The Great American Fast Food Roundup

Eat your way through the U.S. of A.

Hilary Cadigan

America, for better or for worse, is the holy land of Fast food. E pluribus unum and would you like fries with that? But beyond McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell and KFC, there's whole slew of smaller chains that have been feeding locals-in-the-know since the 1920s. 

What's rad about these regional spots is that they reflect the diverse array of cultures and flavors contained within our patchwork nation, from the buttermilk biscuits of the south to the sustainable local produce of California. To the perfect snap of a classic hot dog but beyond these differences, successful regional fast food chains give us an up-close-and-personal look at the American dream realized. Nothing is more red, white, and blue than turning a street-coner hot dog stand into 4 national brand, and tracing these eateries' roots reveals origin stories populated by all the people who make our country what it is: immigrants and war veterans, college dropouts and blue-collar moms. 

So grab your plastic fork, put on your elastic-waisted pants, and join us on a proverbial American road trip. From sea to shining milkshake, sandwich to shining steak burger.


Started in Utah in 1950, Arctic Circle claims a lot of firsts: first kids’ meal, first chocolate-dipped ice cream cones, first lime squeeze, first fry sauce. Today, they’re still famous for that sauce—a proprietary blend of ketchup, mayo, and

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