to die for. They only sell chicken things, such as sandwiches and salads. But they have waffle fries, which are essentially fries shaped like small waffles. Heaven.

  • Uh. What?

    How can you mention Arby’s but not their curly fries? One of my favorite guilty pleasures is an order of them covered in Arby’s sauce.