If you're traveling to the U.K. any time soon, you'll be reassured to know that you'll find many of the same fast food chains you see in the U.S. – McDonald's, Subway, KFC, Burger King, and Five Guys are all big across the pond, too. But the U.K. also has its own fast food favorites that are every bit as tempting and, in some cases, pretty different to anything you'll find in North America.
Here are 10 of the best:
Launched in the North East of England in 1939, Greggs has expanded massively to become the U.K.'s largest bakery chain with more than 2,000 outlets all over the country. Greggs sells sandwiches and salads, but Brits really come here for sweet and savory baked goods including the famous Greggs Sausage Roll – sausage meat in puff pastry, essentially – which sells more than two million units a week. When Greggs launched a Vegan Sausage Roll last year, it became a national talking point and an instant hit.
Leon brands itself as the home of "naturally fast food" and says around half of its food sales are plant-based or vegetarian. Launched in 2004, it now has 70 outlets in the U.K. where you can pop in for a reasonably cheap and generally very healthy breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Leon's array of salads and "Jackfruit Chicken Wings" are definitely worth checking out, but its signature dish is surely the Fish Finger Wrap – basically a grown-up take on a British childhood favorite, the fish finger sandwich.
3. Pret a Manger
This sandwich shop chain has made its way to several American cities including New York and Chicago, where it's gotten pretty popular, but remains biggest at home in the U.K. In fact, Pret – as hungry Brits on their lunch break call it – does two-thirds of its trade in London, where it can feel like there's a branch on every corner. Sandwiches are still the foundation of the business, but you'll also find a tempting selection of salads, yogurt pots, cakes, and pastries, plus hot breakfast options available before 11 a.m. They've even opened a few "Veggie Pret" stores selling nothing but plant-based dishes.
Eat launched in London in 1996 as a rival to Pret a Manger, and did so well that it now has 75 branches in the British capital, plus 20 more in other towns and cities. Last year, the chain was acquired by Pret a Manger after profits fell sharply, but it still operates its own menu with separate sandwiches, soups, and breakfast options to Pret. Eat also stands out for its hearty lunchtime "Hot Pots," which are popular with peckish London office workers during the winter months.
This fast food chain actually began in Chicago in 1934, but was introduced to the U.K. two decades later and became enormously popular in the '70s and '80s. At its peak, Wimpy had more than 500 locations in the U.K., but it's now down to around 65 after falling out of fashion next to McDonald's and Burger King. In 2014, Vice even published a poignant article titled "The Slow Death of Wimpy, a British Institution." It's not all doom and gloom, though: you can still find a Wimpy in many London suburbs and British seaside towns; branches tend to be popular with locals who fancy a hamburger and chips (fries) served on a proper china plate or a traditional English breakfast.
6. Yo! Sushi
If this chain sounds familiar, that could be because it briefly had branches in New York, New Jersey, and Florida. They're all closed now, but Yo! Sushi remains super-popular in the U.K., where customers enjoy picking up sushi and other Japanese-inspired dishes as they whizz past on a Tokyo-style "kaiten" conveyor belt. In London, there's a particularly fun branch on the concourse at Paddington Station, where you can grab a bite while waiting for your train to come in.
7. The West Cornwall Pasty Company
The traditional Cornish pasty is an iconic dish that hails from Cornwall in the South West of England. Imagine beef, sliced potato, swede, and onion all packed into a golden pastry casing and... well, try not to let your mouth water too much. This nationwide chain sells pasties with all kinds of fillings, including veggie and vegan options, at more than 50 locations in the U.K. You'll find handy branches at three of London's busiest railway stations: Waterloo, Marylebone, and Victoria.
8. Ben's Cookies
Do cookies count as fast food? These ones are served fresh out the oven, still warm and gooey, so we think they do. Ben's Cookies launched in Oxford in 1983 and now has outlets dotted around the U.K. as well as in the Middle East and East Asia. Generally Ben's operates stall-like units dispensing delicious cookies through a hatch, but some of the London branches, including one on Soho's Carnaby Street, are larger café-style spaces where you can sit down and savor your cookie with a cup of tea or coffee.
Launched in Birmingham in 2012, Wrapchic specializes in filling Mexican-style burrito wraps with a variety of warming Indian-style meats and veggie proteins. It's expanded rapidly in just eight years and now has branches in most major U.K. cities including London, Leeds, Manchester, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, where you can pop in for a Chicken Tikka wrap at lunchtime or a breakfast option combining eggs with spicy South Asian flavors.
Okay, so Nando's comes from South Africa, not the U.K, but Brits have really embraced the peri-peri chicken chain since it launched there in the early '90s. In fact, there are now around 340 Nando's restaurants in the U.K. – a third of the world's total. The key to ordering at Nando's is picking the right chicken marinade for your palate: "Lemon and Herb" is mild and zesty but, at the other end of the spice spectrum, "Extra Hot" might just blow the roof of your mouth off!
Which is your favorite U.K. food chain?