When you spend as much time on the road as we do, it’s hard to get excited about eating at the same old fast food joints every where you go. The nationwide fast food chains have some good options but those get tired fast.
We have learned real quickly to appreciate regional fast food restaurants for their unique offerings. Indeed, over the years, we have made a point to try any regional fast food restaurants we can and we have found some gems.
Here, in no particular order, are our favorite regional fast food and fast-casual chains.
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Regional Fast Food Chains
It’s not a road trip out West unless we stop at Taco John’s! We discovered this chain on our first trip to Yellowstone National Park and, since then, it has been something we look forward to whenever we head west.
It is similar to Taco Bell in its offerings. That said, I don’t know what it is about their potato oles that just make everything better but they really do. For even more flavor, add a side of nacho cheese. It’s the perfect dipping sauce for the potato oles.
You can find Taco John’s in AR, CO, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, MI, MN, MO, MT, NE, NV, NY, ND, OH, SD, TN, WA, WI and WY.
This is a particular favorite of mine. Bonnie tolerates my love for Whataburger, which stems from my time living in Texas. The great thing is we can get it when we go down to Tallahassee to visit her family. Score!
I don’t know what it is about Whataburger that’s just so much better than anything else but it is. The burgers are juicier and the spicy ketchup is truly a marvel of culinary science. Also, the Dr. Pepper Shake is truly a Texas treasure.
You can find Whataburger in AL, AZ, AR, FL, GA, LA, MS, NM, OK and TX.
Bonnie loves ice cream (and really all things sweet) and Culver’s has definitely become a favorite stop of ours since we first tried it this past summer on our Great Lakes Road Trip. Indeed, they have opened up locations close to us and we have made the trek a few times for drive-thru during the COVID-19 quarantine.
The ButterBurgers are delicious but the real star at Culver’s is the Concrete Mixer, their custard dessert with plenty of toppings and options. They also have a Flavor of the Day and there are truly some amazing concoctions. That said, don’t miss out on the cheese curds!
You can find Culver’s in AL, AZ, CO, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, MI, MN, MO, NE, NC, ND, OH, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, WI and WY.
Man, we love Cook Out. We first tried it up in Gaffney, SC when visiting Cowpens National Battlefield. The food is fresh and tasty and the options are limitless with their menu. Get a tray, choose your sandwich, choose TWO sides (or double up on your favorite) and a drink. The trays aren’t expensive and you get a ton of food!
I am a big fan of the Cajun-style grilled chicken sandwich and I love the hushpuppies. Want onion rings and fries? Yup! All for the normal combo price. Love it!
You can find Cook Out in AL, GA, KY, MD, MS, NC, SC, TN and WV.
In-N-Out Burger is a West Coast favorite and we stopped on our way out to Yosemite National Park. A lot folks will tell you it’s their favorite burger joint around and we really enjoyed it. That said, Whataburger is better. Just sayin’. Still, they make amazing burgers and if you have never been, make the stop.
Their menu is pretty straight forward: burgers and fries. Get a burger and some fries!
You can find In-N-Out Burger in AZ, CA, NV, OR, TX and UT.
Chick-Fil-A has gone from a regional fast food chain to pretty much all over the country. That said, there are still some states you can’t find it in. While it is a staple at home, when we go on the road, it is always a welcome sight to find a Chick-fil-A.
Chick-fil-A makes great chicken sandwiches and, even better, great chicken biscuits. Why waffle fries taste so much better than normal fries, I don’t know, but they do. I am a big fan of their spicy chicken. Bonnie loves that you can get grilled chicken nuggets. The menu is pretty simple but it is all tasty.
You can find Chick-fil-A in AL, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY.
Regional Fast-Casual Chains
These are restaurants that are more geared toward sit down dining than getting take out. Still, we have them on the list because they are fairly easy to get a meal and enjoy a regional chain.
Pollo Tropical is a Miami restaurant specializing in grilled chicken, pork and beef with a Caribbean flair. This chain expanded briefly into Georgia, long enough to hook us on the delicious food but sadly retreated back to Florida. We made a point to get some on our recent trip to Everglades National Park.
The staple of Pollo Tropical is the Tropichop, a custom bowl of rice, beans, veggies and meat plus some of their amazing sauces. I love the pork, Bonnie is a fan of the chicken. The flavors are unlike anything you will find north of the Caribbean.
You can find Pollo Tropical in Florida only.
Skyline Chili is a Cincinnati staple known for its distinctive chili. Now, before the chili purists get their feathers in a ruffle, it is advertised a chili sauce and is not based upon the dish from Texas.
The classic menu is pretty simple. You can get a cheese coney covered in cheese and chili. I highly suggest ordering half cheese… Even that is still a mountain of cheese. You can also get the famous 3-Way, which is spaghetti topped with chili and cheese. Add diced onions and/or beans to make it a 4-Way or 5-Way.
You can find Skyline Chili in FL, KY, IN and OH.
Chicken Salad Chick
Chicken Salad Chick definitely caters to female customers with it’s decor and attitude but I cannot deny the food is really good. So pardon me while I gush a bit about a “chick” restaurant.
The menu is pretty simple. Pick the variety of chicken salad, decide if you want it as a scoop or a sandwich, and add a side. I am a particular fan of Kickin’ Kay Lynn, which has buffalo sauce, ranch, bacon, shredded cheddar cheese, jalapeños and Sriracha. Bonnie likes the Buffalo Barclay (think buffalo wings) or the Cranberry Kelli. We both really like the grape salad.
You can find Chicken Salad Chick in AL, AR, FL, GA, IL, KY, LA, MO, MS, NC, OH, OK, SC, TN and TX.
Final Thoughts on Regional Fast Food Chains
One of the best things about this country is the regional differences and we love exploring that through the humblest of eating establishments: the fast food restaurant.
These spots are definitely the places we would return to but we know we have not been everywhere, yet. Somehow, we have missed White Castle on our travels, something we have to remedy quickly.
We hope this list will help you spice up your travels with some tasty grub. After all, we have to eat… it might as well be something new and interesting! What are some of your favorites? We’d love suggestions so please comment below!
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If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
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As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
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We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
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We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.
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