Opinions are like fast food locations: they’re only good when you’re too drunk to know better. We asked our staff to combine the two, hoping two wrongs can make a right, by asking them a simple question:
The best fast food burger is at the Five Guys on Barrow Street and 7th Avenue South in Manhattan’s West Village. Like all Five Guys, it’s got the char and smoke and so tastes like backyard grilling. But this location is special because there’s a speakeasy called The Garret on the floor above and the only way to the Garret is through the restaurant. You can grab a burger and then head upstairs to get a martini to wash that beef down. I took a friend to the Garret once after we’d had a steak dinner and he was appalled to think I wanted a burger after that much meat.
The other week (what is time?) my roommate’s boyfriend entered our apartment with a bag of burgers from In-N-Out. I realized that the thing about In-N-Out is that you can customize your onions. Grilled onions? On a fast food burger? Truly groundbreaking.
I live with a quiet, shameful secret. I love Arby’s. Repeatedly mocked and subject to rumors that it isn’t “real meat,” my tastebuds crave the thin, salty roast beef slices, piled high with Arby’s Sauce and a warm cheese spread you’d easily dip your nachos into. Add in the spice of curly fries instead of your regular chain pomme frites, and you’ve got a meal.
There’s a quiet few of us die-hard Arby’s fans that are delighted to find each other. My friend Jeff and I bonded over our forbidden love of the cowboy hat. Their locations number few, but I always know where the closest one is. They have the meats, and they have my heart.
I don’t mean to sound pedantic, but Shake Shack and In-N-Out are QSRs, not fast food. Same for Five Guys, which, I will admit, Michael that does sound pretty special and I respect your appetite. Also, have you ever tried Bobby’s Burger Palace? That question is for all y’all, because none of these QSRs can Beat Bobby Flay.
I’m splitting hairs like this because, the supreme fast food burger is also the OG. Can’t nobody tussle with Mickey D.
I want to be clear about this. Cook Out does not have the best fast food burger. No one would tell you that they do. What they have is the best fast food selection of any chain. Oh you want a burger and fries and corn dogs and a milkshake? They got you. Cook Out cedes the quality battle, which is unimportant because there is no consensus anyways, and takes all 3 podium finishes in quantity, value, and milkshake-dom. Speaking of milkshakes, Cook Out is never going to hit you with one of those “the McFlurry machine is broken” bits. They are ready, willing, and able to pump out one of their 40 milkshakes for you, if you’d rather that, than a Coke.
Unfortunately, none. The body can only take so much of that stuff, and mine has more mileage on it than yours, so I gave up fast food about 15 years ago. Before there was such a thing as Shake Shack, Five Guys, In-N-Out, or any of those things. I don’t even know what they taste like. You can put me on a pedestal, or pity me; it’s your choice. But I’m good. I don’t miss that stuff.
For a long time, I was strictly a chicken tenders gal. I’d never order a fast food burger, given the choice. That all changed when I had a Five Guys burger, and for that reason, Five Guys are kings to me. I love the sesame seed bun, the crispiness of the bacon, and the ratio of ingredients. Five Guys for life.
Fact masquerading as personal opinion: It’s not fast food if, on average, the product you’re buying can’t be ordered through a speaker/microphone system while sitting in your car.
Second fact masquerading as personal opinion: The Whopper is the greatest fast food product on earth, followed by the Impossible Whopper, followed by nothing.
Third fact masquerading as personal opinion: If you choose to leave the comfort of your car, I thoroughly recommend enjoying your Whopper inside the Rock-N-Roll Burger King on Connecticut Avenue in Northwest Washington, D.C.
Final fact masquerading as personal opinion: The Whopper Jr. is an abomination. I don’t make the rules.
Thanks, Zach. Yesterday Tom sub-emailed me to let me know that QSR and fast food are the same thing; perhaps I meant “fast casual”? but if I did, I was wrong. I cosign your “personal opinion,” which according to Statute 112-85 (“the Murdoch rule”) makes it fact.
Anyhoo, another distinction between QSR (Five Guys, In-N-Out, and the like) is when the items are cooked. In fast food, there’s a constant rotation of patties and fries that are allocated as orders come in. At Smashburger, my new favorite QSR since Bobby’s Burger Palace departed the dead mall nearest my house, I order my Classic Smash from the counter and ONLY THEN is it applied to the grill.
I believe there is also something about being able to BYO into a QSR, but adult beverages being forbidden at a fast food location. This could, however, be Jersey lore, thanks to our screwy laws around spirits.
Hot take: The best fast food burger is a chicken sandwich. My chicken sandwich of choice is the spicy chicken sand from Wendy’s.
Maybe it’s the red foil packet that keeps cooking the chicken long after its already juicy, moistening the bun until it feels like a sponge or a pair of used underwear after a marathon. Maybe it’s the aroma that soils the seat fabric of my rental car and returns each time I belch with the added sour taste of heartburn. Or maybe its the feeling I get as I pull out of the drive-thru, passing the line winding down the street outside Chick-Fil-Hate, knowing that I got the best burger (a chicken sandwich) and still didn’t support those LGBTQ-hating assholes. Fuck you, Chick-Fil-A Foundation (and fuck your cow spokesanimal, too—I hope I eat it at my next trip to Outback Steakhouse (No Rules. Just Right.).).
The best fast food burger has to be just that, fast. How do I move fastest, you ask? Simple, in a car. This means there must be a drive thru, for starters. But a slow drive thru does nothing, a contradiction. That’s why Burger King is the best fast food burger. I mean the Whopper is alright, but have you been to a BK in the last decade? Didn’t think so, which is exactly why I’m able to go through an empty drive thru and get my burger the fastest.
Easily the most magnificent burger to ever grace my lips has been that of Mad Mike’s Burgers & Fries in Newport, Kentucky. It’s a small business, but it is extremely successful due to the quality of its food. The bun is yummy, the sauce is signature, and the burger itself is always freshly-grilled, high-quality beef. If ever you find yourself just south of Cincinnati, most definitely check out Mad Mike’s.
As a Wisconsinite, it would be sacrilegious for me to respond to a question about the best burger with anything other than Culver’s. The restaurant chain is known for its Butterburgers, and for good reason. Each part of the burger is flavorful, from its juicy patty to its cheddar cheese and buttered bun. But, what really makes it absolutely delectable is the always hot and perfectly salted crinkle-cut fries that come with it. Wash them down with some of their custard—I’m personally a fan of the Chocolate Oreo Volcano flavor—and you’ve just had one of the best meals you could ever eat.
You can have your boujee burgers. I am all in on White Castle. Where else can you order burgers by the CASE from a cashier behind bulletproof glass?
Once a month, my parents would take us to the Franklin Mills outlet mall outside of Philly, and on the way home we’d get a Crave Case at the White Castle drive thru. I will forever associate the smell of fried onions and greasy cardboard with discount factory commerce.
Sadly, White Castle shuttered its Philadelphia locations in the late ‘90s, forcing my friends and me to drive all the way to Seaside Heights to satisfy our urge for soggy sliders. It’s been years since I’ve gotten to pay tribute in person, but a hack for anyone looking to spike their cholesterol: 7-Eleven sells them in frozen six-packs. Not surprisingly, they taste just as good from the microwave.
As a Californian, I feel like I should rep In-N-Out, but I find them to be completely mediocre. The Wisonsonite in me wants to give a shout out to Kopp’s—burgers the size of your face, the pickle goes outside the bun, and the secret ingredient is a pat of butter—but in my heart it’s a second place meal.
The best burger out there belongs to Blake’s Lotaburger, THE burger chain of New Mexico. What makes it so special? Well, I don’t really eat beef, and you’d be hard pressed to get me to eat a burger in the best of circumstances, but every single time I find myself within reach of a Lotaburger, I find myself ordering a burger with cheese only and ketchup and devouring that bad boy in minutes. What can I say, it’s magic.
f we’re talking TRUE fast food burgers, I’ve got to go with the classic—a double cheeseburger from good old McDonald’s. As much as I love Five Guys, I don’t consider that true fast food… rather a tier above in the “quick” food category? (Idk just made that up now.)
A good old double cheeseburger from McDonald’s reminds me of my childhood—the ultimate reward for surviving a road trip with my two siblings shoved in the back of a station wagon. Waiting in the drive through, I would fantasize about how my sister would peel the pickles off of her own burger with an “EW” and hand them to me to add to my burger. So I suppose, my true answer to this question is a double cheeseburger from McDonald’s with extra pickles acquired through my siblings. It’s a classic y’all, McDonald’s hungover will either ruin your day or bring you back to life. Like Zach, I also don’t make the rules.
Whataburger withdrawals. It’s what all Texans have when they leave town. Damn do we miss driving on the highway and seeing that big orange “W” in the distance. We miss the tasty burger topped with the traditional fixin’s — especially those finely diced onions. They practically melt into the bun. About 7 years ago, they created a spicy ketchup so legendary its demand prompted Whataburger to start selling their condiments in local stores. Their fries are bomb, their shakes are on-point. It’s been approximately 943 days since I last had a Whataburger, and I can’t fuckin’ wait to order a #1 with jalapeños next time I find myself deep in the heart of Texas.
tl;dr – The answer is Whataburger simply because it inspired someone to do this.
I have never lived near a Whataburger, but the past 3 years I’ve gone to Houston during the summer, and in the two weeks I’m there, I go to Whataburger several times. It’s so good. The first time I went was in high school. I called it WeezerBurger, because the logo looked like Weezer’s flying W (This was when their discography contained but two LPs). I also turned my nose up at, what I thought was, the too large and sloppy burger. I regret every negative thing I ever said about it. I love it.