The Ultimate American Fast Food Restaurants Ranked

You see them everywhere in your travels and on TV commercials: You can't hide from fast food restaurants if you live in the U.S. And why should you? They are a die-hard American tradition and let you fill up your belly when you're short on time and money. Many fast food chains have come and gone since McDonald's put up its original golden arches back in the early 1950s, but the ones below have been around for decades. 

No one can contest the popularity of fast food burgers, but there are other options out there, too, when looking for convenience at mealtime. This ranking of fast food restaurants covers most of the bases — from chicken to tacos to pizza — but also steps a bit out of the box to include Starbucks and Panera Bread among the offerings. 

Some fast food chains list prices on their main websites, but others might not show the amounts unless you place an order. Prices also vary by location -– you might find good deals online or at your favorite local spot. For this reason, we gave only some consideration to pricing. More importantly, this ranking looks at company information, review sites, food preparation, and, of course, quality. Read on for our ranking of the ultimate American fast food restaurants.

13. Domino's

As one of the biggest pizza companies on the planet based on revenue, Domino's has about 6,570 U.S. locations, per ScrapeHero, and a menu that has expanded well beyond its famous Italian pies. Known for bringing food right to your door, Domino's announced in November 2022 that it would be adding electric cars to its delivery fleet. 

But this chain ended up here at the bottom of our ranking for a few reasons, starting with the list of consumer complaints posted with the Better Business Bureau for locations across the country. Most of these are about poor customer service, like receiving the wrong topping on a pizza, seeing staff members arguing in front of customers, overpaying for items not received, and having missed deliveries. 

Domino's menu is built around pizzas with different kinds of crusts, but it also serves chicken bites and wings, sandwiches, and pasta. We must point out that some of the non-pizza items do not look appetizing, so it might be best to stick with the pizza. A basic one-topping carryout pizza here costs $7.99, per Domino's, or you can go in on a deal for two medium, two-topping pizzas for $6.99 each (note that these deals might not be offered at your location). At Domino's, you get what you pay for. Still, there are a lot of customer complaints about the service, and that is what earned this pizza chain the No. 13 spot on our list.

12. Arby's

Like Chick-fil-A and McDonald's, Arby's was created by two brothers: Forrest "Fuzzy" Raffel and Leroy Raffel, per Nav. But instead of following the beaten paths to fast food burgers and chicken, this duo chose another one: roast beef sandwiches. You will see plenty of variations of those on Arby's menu, plus chicken, rib sandwiches, brisket, and even gyros. Arby's had burgers on there for a while, took them off, and brought them back in November 2022, according to an Inspire Brands posting.

This restaurant has loyal fans, but people who are picky about their roast beef probably don't go here. If you've ever had one of these sandwiches, you'll notice right away that the meat doesn't taste like the freshly cut stuff at your local deli. And while Arby's roast beef is not made out of imitation ingredients, it arrives in airtight bags and then gets cooked inside those bags for hours, according to Insider

Shopfood posts that Arby's roast beef sandwiches are popular with customers but adds that they are made out of round roast. This part of the cow can be tough and chewy and is not considered to be in the same class, for example, as the tenderloin and porterhouse portions of beef, per Mashed. For roast beef, Steak School recommends using prime rib, striploin, or other cuts. What's supposed to be its specialty is far enough off from what's considered to be good roast beef to give Arby's this lower ranking.

11. Burger King

This franchise's brain trust created these restaurants to hop onto the McDonald's bandwagon in the 1950s after fast food burgers had caught on. Its original name was actually Insta-Burger King before it was shortened several years later. The "burger wars" between the two chains were the stuff of legends, per blogger Benjamin Schroeder, but Mickey D's emerged as the leader. Originally known for its flame-grilled burgers, Burger King now has fried chicken and fried fish sandwiches, breakfast burritos, milkshakes, and soft-serve ice cream.

Burger King is not as widely known for its breakfast items, and the taste of its burgers doesn't compare to McDonald's, according to one reviewer on the Cheapism blog. As for the Whopper, its stringy onions can make a real mess, and plain old ketchup just cannot compete with the Big Mac's special sauce. Some reviewers found that Burger King's food is pretty much average, per Tripadvisor, and does not hold up to its main competitors, including McDonald's, per Mashed. Burger King's marketing efforts might also be part of the problem -– that awkward king who appears in some of its ads can be a little off-putting.

10. Subway

The Subway sandwich chain has been around for decades, starting in Connecticut in 1965 with franchising kicking off nine years later, according to the company's history. Subway has long billed itself as a healthier fast food option. And while some items might be, Subway's menu has some less-than-healthy choices too, like the 6-inch Philly cheesesteak with 480 calories, 37 grams of carbs, and 1,120 milligrams of sodium, according to Subway. In comparison, a Big Mac has 550 calories, 1,010 milligrams of sodium, and 45 grams of carbs, per McDonald's.

Subway's menu offers a dozen specialty sandwiches, another 15 classic sandwiches, melts, wraps, bowls, salads, chips, and cookies. When ordering, you can choose from a variety of bread and toppings like cheeses and vegetables, and finish with condiments and sauces. Staff members put together the subs to order, but the fresh food is precut and in bins.

This menu is mostly sandwiches, without any freshly made side dishes. Subway updated its menu in 2021 but instead of a worthy refresh, it was more underwhelming than expected, according to a review from The Washington Post. Some of the ingredients as part of its Subway Series for 2022 are in direct opposition to the healthy food theme. And in 2021, a lawsuit alleged that the chain's tuna fish was not actually made from tuna, per The Washington Post. Subway denied the allegation, explaining that the fish in question is wild tuna. 

9. Pizza Hut

Pizza was a newer food trend in 1958 when brothers Frank and Dan Carney opened up a pizza place in Wichita, Kansas, according to a Wichita State University blog. Little did these two college students know how successful their venture would be! Pizza Hut now has more than 6,000 U.S. locations, according to data company ScrapeHero

The blog All Pizzaholic likes Pizza Hut, claiming that customers get good value for their money when compared to other pizza chains. One of the most important parts of pizza is the crust, and this fan enthuses that Pizza Hut makes perfectly baked ones that are thick and crispy at the same time. And if you want a lighter, airier crust, the Bacinos Pizza blog notes that hand-tossed pizzas get thrown up into the air a few times before they are finished and don't have such a heavy taste.

You'll find the same kinds of pizzas on the menu here that are made at other places and three kinds of crusts — traditional, hand-tossed, and stuffed. And if you're not really in the mood for pizza, there are pasta entrees like cheesy alfredo and veggie. These are filling and come with breadsticks for even more of a carb load. The taste of Pizza Hut pizza can seem mass-produced like the ones made by Domino's, though. So if you're looking for pizza that has a real homemade flavor like that Italian spot down the street, Pizza Hut doesn't deliver that.

8. Starbucks

When Starbucks opened its first Seattle location in 1971, it sold only coffee beans –- it did not start selling brewed coffee until 1982, according to HistoryLink.org. These days, you can order basic and fancy coffees as well as iced drinks, teas, toasted white hot chocolate, and other goodies to perk you up. Its food menu includes breakfast egg wraps, oatmeal, lunch sandwiches, and sweet treats like chocolate-covered graham crackers. Starbucks also has bags of coffee and merch for sale.

While some coffee drinkers claim to dislike Starbucks coffee, you can't ignore the long lines at their counters and drive-thrus -– it's a matter of personal taste. QuerySprout claims that while some people think Starbucks coffee tastes burnt, it explains that it's a dark roast with a consistently intense flavor that can be more bitter. Starbucks also has light and medium roasts. You can customize your coffee drinks, too, and use whichever roast you prefer (including espresso if you need an extra boost of caffeine). 

Starbucks made a decent showing in our ranking because of the quality of its customer service experiences. According to Avada, this coffee chain connects with its employees and customers in ways that create brand loyalty. It's nice to have your name written on the cup and to hang out as long as you want or get your drink to go -– the atmosphere here is the key.

7. Taco Bell

Taco Bell's menu focuses on tacos, of course, but also burritos, quesadillas, nachos, and bowls. As the menu has evolved, things like veggie-friendly entrees, side dishes, breakfast items, and the sweet Cinnabon Delights (930 calories per dozen, per Taco Bell) have been added. Prices at Taco Bell are pretty reasonable, too. 

One of the best things about Taco Bell, though, is the option to customize your order. For tacos, you can choose a soft or hard shell; these come with seasoned ground beef, cheese, and lettuce. You can switch out the beef for chicken, beans, potatoes, or steak, and then pile on sour cream, tomatoes, and all kinds of sauces.

Taco Bell's simple go-to crunchy taco is a good starting point, or you can go all out with one of its irresistible specialty items. Two good ones are the creative, belly-filling Crunchwrap Supreme and Cheesy Gordita Crunch. Some combinations include sides like its addictive spicy nacho fries, too. This is Americanized Mexican food on steroids, but oh how good it is.

6. Wendy's

It's a stroke of genius when you think about it: In a landscape of round burgers, Wendy's offers something different with its square hamburger. Founder Dave Thomas' strategy worked, and Wendy's now has about 6,500 fast food restaurants in the U.S. The Wendy's menu is similar to those at McDonald's and Burger King -– you'll see burgers, fries, breakfast offerings, chicken sandwiches, and nuggets. But there are also seasoned potatoes, fresh salads, and innovative items like its delicious Pretzel Bacon Pub Chicken sandwich. This means that you can have a healthy meal if you choose –- not easy to do when you're inside the restaurant with the delicious-smelling burgers and fries being cooked up.

Lucien Formichella of Insider wrote in 2021 that he tried each of Wendy's 21 different kinds of burgers. One of his favorites was the Baconator, the chain's flagship hamburger. He liked the way the meat, bacon, and cheese came together and the extra flavors provided by the mayo and slightly sweet ketchup. A Reddit reviewer adds that Wendy's basic burgers taste better than ones found at similar fast food places -– they just have a fresher flavor. You'll pay a bit more for the food here, though. A single burger costs more than $4 unless there is a special, but it does contain a quarter of a pound of meat.

5. Jersey Mike's

Why is Jersey Mike's better than the average hoagie fast food chain? Its rolls are spot-on crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. And rather than trays of pre-cut meats and cheese, the chain slices everything to order, right in front of you. Jersey Mike's began as a Jersey shore sub shop that was bought by a former employee named Peter Cancro who was 17 years old at the time. He kept the name but expanded the company into a franchise that now has more than 2,300 locations, according to data company ScrapeHero.

Jersey Mike's bakes its bread and cooks and trims its meat on-site, and its menu is heavy on satisfying cheesesteaks. There are also a dozen cold subs and kids' meals, but like Subway, no sides besides chips. Still, some reviewers on Tripadvisor rave about the fresh, tasty food and make positive comments about the service and cleanliness. And if you're wondering why some of its hoagies taste better than the competition, it's because Jersey Mike's adds tangy flavor with red wine vinegar and olive oil.

4. In-N-Out Burger

In-N-Out Burger's more than 380 locations are only in the southwestern portion of the U.S., per ScrapeHero, but it still nabbed a coveted ranking in this list. The restaurant started in 1948, and unlike some of the competitors, it chose to use only freshly prepared ground beef instead of frozen. And even though you will find chicken, fish sandwiches, salads and the like at other burger joints, the offerings at In-N-Out Burger are for purists: burgers, cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, fries, and shakes.

Insiders know about this chain's Not So Secret Menu, which is completely ridiculous. The 4x4 is exactly as described -– four 100% beef patties in one sandwich. Here's why it's so good -– it has 900 calories, 67 grams of fat (that's 86% of the recommended daily amount), and more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium, per MyNetDiary. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can get the Protein Style burger sans bun. This healthier, two-patty burger has 520 calories and 39 grams of fat, according to In-N-Out Burger. Fans are addicted to In-N-Out because they can taste the quality in every juicy bite -– one fan at Good Financial Cents says that this chain's Double-Double is much better than McDonald's Big Mac. What else is so great about this place? The toppings are all fresh, and potatoes are cut on-site at the restaurant into fries instead of being precut and frozen.

3. Panera Bread

According to Sara's Veggie Kitchen, Panera Bread is more like a hybrid fast food restaurant that is generally categorized as fast casual. While the service is fast, there are few frozen foods and processed ingredients on its menu, which changes seasonally. Food there is made to order, so you usually have to wait about five to 10 minutes until they call your name. Another nice thing is the upfront bakeries where you can see the fresh goodies. You can take that all in while you're waiting for your order and filling up your drink glass.

Panera Bread is big on soups, salads, and sandwiches, and you can pair up any two for a meal and take your time eating in the dining room. The $11.59 Fuji Apple Salad with Chicken has been on the menu forever and mixes different tastes and textures like the sweet apple slices, red onion, and a slightly sweet dressing. The soups don't come from cans and are thick and delicious. They still have those edible bread bowls, so you can enjoy your soup with a spoon, mop it up with torn-off pieces of bread, and eat the bowl. This chain also has flatbread pizzas, creamy mac n' cheese, chili, breakfast items, amazing desserts, and bagels. And boy, does that bakery smell good. This chain might not fit into the standard fast food restaurant description, but its fresh offerings make a nice break from some of the heavier options offered elsewhere.

2. Chick-fil-A

Started by the Cathy brothers, Chick-fil-A traces its beginnings as a small Atlanta diner and built a reputation on top-notch customer service, juicy grilled and fried boneless chicken, and tasty waffle fries, according to the company's history. The staff members are so darn polite -– if your counter order is delayed, they will walk it right out to you when it's ready.

You won't see burgers on any Chick-fil-A menu. And while you can find lovely bacon and sausage in its breakfast biscuits and bacon in its Cobb salad, it specializes in chicken and has pretty much perfected it. Even its breakfast biscuits have chicken in them. One Reddit reviewer raved about the "soft chicken." Chick-fil-A explains that it uses patented, high-tech grills that mimic the taste of home-grilled meat. Food here always tastes fresh, which makes a huge difference. Those pickles are the perfect touch, too –- it puts them on the sandwiches unless you say otherwise.

The only problem with Chick-fil-A is the crowds –- go early to avoid the lines, and don't go on Sundays because they are closed. In June 2022, Chick-fil-A finished at the top of the American Customer Satisfaction Index for restaurants for an eighth year in a row, per ACSI. And while we agree Chick-fil-A is great, we rank one fast food chain higher –- you know which one it is.

1. McDonald's

The first McDonald's had a 15-cent hamburger, a 19-cent cheeseburger, 10-cent fries, and hot and cold drinks, per Mirror, which included a photograph of the original San Bernadino, California, restaurant. Fast Food Menu Prices shows that these days you can get two cheeseburgers here for $2, which is still a great deal. The McDonald's menu also has chicken sandwiches and nuggets, fried fish sandwiches, its famous Egg McMuffin, other breakfast and bakery items, and drinks, including its decadent Oreo Fudge McFlurry.

There's no doubting McDonald's dominance in the industry. It finished at the top of QSR's quick-service restaurant rankings based on annual earnings, according to the QSR report published in August 2022. For customers, there's also the all-important issue of taste: McDonald's burgers are delicious for several reasons. They are made with 100% pure beef, simply seasoned with salt and pepper, and then flash-frozen. Its burgers are usually prepared and served within three weeks, and that fillers and additives are not used, according to McDonald's

You can't go wrong with this kind of selection, the taste-bud-pleasing flavors, and reasonable prices -– a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese meal is less than $7, according to Real Menu Prices. No competitor can beat Mickey D's menu variety, prices, and great taste, and that's why they finish at No. 1 in our ranking of the ultimate fast food restaurants.