World's Top Fast-Food Restaurants
“Now that I’ve gotten to this point in my career, I can do the thing I crave the most—which is a cheeseburger, fries and a shake,” he told Newsday in July 2008, on the eve of opening his first location, in Lake Grove, Long Island. Not surprisingly, the “house” pick at Bobby’s Burger Palace is the Crunchburger.
Forget KFC’s new grilled chicken and Baskin-Robbins’s “healthy” ice cream: the real news in fast food is around dishes spun from the unique visions—and tastes—of the world’s top chefs.
The Fast Food: Global Industry Guide forecasts the global fast-food market will reach $130 billion by 2012, a number that hasn’t gone unnoticed by some of the world’s great chef-entrepreneurs seeking to leave their culinary mark—and cash in—on the ever-ballooning trend of “fast casual” dining.
Over the past decade, a number of star chef–created fast-food restaurants have opened to great fanfare, with several debuting in the past year alone. Chefs like Hollywood culinary darling Wolfgang Puck, British Michelin-star collector Heston Blumenthal, and Spanish molecular gastronomist Ferran Adrià have crossed the culinary stratum to make their brand of cooking more accessible at high-concept in-and-out restaurants where dishes rarely cost more than $10.
It was in the 1970s in New York City that the internationally renowned French chef Paul Bocuse first discovered the allure of the McDonald’s Egg McMuffin and its famous fries. “These are the best French fries I have ever eaten. I want to meet the chef,” he told his translator Colette Rossant, who recounts the story in her 2006 book, The World in My Kitchen. In 2008, some 30 years later, Bocuse, at the age of 82, opened his own fast-food restaurant, Ouest Express, in Lyon, France.
It’s tough to deny the guilty caloric pleasure of a juicy, three-napkin burger, refuse a plate of golden, perfectly crisped fries, or pass up a coffee milkshake on a steamy summer afternoon. Take New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer (who created Gramercy Tavern and other top-rated fine restaurants): he threw carb counts to the wind when he conceived Shake Shack. Though it began life as a mere hot dog cart, the Madison Square Park kiosk has emerged as the burger joint of choice for many New Yorkers, many of whom are willing to wait in long lines for a single ShackBurger or “hand-spun” custard shake.
Some star chefs are even venturing into healthy fast food. Chicago chef Rick Bayless relies on naturally raised meats and fresh ingredients to make items like grilled steak tortas and small-batch tomatillo salsas at his Mexican-themed Frontera Fresco restaurants in several U.S. cities. And U.K. chef Heston Blumenthal, whose Bray restaurant, Fat Duck, earned three Michelin stars in 2004, was hired to bring a healthy, gourmet touch to the British roadside institution Little Chef.
If given the choice, wouldn’t you choose the chicken wrap combo meal from the chef who’s known for his crayfish nage with Pouilly-Fuissé?We thought so—bon appétit!
Shake Shack/Shake Shack Citi Field, New York City
Fast Food 411: Shake Shack, a take-out kiosk in leafy Madison Square Park (and now Upper West Side), has a cult following among Gotham burger geeks. In 2009, Meyer opened another outpost at Citi Field baseball stadium.
What to Order: ShackBurger (served with American cheese, tomato, lettuce, and “Shack Sauce” in an old-fashioned wax paper wrapper) and a “hand-spun” chocolate-and-peanut-butter custard shake. At Citi Field, the Shack-cago (all-beef) Dog with the works and a sprinkle of celery salt.
Miyou by Atelier Guy Martin, Paris
The Chef: Former musician/pizza maker Guy Martin was credited with resurrecting Le Grand Véfour—one of Paris’s oldest and most storied restaurants—in 2000, when it was the only restaurant to earn three stars from the annual Red Michelin Guide.
Fast Food 411: At Miyou, his sleek upscale “sandwicherie” located at his Ninth Arrondissement kitchen atelier, Martin serves made-to-order salads, baguettes, and wraps—some accented with sweat-inducing ingredients like wasabi.
What to Order: Any of Martin’s vegetarian sandwiches (think crusty baguettes with goat cheese, eggplant caviar, and tomato-honey) are good bets.
Frontera Fresco, several U.S. outlets
Fast Food 411: Ablaze in poppy colors, Frontera Fresco specializes in gringo-friendly Mexican street food: tortas, tacos, huaraches, small-batch salsas, and Mexican beer.
What to Order: Sweet corn and green chile tamale; chorizo quesadilla; mango limeade.
Gordon Ramsay Plane Food, London
The Chef: Best-known stateside for his expletive-filled Fox reality show Hell’s Kitchen, pugnacious perfectionist Gordon Ramsay claims no fewer than 16 Michelin stars and 15-plus fine restaurants.
Fast Food 411: Ramsay kicked it down a notch with his London pubs (The Narrow, Warrington, and Devonshire), but made his cooking even more accessible in 2008 with Plane Food, located past security in Heathrow’s Terminal 5. There’s a reasonable sit-down à la carte menu, but it also sells gourmet “plane picnics” for takeout.
Where to Find It: Terminal 5, Heathrow Airport.
What to Order: Picnic fixins’ include tiger prawn salad with soy sesame dressing; truffle-laced roast beef sandwiches; pear cheesecake tart.
Rickshaw Dumplings, New York City
Fast Food 411: Plump dumplings filled with everything from Thai basil to Callebaut chocolate emerge from giant metal steamers at this sit-down/take-out Chelsea favorite. There’s also a Rickshaw Dumpling truck that makes scheduled stops around the city. (Get Twitter updates @RickshawTruck.)
What to Order: Lo’s take on Hudson Valley Peking duck dumplings; braised pork sliders; green tea milkshake.
Bobby’s Burger Palace, several U.S. outlets
Fast Food 411: It was only a matter of time before the host of the Food Network show Throwdown! and Boy Meets Grill opened an all-American burger joint, or four—most of which are mall-side, with 10 burger options at each.
What to Order: A Crunchburger (with double American cheese and potato chips); sweet potato fries with honey-mustard horseradish sauce; blueberry-pomegranate milkshake.
Ouest Express, Lyon, France
The Chef: Paul Bocuse, who basically invented nouvelle cuisine, is arguably one of the 20th century’s greatest chefs and best known for his famous Mont d’Or restaurant, L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges.
Fast Food 411: In 2008, Bocuse, at the age of 82, opened Ouest Express in Lyon. The futuristic boîte is divided into six food themes: Bread, Fresh, Hot, Sweet, Coffee, and Drink.
What to Order: Fresh goat cheese, sun-dried tomato, and olive tapenade sandwich on country bread; French fries; waffle with Chantilly cream.
Wolfgang Puck Express, several U.S. outlets
Fast Food 411: Puck Express serves his eponymous California cuisine with comfort foods like gourmet mac-and-cheese.
What to Order: Smoked salmon thin-crust pizza; Chinois chicken salad; side of four-cheese macaroni al forno; crème brûlée.
Little Chef, Hampshire, U.K.
The Chef: Heston Blumenthal’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Fat Duck, in Bray, Berkshire, is a perennial favorite on acclaimed “best restaurant” lists and is famous for unusual dishes like bacon-and-eggs ice cream.
Fast Food 411: British roadside institution Little Chef enlisted Blumenthal to overhaul its unhealthy menu and outdated brand. If diners like the Hampshire offerings, Little Chefs across the country could soon see more breakfast-inspired desserts on the menu.
What to Order: The revamped Olympian Breakfast—now with lower sodium and fresh ingredients—includes he-man servings of free-range pork sausage and eggs, gourmet black pudding, roasted field mushrooms, and Heinz baked beans (of course).
Fast Good, Madrid and Valencia
The Chef: Spanish molecular gastronomist Ferran Adrià captured the world’s attention in the 1990s; today, landing a seat at his Michelin three-star restaurant El Bulli is the culinary equivalent of winning the lottery.
Fast Food 411: Created in partnership with Madrid’s NH Hotels, Fast Good restaurants share a candy-colored aesthetic and Adrià’s vision for simple fast food made with high-quality ingredients: fries sizzled in the finest Spanish olive oil or artisanal serrano ham.
What to Order: The “Italian” veal burger with arugula, tomato confit, and melted Gorgonzola; fig yogurt smoothie; white and dark chocolate “foams.”