Brake For Fast Food
It’s not homegrown, sustainable or even good for you, but sometimes fast food is a necessity on the road. We offer up seven Southern chains doing it right.
Fast food, like e-cigarettes and Netflix binge watching, inspires harsh criticism from the consensus of folks who think they know what’s what. A sun doesn’t rise without a new documentary declaring fast food a grave societal ill, and a sun can’t set without a web article that screams a statement like: “You won’t believe how chicken nuggets are made!”
Fast food — and often rightly so — receives the lion’s share of the blame for obesity, heart disease and other health problems. I get that. Fries are fatty. And fast food isn’t the healthiest way to consume the necessary nourishment, nor is it the most fulfilling, but sometimes, it’s kind of a necessity.
When you’re on the road, say traveling hundreds miles of highway in the summer en route to the beach or another prime vacation destination, and you don’t have the time or knowledge or money to stop at every culinary hotspot or famous roadside dive, fast food can be a belly-filling savior.
For every one of us who gets hangry (that’s hungry and angry, a malady worse than the Red Death), sometimes the quickest relief is that first eatery with a drive-thru right off the exit, grease and all.
However, like literature, the South has done fast food rather well. I would argue better than the rest of the country. That goes for you, too, In-N-Out lovers. Braking for a fast food restaurant in the South doesn’t mean having to settle for a greasy Burger King sandwich that looks nothing like it does in the commercial or snarfing down Taco Bell even though you know it’s going to cause your stomach to rumble later down the road.
For your vacationing convenience, your late night hankering gratification or merely your Southern fast food education, here’s a list of some of the South’s most famous (and tastiest) fast food joints.
Founded in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1977, Bojangle’s is best described using its own tag line: Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits. The menu is anchored with signature combinations of fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits and complimented by a variety of traditional Southern sides like pinto beans, dirty rice, mashed potatoes and gravy, macaroni and cheese and coleslaw.
What Should I Eat? The Cajun Filet Biscuit Combo with Bojangles’ Legendary Iced Sweet Tea and Seasoned Fries. If you’re still hungry and long for flaky and sweet, the Bo-Berry Biscuit will provide a scrumptious remedy.
Where Can I Find It? A plethora of locations in North Carolina, as well as the entire Southeast. Some Bojangles’ are even found north of the Mason-Dixon Line in Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
Milo’s Hamburgers started in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1946 and continues to be a solely-Birmingham affair. It was founded by Milo Carlton, a mess cook in the Army who took his chef experience to civilians in the form of fast food goodness. It’s a classic burger joint, most famous for a sandwich featuring grilled onions, pickles and a “secret sauce” on top of a hamburger.
What Should I Eat? The Mega Meal. It comes with a Milo’s double cheeseburger, a large fry (Milo’s seasons their crinkle-cut fries with a delicious orange salt), a Mega drink (get the sweet tea) and a Milo’s Fried Pie (peach, apple or lemon).
Where Can I Find It? There are at least 15 locations in the Birmingham area.
Krystal opened its first restaurant over 81 years ago, which they claim makes the burger shop the second-oldest fast food restaurant in America. That first joint was in Chattanooga, but now a Krystal can be spotted in many Southern cities. Krystal burgers are sliders: small sandwiches you’re supposed to eat multiples of – and they even sell ’em by the bag.
What Should I Eat? To get the full Krystal experience, order the No. 4 Original Krystal Meal, which comes with four burgers (each with Krystal’s traditional diced onion, dill pickle and mustard), a medium fry and a Coke. You can also order the burgers in a “Sackful.”
Where Can I Find It? Over 350 locations spread across the South and surrounding states.
If you’ve ever been inside a Chick-fil-A restaurant, you probably know the chicken shop’s history: they proudly display their heritage on the walls. Heck, they invented the chicken sandwich. Founded by Truett Cathy in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1946, Chick-fil-A does sandwiches, waffle fries and customer service like nobody in the business. Just don’t forget: they’re not open on Sundays.
What Should I Eat? You have to go with the classic Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich and waffle fries. If you have room, their peach milkshake is pretty delicious too.
Where Can I Find It? With over 1,600 locations nationwide, Chick-fil-A is perhaps the most popular and pervasive Southern fast food chain. While its Atlanta roots are widely known, you can find Chick-fil-A restaurants all across the country.
Childhood friends Zach McLeroy and Tony Townley founded Zaxby’s in 1990 in Statesboro, Georgia, near the campus of Georgia Southern University. They’re most famous for their chicken fingers served with a speciality Zax Sauce, which kind of tastes like Thousand Island dressing and is good with fries, too.
What Should I Eat? Zaxby’s most popular menu item is the Chicken Finger Plate, which comes with Chicken Fingerz, crinkle fries, Texas toast, coleslaw and Zax Sauce.
Where Can I Find It? In just about every Southern state, as well as Utah and Indiana.
One of Cook Out’s taglines is “Cooked Outdoors Style,” and this fast food joint specializes in what you might find at a Fourth of July gathering or 1960s diner: burgers, hotdogs, shakes and the like. Founded in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1989, Cook Out offers a wide selection of char-grilled sandwiches, BBQ and sides. You can’t leave without a handspun milkshake either, especially with flavors like Banana Pudding and Choco Cherry.
What Should I Eat? If you order the “Cook Out Tray,” you get your choice of one of many sandwiches, two sides (fries, slaw, onion rings, etc.) and a large drink (or milkshake for an additional charge).
Where Can I Find It? 135 locations across Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia.
Popeyes was founded in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1972, and for 40 years the “Louisiana Kitchen” has been serving up fried chicken, biscuits and other tasty Southern eats. Fun fact: Founder Al Copeland claimed that, while the restaurant used Popeye the Sailor in some marketing campaigns, the name was inspired by detective Popeye Doyle from the film “The French Connection.”
What Should I Eat? The Bonafide Chicken Combo (spicy, of course), with a biscuit, Cajun fries and sweet tea.
Where Can I Find It? There are over 1,800 Popeyes Louisiana Chicken restaurants across the United States and in over 22 countries worldwide.