Best Fast-Food Chains in the World
Fast food may conjure up those ubiquitous Golden Arches, but the concept has come a long way from frozen burgers and soggy fries. The best fast-food chains around the world are getting serious about quality, offering up bowls of slow-simmered pork ramen, freshly baked baguette sandwiches, and sustainably caught fish for the masses.
For travelers looking to eat like the locals, fast-food chains represent a convenient, often inexpensive taste of how everyday residents in far-flung cities like to eat. Some menus are more traditional than others: Teremok in Russia serves cooked-to-order blini with classic Russian toppings like caviar or smoked salmon; while Goli Vada Pav No. 1 in India adds modern twists like cheddar cheese to vada pav, the fried potato patty sandwich that’s an Indian street food staple.
Many chains have long-standing histories in their home country: “We’ve been around since 1951, so it’s like we’re a part of the fabric of the province,” says Josée Vaillancourt of the Canadian rotisserie chicken chain St. Hubert. “If people want to live the Quebec way, they have to try our chicken.” German seafood chain Nordsee began as a commercial fishing enterprise way back in 1896 and now sells a rotating selection of sustainable seafood. Head of Communications Michael Scheibe says a visit to the chain allows travelers to share both history and “the German love for seasonal products.”
Keep in mind that etiquette may be different than what you’re used to at American homegrown fast-food chains. At Nordsee, for example, it’s common for strangers to ask to share a table, while Saudi Arabian fried chicken chain Al Baik provides separate seating areas for women with families and single men. Some of the chains are less “fast food” and more “date-night” in atmosphere; sit-down Italian franchise Rossopomodoro, for example, features wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas and local wines.
Granted, fast-food chains aren’t exactly hidden gems. A steak at Brazilian chain Giraffas will probably not replicate the experience of an authentic churrascaria; a bowl of ramen at Ippudo may not match the thrill of discovering an underground noodle shop in Tokyo. But they have their own quirky appeal and dish out a quick fix of local culture and cuisine. So forget Mickey D’s and seek out the following fast-food chains instead.
Fast food gets a Filipino twist at this quick-serve chain, which is so beloved that its mascots star in their own children’s television show. There are more than 700 locations across the country, serving everything from fried chicken and hamburgers to local favorites like palabok, rice noodles with meat sauce, shrimp, and hard-boiled egg.
What to Order: Spicy Chickenjoy, fried chicken coated with chili powder. jollibee.com.ph
It’s easy to spot Teremok’s 175 orange-and-red kiosks and restaurants that have sprung up in St. Petersburg and Moscow (the name is Russian for “fairy-tale cottage”). The main item is cooked-to-order blini, essentially Russian crêpes—perfect for eating on the go. Fillings run both savory (ham, cheese, smoked salmon) and sweet (chocolate, fruit, jam).
What to Order: Blini with red caviar, of course. teremok.ru
South Africa: Nando’s
Chicken, basted in one of four consecutively spicier piri-piri chili sauces and flame-grilled to order, is the star at this casual sit-down Portuguese-Mozambique chain. Cheeky advertisements and a welcoming, woodsy aesthetic have propelled Nando’s into 30 countries worldwide.
What to Order: 1/2 grilled chicken with hot piri-piri sauce and French fries. nandos.co.za
It’s all about ramen at this stylish chain, which features an open kitchen and bar and table-style seating. Most bowls start with the chain’s signature slow-simmered pork bone broth and thin, chewy noodles. Toppings range from the traditional (roasted pork) to the more inventive (a Spanish-inspired bouillon cube).
What to Order: Akamaru Ramen with miso paste and roasted garlic oil. ippudo.com
Canada (mainly Quebec): St. Hubert
With both quick-serve and slightly more upscale sit-down operations, family-friendly St. Hubert is known for its rotisserie chicken doused with a tangy brown sauce—so habit-forming that it’s sold by the jar in Canadian grocery stores.
What to Order: Quarter chicken leg with bun, coleslaw, and French fries. st-hubert.com
Australia: Chocolateria San Churro
As the name implies, chocolate is the focus at this bohemian-chic dessert chain, and the menu has a Spanish accent. Freshly fried churros and spice-laced hot chocolates are on offer alongside organic, fair-trade coffee and milkshakes.
What to Order: Churros with an individual pot of melted couverture chocolate. sanchurro.com
Puerto Rico: El Meson Sandwiches
The combinations are nearly endless at this Caribbean sandwich spot. Most sandwiches start with a base of mayo, margarine, cabbage, and tomato, then get piled high with juicy fillings and griddled on both sides.
What to Order: The Midnight sandwich: roasted pork, Virginia ham, pickles, mayo, and margarine on sweet, eggy bread. elmesonsandwiches.com
Taiwan: Din Tai Fung
Yes, there will be a line at this well-known dim sum destination, whose dumplings are so popular the chain has spread across 10 countries. But you’ll be glad you waited, and once you’re inside, you can take your time in the comfortable, if crowded, dining room.
What to Order: Xiao long bao, steamed soup-filled pork dumplings with a thin, delicate skin. dintaifung.com.tw
The Brazilian steakhouse concept goes casual at this meat-centric chain that turns out both burgers and grilled steaks with that national staple, a side of rice and beans.
What to Order: Flame-grilled picanha (top sirloin), a juicy and tender cut that’s one of Brazil's most beloved steaks. giraffas.com
Chefette whips up inexpensive Bajan favorites like roti wraps and fried chicken in a casual fast-food setting. An extra perk: some of the 14 locations on this Caribbean island feature outdoor play areas for kids.
What to Order: Chicken and potato curry roti roll. chefette.com
This maritime-themed chain counts more than 300 casual restaurant-markets across Germany, outfitted with fish counters that serve ready-made seafood meals and buffets. Nordsee touts its sustainably sourced seafood and relatively healthy meals.
What to Order: Crispy baked Alaska pollack with potato salad and tartar sauce. nordsee.com
China: Mr. Lee
The Chinese-American businessman who founded Mr. Lee paved the way for Chinese-style fast food in the mainland. Today there are more than 400 locations, known for simple, filling bowls of beef noodle soup and rice dishes.
What to Order: Beef noodle soup, accented with do-it-yourself vinegar sauce and chili. mrlee.com.cn
Denmark: Jensen’s Bøfhus
The name translates to “beef house,” and meat is indeed the focus at this sit-down steakhouse, which serves juicy whole sirloins, tenderloins, entrecôtes, and more, along with a self-serve salad bar, in timber-accented environs.
What to Order: Jensen’s Whiskeybøf, sirloin steak with whiskey sauce, with potato fries and a balsamic grilled tomato. jensens.com
Singapore: Old Chang Kee
Starting as a tiny stall outside of a theater in 1956, Old Chang Kee has had decades to perfect its potato-and-chicken curry puff recipe. Now with more than 50 locations and a wider menu of Singaporean street snacks, the chain is a go-to spot for locals on the move.
What to Order: Stick with the classic, buttery curry puffs, served piping hot and filled with a thick mix of curried potatoes, chicken, and hard-boiled egg. oldchangkee.com
America: Five Guys
This comparatively small American chain (750 locations), with a cheery red-and-white theme and open kitchens, excels at two things: made-to-order burgers with fresh beef on a squishy bun and hand-cut French fries. This limited focus and meticulous attention to detail has catapulted Five Guys to the top of the fast-food burger game, often beating rivals like In-N-Out and Shake Shack in taste tests or customer surveys.
What to Order: Hamburger with up to 15 toppings and Five Guys Fries. fiveguys.com
France: Maison Eric Kayser
Master baker Eric Kayser is renowned for his handmade breads, and staffers in each of his Maison Kayser bakeries are trained for more than a year to learn his technique. The result is a luxe chain selling handmade breads, ready-made savory snacks, and sweet pastries.
What to Order: A crusty, chewy baguette sandwich with ham and Emmental cheese. maison-kayser.com
India: Goli Vada Pav No. 1
Launched in 2004, quick-service Goli Vada Pav serves both traditional and quirky takes on the Indian street food favorite vada pav, a deep-fried mashed potato patty on a bun. It’s been a hit, especially with young customers, and has already grown to more than 100 locations.
What to Order: Goli Cheese Vada Prav, a potato-and-spice patty covered in cheddar cheese and served with chutney and green chili. golivadapav.com
England: Pret a Manger
Nearly all 230 locations of this quick-service sandwich shop have an on-site kitchen where food is made fresh daily, using all-natural ingredients that change seasonally. Rather than being kept overnight or thrown out, unsold products are donated daily to homeless shelters. This winning concept is spreading; look for Pret locations in Paris, New York, D.C., Chicago, and Hong Kong.
What to Order: Chicken and avocado sandwich on malted wholegrain bread with yogurt dressing and fresh basil. pret.com
Saudi Arabia: Albaik
This quick-service fried chicken chain keeps its tongue-tingling spice marinade under lock and key, but locals can’t get enough of the juicy, spicy bird, served with an equally addictive white garlic dipping sauce.
What to Order: Four pieces of spicy fried chicken with fries, bread, and sauce. albaik.com
Italians take pizza seriously, so even most chains use high-quality ingredients and skillful technique. Rossopomodoro stands out for its slightly upscale look, with a clean design and table service, plus roaring wood-burning ovens that turn out fresh, hot pies to order.
What to Order: The Maruzzella pizza, with tomato, mozzarella, anchovies, and black olives. rossopomodoro.com