16 Regional Fast Food Chains You Should Try On Your Next Road Trip

"Food tourism is the act of traveling for a taste of place in order to get a sense of place," according to World Food Travel Association. For foodies who find themselves on a road trip through the U.S., this is definitely one of the biggest draws of eating and driving. Certainly, food tourism can and does include the little five-booth corner cafe that small-town locals go to pick up their clam chowder at lunchtime. However, the right food tourism should also include stops at regional fast-food restaurants, because each one represents a small idea that sparked a chain of restaurants that extended beyond their states of origin.

This type of thinking inspired our list of the best 16 regional fast food chains in the U.S. Some of them satisfy your taste for food history and your desire for something really fantastic to eat after a long day of driving. The recipes these chains feature tell us a story about the history of food in America and reveal the underbelly, or shall we say, underplate, of a time we no longer remember, except for through our food. In other cases, we chose a chain due to the mark it's made on the area in which it exists, whether it introduced a new ingredient to a burger or played a significant role community development. Finally, we chose many of them because they have numerous stores which means numerous possibilities to find a good food no matter where you are on the road.

1. Taziki's Mediterranean Café

What do you think of when you hear someone say "the Mediterranean food?" Granted, the Mediterranean food can mean a lot of things, depending on which country you're talking about but it does have a few commonalities, like lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy amounts of olive oil, and some savory meats and cheeses, chief among them being lamb and feta cheese. As it turns out, some of the tastiest Mediterranean-inspired food is available on this side of the pond. If the fates are smiling on you, they'll veer your road trip off to the highways and byways of Alabama, and steer you and yours into Taziki's Mediterranean Café. A cross between fast food and fast casual, this regional chain satisfies your taste foFr fresh Mediterranean fare, without being dogmatic about it. 

For example, if you love Greek gyros, you can totally order one. You won't find meat on a spit, but you will find sliced lamb, assorted veggies, and lots of feta cheese. If you're just feeling a bit peckish, try an appetizer, like whipped feta with chips. And naturally, you don't want to hit the road without trying at least one square of baklava. And if you're not in Alabama, you can find a Taziki's in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, to name but a few locations.

2. Boise Fry Company

When you slide into a chair at the Boise Fry Company in Boise, Idaho, be prepared for a french fry-forward fast food experience. It's not that Boise Fry Company doesn't serve burgers. It's just that, given the fact that Idaho is known for its potatoes, the powers that be that run this local legend of a place believe that the place for burgers is on the side of fries. Routinely named one of the area's best places to eat fries,  BFC offers four "basic" fry recipes — one made from Russets, one from golds, one from purples, and one from reds. Additionally, the company offers specialty fries made from brussel sprouts. 

The good news is as delish as the Boise Fry Company's fries are, the burgers for this Northwest fast-food chain are pretty much the bomb, too. The company builds burgers from various types of meat and other proteins. While it probably won't surprise you that you can order a veggie burger made from black beans or a burger made from good, old-fashioned beef, you might be pleased as punch to learn you can also order a bison burger. But, you don't have to take our word for it that BFC is an amazing place to eat. The company routinely lands on the Boise Weekly newspaper's "Best of Boise" lists, for fries, of course. The BFC has a handful of locations around Idaho's Treasure Valley, including Boise, Meridian, and Nampa if you happen to be in the neighborhood.

3. Taco Time

If you're on the road and in the mood for tacos and other fast-food Mexican fare, you have Taco Bell as an option, but if you're in the Northwest, you might even be able to go one better with Taco Time. Garden fresh ingredients, including some more unusual options, like pumpkin seeds make their way into the chain's vegetarian burrito. And, aside from featuring the usual suspects on its menu, like tacos and burritos, the chain is also known to create mash-ups, like taco burgers, which satisfy the craving for burgers and tacos at the same time.

The exceptionally hungry can get their fill by ordering one of Taco Time's combo meals. These come with a healthy serving of tater tots, a drink of choice, and whatever entree tickles the road tripper's fancy. If you're only feeling slightly peckish, you might opt for a side like seasoned rice or cheese-topped pinto beans. If passing through the Northwest during fall, it's likely that a good cup of Taco Time's white chicken chili will hit the spot. There are even mini-meals for the quick snack pit-stop.

And, if you need a little more nudging to convince yourself that this is a good place to stop for lunch, consider this. There is even a Taco Time podcast "Talkin' Taco Time," which was created by four friends who just happen to love all things Taco Time, so they made a podcast about this Northwest fixture.

4. Farmer Boys

From its scarecrow mascot to its made-fresh-daily burgers, Farmer Boys food personifies the kind of good, wholesome middle America, farm-fresh food that you've come to expect from a Greek restaurant family. If you just did a double take, then you understand perfectly the dichotomy that has made the Farmer Boys restaurant chain such a yummy enigma in the fast food/fast casual industry. The five brothers who started the California-based restaurant chain cut their foodie teeth in a restaurant, all right, but in a restaurant on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

What their experience didn't teach them about American cuisine, they made up for in earnestness and a desire to serve excellent food to the customers who frequented their first restaurants. No frozen burgers for this chain, which has about 100 stores, primarily in America's West and Southwest. Aside from serving unforgettable burgers, yummy Cobb salads, and chili cheese fries, Farmer Boys is known for making the whole restaurant experience both fun and easy on the wallet. (We know that budget-conscious travelers love that!)

Case in point? In September of 2023, visitors to a select Farmer Boys received free Big Cheese Combos to celebrate National Drive-Thru Day. While such events are deals for all involved, for roadtrippers, it's those kinds of experiences that form part of the journey's tapestry, prompting a reason to pass that way again. 

5. Whataburger

When you're starving, it's entirely possible for your tummy to convince you that you could eat a burger the size of a large frisbee. If you're lucky enough to be near a Whataburger location, one of the American South's most famous regional burger chains, you've found your burger. The two-hander burger, which originated in Texas, is 5 inches from edge to edge. More than a few fans of the burger have been known to exclaim, "What a burger!" We'll bet you can guess where the name came from based on that.

The sentiment must have caught on. Over the course of the 70 or so years that the chain has been in existence, it has expanded throughout Texas and beyond the Lone Star State's borders. There are almost 1,000 locations now, which means that wherever your road trip takes you throughout much of the American South, you'll likely find a Whataburger. In Texas, which has over 700 of them, you might even find one on every corner. If you haven't yet reached Texas, don't despair. That 5-inch burger can still be yours if you're passing through New Mexico, Louisiana, Oklahoma, or Arkansas.

It's also worth mentioning that Whataburger has become about more than just burgers. If you're riding with a crew that can never quite seem to decide on a lunch spot, chances are good that they'll like Whataburger. Aside from menu items like chicken sandwiches and BLTs, you'll find breakfast foods and even salads all under one friendly roof.

6. Runza

Visiting a Runza restaurant feels like becoming a part of a close-knit community that you didn't even know you should belong to. Runza has so ingratiated itself into the Midwestern psyche that some kids won't go to colleges that take them too far away from Runza. We're not making this up. That kind of community-focused vibe finds its way into the atmosphere of the restaurants themselves. In this way, Runza solves yet another problem that often plagues solo travelers: loneliness. Stopping at Runza satisfies your hunger and your need for connection in one visit.

And speaking of satisfying hunger, the chain's signature sammy, a pocket sandwich inspired by the cooking styles of Old Europe, keeps all of its tasty ingredients — bits of meat, savory cabbage, and some cheesy goodness — tightly encased in a soft pocket of bread. If you're really hungry, you could add a side of frings, which are French fries and onion rings together in the same bag. Or if you have a sweet tooth, you might try an ice cream sandwich to top off lunch, unless, of course, your trip takes you to Runza country during winter, then maybe no ice cream for you. But, even on the coldest of days, Runza has something to offer: Temperatue Tuesdays. Throughout January and February, every Tueday, Runza prices its original sandwich at whatever the temperature is at 6:00 a.m. that morning. That, alone, might make a wintertime road trip to the Midwest worth the drive.

7. D'Angelo Grilled Sandwiches

Any road trip worth its salt gives you a specific kind of eat-all-the-burgers-you-want kind of mindset. Given that you're not near a kitchen for most of the travel day, it offers you the perfect excuse to stop at all the burger joints you can find along America's backroads and byways. After a while, though, burgers stop tasting good. That's when desire and necessity make you look for an alternative come lunchtime. And if you're in the Northeast U.S., D'Angelo Grilled Sandwiches may just be the best burger alternative out there. This regional fast-food chain has almost 90 locations in a five-state area, so you're likely to happen upon at least one of them if you drive long enough.

Like most great sub shops, D'Angelo boasts an assortment of hot and cold sammies. There's a Korean BBQ offering,  a cold Italian number with all the expected get-up, like salami, provolone, and peppers, plus wraps, hot soup, and there's even lobster. But if, after perusing the shop's expansive assortment of sandwich yummies, you still can't decide on the right sandwich, you may want to go with the Number 9, a number that Bloomberg promises is the "finest fast-food sandwich in the land." It's a grilled steak and vegetable sammy that's both fine sandwich art and comfort food rolled up together on one big hoagie roll. 

8. White Castle

Everyone knows the best burgers to satisfy the kind of appetite you build up by driving for hours on end are those big and round burgers that require both hands to handle. But, what if you knew that not only do some of the best burgers in the U.S. not require two hands, but they're square and actually kind of cute in a miniature sort of way?  Those who've driven their jitneys – that's slang for a nickel or a car — to a White Castle location will know why their little burgers, which used to cost a jitney a piece, have made such a big impression on the hamburger-eating road warrior. 

This Midwestern burger chain boasts a unique cooking method for its burgers. Each restaurant burger chef slaps square-shaped burgers, along with some onions and even a bun, on the grill to steam. Because these mini-burgers have holes punched in the center of them, the onions flavor not only the burger but the bun, too. They're freakin' delicious.

Since White Castle's inception in the early 1920s, the chain's burgers have always been small, but White Castle's original owners made up for the size of the burgers by putting a bunch in a sack. Those little square burgers still promise to fill up a road warrior's tummy no matter how empty it has become.

9. Culver's

At Culver's, there's more than one use for the simple ice cream scoop. This Wisconsin-based fast-food chain first uses its ice cream scoop to create its perfectly round ButterBurger before it scoops up a cone or two of its famous frozen custard. ​​This is probably an oversimplification of the process as we're sure Culver's owns more than one ice cream scoop to get the job done. But, this highlights the simplicity that makes dinner at Culver's so memorable. 

The Midwest QSR originated in Sauk City, Wisconsin, in 1984 when the Culver family bought the A&W, their parents had once owned and converted it into the first Culver's locaton. Frozen custard and the Culver family had a long history as they used to travel to Milwaukee every summer to sample the tasty treat. And, from the outset, frozen custard was on the Culver's menu. Weary (and hot) road warriors should definitely swing by one of their 1,000 restaurants where 16%, or 149 of them, sit inside the borders of the Badger State.  What's more, with flavors of the day, like double strawberry, chocolate Heath crunch, or caramel pecan, it's a good excuse to stop at everyone you come across

10. Iceberg Drive-Inn

The early 1960s was the era of "The Jetsons" and retro drive-ins that weren't so retro back then. The design sensibilities that governed the time looked like something out of the space age, and during the early '60s, this now-retro style of architecture represented cutting-edge stuff. This was when the Iceberg Drive-Inn, spelled with two N's, emerged on the Salt Lake City, Utah restaurant scene. With its unique roof design and over-the-top milkshakes dressed in their pinstriped cups to match the inn's pinstriped roof, the Iceberg Drive-Inn quickly became a beloved hangout.

It's difficult to talk about this regional fast-food chain without talking about the role it has played for residents. In many areas, kids worked their first jobs at the Iceberg Drive-Inn. And, its most important job seems to be to teach employees how to make guests feel at home, which, by the way, is why the drive-in spells its name with two "N's" instead of one. The original owner, George Lamar Sorenson, wanted it to be a friendly place where people could go to get a good meal. Iceberg Drive-Inn has 17 locations spread out between Utah, California, and Arizona. In addition to offering traditional drive-in restaurants, the chain now has a shake truck that serves its famous shakes on the road to people who don't live near one of the restaurants. Who knows? It just might catch up with you on the road.

11. Bojangles

Southern hospitality possesses a certain je ne sais quoi that's difficult to describe in words. This might be why Southerners turn to food to express the finer points of it, and while such activities may also include sitting for a time on the back porch with a glass of lemonade, it might also include fried chicken and biscuit recipes so good that people will come from the most unlikely of places just to experience such culinary hospitality.

Such was the case with the first Bojangles restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina. Started back in 1977 by Jack Fulk and Richard Thomas, the strength of the first Bojangles didn't come from the restaurant's location in Charlotte. In fact, the first restaurant's location was less than desirable but this was apparently part of the business plan. The idea behind it was to make food so good, so welcoming, that people would drive in from all over to experience it. And they did. Within about a year's time, the first franchise came into existence, and now, Bojangles and its famous biscuits and chicken exist in multitudes of places – over 800, in fact – with most below the Mason-Dixon-Line. 

If you're visiting the Carolina beaches on your next roadie excursion, Bojangles makes for an excellent fried chicken and biscuit picnic any time of the day. With sides like coleslaw, green beans, and mac and cheese, dinner will slide into lazily into your tummy as you watch the waves roll in.

12. Friendly's

Those who embrace the meme that goes something like, "Life's short. Eat dessert first" truly appreciate the goodness that Friendly's brings to the regional fast food table. Certainly, Friendly's is a place where you'll find plenty of burgers, cheese bites with dip, chicken quesadillas, and sandwiches to more than meet your requirements for lunchtime sustenance. 

But, if you really want to be impressed by your sojourn at Friendly's, one of the Northeast's best-loved fast food/fast casual restaurants, go straight for the ice cream! Friendly's was "founded on ice cream" and "built around families." In fact, for those of us who were lucky enough to eat at a Friendly's in, oh, say, the late 1980s, it was the place you went if you wanted a gourmet banana split but needed to justify it by having dinner first.

In the 21st century, Friendly's dessert menu has expanded. In addition to the chain's standard fare, like the sundaes and banana splits we grew up noshing on as kids, new and more epic desserts have since graced the Friendly's menu, like the Candy Blast Monster Shake. An explosion of candies, cookies, and whipped cream tops a milkshake, the likes of which are held together by two hefty pretzel sticks and a prayer. This is just the kind of refreshment required to get you through the next leg of your journey on the open road. At Friendly's, you can definitely get a savory and delicious lunch, but it isn't required. Eat dessert first.

13. In-N-Out

Road trips and burgers just kind of go together. In Cali, you just need to look for the double palm tree and arrow-decorated sign, which points the way to a firm fast-food fixture out West: In-N-Out Burger, which has slinging burgers since 1948. For the very hungry, like I-could-eat-my-arm kind of hungry, In-N-Out cuts straight to the chase with its Double-Double. That's a double burger and double cheese. Certainly, if your tummy isn't at the gnaw stage yet, it's likely that the chain's hamburger or cheeseburger will suit you just fine.

But, if you're still looking for a bit more, you may want to take a gander at the In-N-Out not-so-secret menu. This menu does burgers one better by offering such off-the-menu — sort of — offerings, like lettuce-wrapped protein-style burgers with no bun, a mustard-soaked animal-style burger, and even the quad, which hooks eaters up with four patties and four slices of cheese under one bunny roof. And, that may just be the burger to eat when your tummy is really gnawing at you after a long day on the road. 

If you just so happen to fall in love with In-N-Out while you're traveling through Cali and the West, you're in luck. The chain has almost 400 stores, nearly 300 of which are in Cali, meaning you could plan your trip around opportunities to hook yourself up with that quad burger in every town.

14. Schoop's Hamburgers

Dive-through restaurants and, by proxy, hamburgers came of age during the golden years of the late 1940s and early 1950s. In middle America, during the post-World War II era, foods like hamburgers, fries, and malts were some of the peoples' favorites when they wanted to treat themselves to a dinner out. People embraced going out to dinner, even a burger dinner, as a special occasion, and it was against this backdrop that Schoop's Hamburgers began its burger-making legacy.

If you're driving through Indiana, a stop-in at Schoop's Hamburgers is a must, particularly if you long for the wholesome foods that people ate in what now seem like much simpler times. While time won't stop completely when you're at this classic burger joint, it'll seem at least like it's standing still as you sip on a chocolate malt from an old-fashioned malt glass. You can count your lucky stars that you get a taste of the past with each sip. Only Schoop's classic burgers sitting atop a pretzel bun with slabs of bacon and slices of cheese taste better than the old-fashioned malt. Other notable dishes include chicken strips for the kids and a plate of Irish nachos to share with all. Finally, a to-go cup of sweet tea will make the rest of your ride right as rain. Schoop's Hamburgers has 15 locations around Indiana and the surrounding area.

15. Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard

Life in the Colorado Rocky Mountains is filled with rugged day hikes and there are plenty of people who make it their mission to scale the area's 14,000-foot peaks.  It's the athletically-inclined road trippers' paradise, and Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard has accepted the challenge of feeding them all, or at least, trying to. Mushroom melts, double cheeseburgers, spicy chicken sandwiches, and bean burgers for the non-meat eaters do much to revive the muscles after a day of hard playing.

If you're not familiar with this fast food chain, Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard is almost the ranch-to-table version of regional fast food. The chain imports all-natural beef from Montana and ethically sourced chicken from Springer Farms. And, its small batches of freshly-made custard are the frozen custard equivalent of the microbrew. In other words, the food and desserts there are as wholesome as the pristine Colorado mountains that surround Denver where Good Times Burgers came to life in 1987. These days, 30-plus locations make locating a burger and a frozen custard wherever you are much easier after your hiking boots and biking shorts have worn out. After a couple of bites of all the chain's great food, it'll become clear to you why it's named one of the region's best time and again.

16. Blake's Lotaburger

Blake's Lotaburger represents the kind of food that makes New Mexican cuisine such a standout, and while we can hardly say that the red or green chilis from this region are a secret ingredient, they are certainly a necessary ingredient for making the burgers at Blake's Lotaburger taste so good. And, for making them so famous. Well, that, and the fact that Blake's Lotaburger only uses burgers that haven't seen the inside of a freezer. The result is one fresh burger.

This combination of burger and chilis proved to be so popular that when Blake's Lotaburger opened its first store in 1952, it might have been inevitable that expansion would be rapid, to say the least. Within a year, owner Blake Chancellor opened two more stores. Chancellor expanded exponentially over the decades after his first restaurant opened, until eventually, Albuquerque became a hamburger lover's paradise and Blake's Lotaburger grew to over 70 stores in New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. If that weren't enough to convince you that these burgers are great, it might help to know they've gotten "Best of" nods from the likes of USA Today and National Geographic. And, if its unique burgers aren't enough to tempt you to pull off to the side of the road for lunch, consider treating yourself to a cup of chili or Frito pie, washed down with a Pepsi or the shake flavor of the season. They're as good an excuse as any to pull over for a while.