Featured on mashed By Kori Ellis
Finding a restaurant chain in the United States doesn’t take much effort. As of 2020, restaurant chains have more than 88,000 locations across the country. If you’re in a big city, it’s difficult to throw a rock without hitting at least one of these restaurants.
While quantity of options is never an issue, the quality of the food can certainly be lacking at some of these establishments. Some chains are really good, while some are really bad. However, if you know what you’re doing and you know where to look, you can find outstanding restaurant chains that specialize in everything from breakfast food to chicken wings — and everything in between.
To help you separate the best chains from those you should avoid with all of your might, we have meticulously pinpointed the absolute best restaurant chain in each state by weighing recommendations, online reviews, awards and other forms of recognition, and first-hand taste-testing.
When Milo Carlton returned to Birmingham, Alabama, after serving in the United States Army, he used his experience as a mess cook to open a restaurant in 1946. More than 70 years later, Milo’s is the place in Alabama to go for highly-rated burgers, chicken sandwiches, fries, beloved sweet tea, and all the other yummies that can be found on their menu. Their most famous menu item is the Milo’s Original Burger that features a grilled beef patty, onions, pickles, and a secret sauce on a grilled bun. Milo’s has 21 locations — all of which are in the state of Alabama.
Alaska: Great Alaska Pizza Company
When you’re in search of a dependable restaurant chain in the state of Alaska, nothing tops the Great Alaska Pizza Company. This pizza chain has 11 locations in the cities of Anchorage, Fairbanks, Wasilla, Eagle River, Palmer, and North Pole. Customers give their food high ratings, with the boneless wings, cinnamon bites, and, of course, their pizza all getting rave reviews. If you’re looking to warm up quickly with some delicious food when you’re in Alaska, turn to the Great Alaska Pizza Company.
Arizona: Bobby Q’s Restaurant
Bobby Q’s Restaurant is a chain in the state of Arizona that serves spectacular food that their loyal patrons absolutely adore. With locations in Phoenix and Mesa, this restaurant’s primary focus is on the science of barbecue. However, while their barbecue dishes are great, Bobby Q’s Restaurant also has the best fried chicken in all of Arizona. Go to any of their locations and order with confidence, as you’re sure to be rewarded with an outstanding meal.
Arkansas: Slim Chickens
Slim Chickens was born in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 2003. Today, this fast-growing chain has more than 20 locations in Arkansas and dozens more across the nation. Their diverse menu features everything from a Bacon Ranch Chicken Sandwich to a Chocolate Brownie Pudding Jar, and from a Buffalo Mac & Cheese Bowl to Chicken & Waffles. While their great chicken is obviously the main focus at Slim Chickens, they also have healthy salads and Southern classics like fried okra.
California: In-N-Out Burger
To say that Californians are obsessed with In-N-Out Burger would be an understatement. It’s easily the most popular fast food burger joint in the state. Considering how great the burgers are at In-N-Out Burger and the fact that the vast majority of these restaurants are located in the state of California, this state’s obsession makes total sense. If you’ve never been to In-N-Out Burger, learn about their secret menu and be prepared to be blown away when you bite into one of their stupendous burgers.
Garbanzo is a chain restaurant that serves Mediterranean food that was founded in the state of Colorado. Ordering your meal at Garbanzo is simple. You first pick your entree. Options include a stuffed pita, traditional gyro, or salad. Then you select your protein, veggies, sauce, and sides. That’s all you need to do. Garbanzo does the rest — and the results are reliably fantastic. Garbanzo has more than a dozen locations in Colorado in numerous cities including Denver, Boulder, Longmont, and Fort Collins.
Duchess is a restaurant chain that you will only find in Connecticut. They have 14 locations in the state where they serve American favorites such as cheeseburgers, chili dogs, and fries. Duchess has been around since 1956 and they’re proud of the fact that they don’t start cooking anything until it’s ordered, which ensures the freshness of all their items. Customers in Connecticut give this chain glowing marks for their food and the laid-back environment at their restaurants.
Delaware: Wayback Burgers
Wayback in 1991, Wayback Burgers began life in Delaware in the city of Newark. As their name suggests, this place is known for their burgers. The highly-regarded Rodeo burger features two beef patties, crunchy onion rings, multiple slices of cheddar cheese, and a generous amount of extra tangy barbecue sauce. They also have mac & cheese bites, chicken tenders, nachos, and other goodies that will satisfy your appetite when called upon. Wayback Burgers can be found in Delaware in many cities including Dover, Milford, Millsboro, and, yes, the original restaurant in Newark.
If you travel to Florida just to visit PDQ, no one should think you’re crazy. PDQ is without question one of the best chicken chains in the country. They have mouthwatering chicken tenders and a fried chicken sandwich that is among the finest in the nation. PDQ, which they say stands for People Dedicated to Quality, has begun to expand to other states but it’s still predominantly a Florida chain. Try this place once and you’ll be hooked.
Georgia: Waffle House
The first Waffle House opened its doors in 1955 in the city of Avondale Estates, Georgia. While you can now find this restaurant in 25 states, Georgia remains the epicenter of all of Waffle House’s goodness. In fact, Georgia has 438 locations — more than twice as many as any other state. The city of Atlanta alone has a mind-boggling 132 locations. Waffle House not only has the best waffles, they have made-to-order hash browns and a number of other fantastic food options.
Zippy’s has been an iconic food destination in Hawaii since 1966. Their diners serve comfort food with a Hawaiian flare. The most famous and most popular thing on their menu is the Zip Pac. It comes with fried chicken, breaded fish, teri beef, a slice of Spam, and rice. Zippy’s, which has more than 20 locations in Hawaii, also sells in excess of 100 tons of chili each and every month. There’s simply no other restaurant chain in this state that is even in the same league.
Idaho: Big Jud’s
Big Jud’s has multiple locations in Idaho, so no matter if you’re in Eastern Idaho or Western Idaho, you’re never too far away. This place is always worth the drive, as they are home to the state’s best burger. The Big Jud Special is a ginormous burger that comes with 16 ounces of beef along with your choice of high-quality toppings. Once featured on Man v. Food, Big Jud’s has impressive reviews to match the impressive size of their burgers.
Illinois: Harold’s Chicken Shack
Harold’s Chicken Shack has become an institution in Illinois over the last 70 years. An entrepreneur named Harold Pierce started this restaurant in 1950 in Chicago and it didn’t take long for his place to become very popular. Today, Harold’s Chicken Shack sells a variety of tasty poultry options including fried chicken, wings, tenders, and giblets. Reviewers can’t stop speaking about the greatness of their chicken. They also have fabulous catfish and shrimp dishes on their menu.
Indiana: Schoop’s Hamburgers
Schoop’s Hamburgers came into existence in 1948. That’s when Allen Schoop opened his first burger joint in Hammond, Indiana. A decade later, Allen opened a second location in the city of Munster. Nowadays, there are a dozen locations of Schoop’s Hamburgers in Indiana. This award-winning restaurant has a legendary burger called the Mickey that has a juicy beef patty and a pair of American cheese slices that are perfectly gooey. Schoop’s Hamburgers gets outstanding grades, with many patrons lavishing praise on their soups in addition to their burgers.
When you’re in Iowa, you can’t go long before a local tells you about the greatness of Maid-Rite. This restaurant chain has a history that dates back to 1926. That’s when Fred Angell opened his first restaurant in the city of Muscatine. From there, it spread to the cities of Newton and Marshalltown in the next two years. Currently, there are more than 20 Maid-Rite locations in Iowa. If you don’t know what to order, go with The Original Maid-Rite. This is their most talked-about sandwich that features loose ground beef. It gets immaculate reviews.
Kansas: Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que
When you’re in the state of Kansas and you require the most flavorful barbecue around, head toward Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que. The duo behind this chain has won countless barbecue contests and their restaurants get excellent reviews. Favorites on their menu include the Beef Brisket BBQ Sandwich, the Full-Slab of Ribs, and the Smoked Chicken Dinner. Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que has four locations, all of which are in the state of Kansas. If you’re not in Kansas, you can order their food online and get it shipped to your doorstep.
The first Fazoli’s restaurant opened their doors for the first time in 1988 in Kentucky in the city of Lexington. Even though they now have over 200 locations, they’re still headquartered in Lexington and remain a local favorite. Fazoli’s is an Italian restaurant chain that is known for their freshly-prepared pastas, breadsticks, and marinaras. If you’re feeding a large group, you can’t go wrong with any of their family meals, particularly the Fresh Tossed + Oven Baked Duo. This yummy meal consists of your choice of one oven-baked pasta, one fresh-tossed pasta, and eight of their glorious breadsticks.
Louisiana: Raising Cane’s
Raising Cane’s started when a man named Todd Graves had the unshakable dream of opening a restaurant dedicated solely to chicken fingers. After ignoring naysayers, saving his money, and getting a loan, he succeeded in opening his dream restaurant in Baton Rouge in 1996 near the campus of Louisiana State University. Now, Raising Cane’s is one of the fastest-growing chains in the nation, thanks in large part to their award-winning chicken fingers and their ridiculously cheap Texas toast.
Otto is a relatively new pizza chain that is already making big waves in Maine. Since opening in 2009 in Portland, they’ve used high-quality ingredients and creative pies to become a favorite pizzeria in the state. This highly-regarded restaurant chain has a number of scrumptious pizza pies on their menu, including the Margherita pizza with fresh basil and Roma tomatoes, the Mashed Potato, Bacon and Scallion pizza, and the Sriracha Chicken and Avocado pizza. Otto has seven locations in Maine.
Maryland: Chaps Pit Beef
With locations in the cities of Baltimore, Aberdeen, Frederick, and Glen Burnie, it’s no wonder that seemingly everyone in Maryland is in love with Chaps Pit Beef and gives it great reviews. The history of this barbecue chain restaurant dates back to 1987 in Dundalk, Maryland. Their sandwiches are so good that Guy Fieri was effusive with praise when he tried one on an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. When in doubt, go with the Pit Beef Sandwich with the knowledge that you may fall head over heels for this epic sandwich.
Massachusetts: Tasty Burger
Tasty Burger is Boston to the bone. It was born in the capital of Massachusetts in 2010 right behind Fenway Park and, four years later, it was named the Official Burger of the hometown Boston Red Sox. Today, Tasty Burger still gets fantastic reviews and has five locations in Boston. The Big Tasty is their most famous burger. It comes complete with cheese, tomato, lettuce, onion, pickle, and a special sauce. If you’re planning to catch a baseball game, go with their All Beef Dog and consider adding sauerkraut, chili, or cheese sauce.
Michigan: Big John’s Steak & Onion
Flint, Michigan, is the home of Big John’s Steak & Onion. In 1972, that’s the city where John E. Klobucar opened his first restaurant and wowed customers with his sandwiches that featured thinly-sliced ribeye steak along with grilled onions on an Italian roll that was freshly baked. Nearly 50 years later, that same sandwich — now called the Original Steak & Onion — continues to be loved by patrons. Big John’s Steak & Onion has 16 locations, all in the state of Michigan.
MyBurger is routinely described as having the best burgers in the Twin Cities. This restaurant chain was founded in 2004 in Minneapolis and all seven locations are in the Twin Cities area. The Original with mustard, ketchup, sweet pickles, and fried onions is their most popular burger. MyBurger also gets glowing reviews for their non-beef burgers. You can order a Just as Good burger and the patty can be grilled chicken, crispy chicken, turkey, fish, veggie, or a patty made by Impossible Foods.
Two brothers, Ed Ward and Richard Ward, launched Ward’s in 1978 in Mississippi. Fast-forward to today and there are more than two dozen locations, most of which are in the state of Mississippi. While fans say they have the best burger of any chain restaurant, this place is more than their scrumptious burgers. They’re also famous for their homemade root beer that comes in a frozen mug and their chili, which is also made fresh in each restaurant.
Missouri: Lion’s Choice
If you love Arby’s for their delicious roast beef sandwiches, you deserve to try Lion’s Choice at least once. This place opened in Ballwin, Missouri, in 1967 (Arby’s, to compare, opened in 1964) and has been serving roast beef sandwiches from their very first day. Their sandwiches are made with 100 percent top round beef and are slow-roasted for three hours. Many customers insist that Lion’s Choice has way better roast beef sandwiches than what Arby’s offers. Try it next time you’re in Missouri to see if you agree.
Montana: The Pickle Barrel
The Pickle Barrel pulls no punches when comparing their sandwiches to those from Jimmy Johns and Subway. They say their sandwiches are five inches longer, three times heavier, and have twice the flavor. Those are some powerful claims — but The Pickle Barrel does get outstanding grades from their patrons so they must be on to something. This sandwich shop opened in Bozeman, Montana, in 1975 and has consistently been voted as having the best sandwiches in the area.
Runza traces back its history to 1949. That’s when their first location was opened in Lincoln, Nebraska. Their World Famous Runza Sandwich is extremely unique. Fresh-baked bread completely wraps around seasoned ground beef that’s mixed with a generous amount of onions and cabbage. It may sound odd but it’s wonderful. Another oddity that Runza helped popularize is eating cinnamon rolls with chili. Even if you think it sounds gross, it won’t take you long to agree it’s a match made in culinary heaven.
Nevada: PT’s Taverns
Back in 1982, a PT’s Pub opened in Las Vegas. As the company grew, their pubs started selling food and became known as taverns. Today, there are 60 PT’s Taverns in Nevada and they all get high marks for their food and service. On their menu, you can find yummy food such as Baked Soft Pretzel Bites, Golden Wings, and The Angry Burger with sriracha bacon, guacamole, pepper jack cheese, tomato, and a ranch dressing that is surprisingly spicy. And, don’t fret, all their taverns have a wide array of alcohol — from beer to the hard stuff.
New Hampshire: Moe’s Italian Sandwiches
A cheese salesman named Phil Pagano opened a sandwich shop in 1959 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with the brazen idea to offer only one sandwich. Patrons nicknamed him Moe and it didn’t take long for the Moe’s Original sandwich to explode in popularity. While there is now more than one sandwich on their menu, The Original is still the showstopper. It has mild salami that is expertly cooked along with provolone cheese and your choice of veggies, dressing, and bread. Ratings here are high and there are more than a dozen locations in New Hampshire.
New Jersey: Jersey Mike’s
You don’t need to do any research to figure out where Jersey Mike’s was born. The origin story of Jersey Mike’s begins in 1956 on the Jersey Shore. From a humble start inside of a nondescript storefront, Jersey Mike’s is now a nationwide phenomenon with locations from sea to shining sea. In New Jersey alone, there are more than 100 locations. Jersey Mike’s has won countless awards for their sub sandwiches and their menu has a variety of cold subs, hot subs, sides, and desserts.
New Mexico: Blake’s Lotaburger
To say the entire state of New Mexico has a love affair with Blake’s Lotaburger wouldn’t be much of an overstatement. Started by Blake Chanslor, a World War II veteran, in 1952 in the city of Albuquerque, this burger joint is most famous for their LOTA Burger with green chili and cheese. In fact, National Geographic named it the best burger of its kind in the entire United States. Even if you’ve never been to New Mexico or any of their more than 50 locations in the state, you might know Blake’s Lotaburger for being in Breaking Bad.
New York: Xi’an Famous Foods
Xi’an Famous Foods was opened in 2005 in New York City in a tiny stall inside of a shopping mall in Flushing, Queens. Their goal was to serve authentic food like you’d find in Xi’an, China. With the help of numerous family recipes, their vision has become reality. You can find Xi’an Famous Foods in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn in a total of nine restaurant locations. This place gets exquisite reviews, with favorites on their menu that include the Cold-Skin Noodles, the Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger, and the Spicy & Sour Spinach Dumplings.
North Carolina: Cook Out
Cook Out is a restaurant chain that started in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1989 that promises fresh burgers, hot dogs, barbecue, and milkshakes — and they live up to the hype that’s driven by adoring North Carolinians. On their extensive menu, you can find hearty food like chili burgers, barbecue sandwiches, quesadillas, and fries prepared Cajun style. While all that food is well worth your money and will thoroughly satisfy your taste buds, don’t you dare miss out on their shakes. The Blueberry Milkshake is especially great.
North Dakota: Burger Time
Fargo, North Dakota, is the birthplace of Burger Time. Since opening their restaurant for the first time in 1987, this burger joint has spread across the Midwest, including three additional locations in North Dakota in the cities of Bismarck, Grand Forks, and Minot. Burger Time gets nearly flawless reviews, with their Mushroom Swiss Burger getting a lot of recognition. In addition to burgers, North Dakota’s best restaurant chain has chicken, cheese curds, corn dogs, funnel fries, and other goodies.
Ohio: Gold Star
Gold Star launched in 1965 when the Daoud brothers, whose family came from the country of Jordan, purchased a restaurant. Their mission was to perfect Cincinnati-style chili — and soon Gold Star Chili was born. This stuff gets constant praise and is something you should definitely try the next time you’re in this part of the country. You can get Gold Star Chili on numerous items including hot dogs, spaghetti, burgers, and fries. Gold Star has five locations in Cincinnati and many more in the surrounding area.
If you’ve ever spent any time in the state of Oklahoma, you know all about Braum’s. This place, which came to life in Oklahoma in 1968, has dozens upon dozens of locations in the state. In Oklahoma City alone, there are 18 locations. Braum’s is primarily known for its ice cream, which you can get in a cone or as part of a banana split, sundae, shake, or malt. They also have Mixes that are similar to Blizzards from Dairy Queen. But Braum’s is more than desserts. Their menu includes a variety of highly-regarded burgers, chicken sandwiches, and breakfast items.
It’s been said that Burgerville has the best cheeseburger in the world, but you might not even know this restaurant chain exists unless you live in the Pacific Northwest. If you happen to live in Portland, Oregon, where there are 24 locations within 13 miles of the city, you know all about this burger joint. Burgerville opened in 1961 and they have successfully carved out their niche by locally sourcing their ingredients and making sure their beloved burgers are always fresh.
Pennsylvania: Quaker Steak & Lube
As you could probably assume by their name, Quaker Steak & Lube is an automobile themed restaurant chain that has an obsession with muscle cars. Their first restaurant was born in Sharon, Pennsylvania, inside of a vacant service station back in 1974. But while their theme makes each visit enjoyable, it’s their fantastic food that will keep you coming back. The wings at Quaker Steak & Lube are so amazing that they were onced named the best wings in the country. Today, they have a dozen locations in Pennsylvania and serve steakburgers, seafood, sandwiches, and more in addition their famous wings.
Rhode Island: Providence Coal Fired Pizza
Providence Coal Fired Pizza gets sterling reviews for their handcrafted pizzas that use locally-sourced, fresh ingredients. Besides Providence, this pizza place also has locations in the Rhode Island cities of North Kingstown and Westerly. Unlike most pizza joints, these restaurants have an upscale environment to match their gourmet pizzas. While all their pizzas are top notch, the Sausage Supreme will make your mouth water at first sight. This elegant pizza has homemade sausage, mozzarella cheese, olives, red peppers, green peppers, tomatoes, onions, and crushed garlic.
South Carolina: Rush’s
Rush’s long and storied history can be traced back all the way to 1940 to a dairy farm in South Carolina. At the time, their restaurant was one of the few in the entire country that offered drive-thru service. Today, Rush’s is still serving great food through their drive-thru windows in their nine locations, all of which are in South Carolina. On their menu, you can find many American classics like chicken sandwiches, burgers, fried chicken, chili dogs, and fries.
South Dakota: The Millstone
The Millstone has three locations in South Dakota, two in Rapid City and one in Spearfish. Their story began in 1981 and they’ve slowly grown to become the best restaurant chain in the state, hands down. The Millstone’s secret is simply to serve amazing food with excellent service. While they are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, breakfast is when this restaurant really shines. The Hungry Man Skillet will fill you to the brim with French toast, bacon, eggs, and hash browns. No matter what you order, be sure to get a Millstone Famous Caramel Roll. It’s fabulous.
Tennessee: Pal’s Sudden Service
The whimsical logo and the eccentric architecture of Pal’s Sudden Service will catch your eye but it’s their stellar food that will steal your heart. Inspired by McDonald’s, Pal’s Sudden Service opened their doors in 1956 in Kingsport, Tennessee. They now have 30 locations, most of which are in northeast Tennessee. On their menu, you can discover deliciousness like the Big Pal burger, the Gravy Biscuit, and the unique yet delicious Chipped Ham sandwich made with thin slices of ham along with pickles, lettuce, and mayonnaise.
The love for Whataburger in the state of Texas is almost scary. In fact, it’s not much of a stretch to say Whataburger classifies as a religion in the Lone Star State. One time, a map was made claiming that Whataburger wasn’t Texas’ favorite chain and the entire state was up in arms. From their first location in the city of Corpus Christi in 1950, Texas now has nearly 700 of these orange and white restaurants. While all their burgers are as good as the hype would lead you to believe, their Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit is truly legendary.
Utah: Arctic Circle
Arctic Circle’s claim to fame is that they invented fry sauce more than six decades ago. While they don’t say exactly how it’s made, it tastes like a combination of mayonnaise and ketchup with a dash of lemon juice. The first Arctic Circle opened in Salt Lake City, and they now have 37 locations in the state and their reviews are consistently really good. Favorites from their menu include the Halibut ‘n Fries made with 100 percent real halibut, their Above-The-Rim Shakes, and their yummy corn dogs.
Grazers has multiple locations in Vermont in the cities of Williston and St. Albans. Their inventive menu and friendly staff make dining here an extremely pleasurable experience. The Steak and Cheese Egg Rolls are rolled by hand and filled with sliced steak, caramelized peppers, grilled onions, cheddar cheese, and sriracha aioli. The Poke Nachos utilize crispy wontons as chips and they’re topped with tasty ingredients that include ahi tuna, diced jalapenos, avocado slices, tomatoes, and cilantro. Even if you just opt for a burger, you’ll be thrilled.
The very first Biscuitville opened up in 1975 in Danville, Virginia. Skip ahead to today and you can find these restaurants throughout Virginia and even into North Carolina. As you’d expect from an eatery known as Biscuitville, biscuits reign supreme at this place. All of their wide selection of sandwiches are served on biscuits. Loyal patrons proclaim these biscuits are the best in all the land. Try their Ultimate Country Ham Biscuit and you may never go back for another Egg McMuffin again.
Washington: Taco Time Northwest
While it may be a bit confusing, Taco Time Northwest and Taco Time are two separate companies. Taco Time Northwest is based in the state of Washington and there are 80 locations in Seattle and the surrounding area. Founded in 1962, they’ve been blessing Puget Sound with highly-rated Mexican food for decades. As you would expect, they have hard tacos, soft tacos, and burritos. Be warned that they serve their meals with what they call Tater Fries. While that’s not exactly an authentic Mexican side, your taste buds won’t complain at all.
West Virginia: Tudor’s Biscuit World
Tudor’s Biscuit World thinks there’s an argument to be made that they invented the biscuit sandwich. While it’s difficult to tell whether or not that’s accurate, they’ve been selling biscuit sandwiches since at least 1980 when they opened the first Tudor’s Biscuit World in Charleston, West Virginia. Their list of biscuit sandwiches is a lengthy one, with delicious-sounding options such as the Duke with egg, bacon, potato, and cheese, and the Peppi with melted cheese on top of pepperoni. At all of their locations across West Virginia, they get phenomenal reviews.
Culver’s is one of the hottest names in the fast food world right now. They are not only the best chain burger restaurant these days, they have the finest fast food onion rings and delicious cheese curds. All of Culver’s greatness can be traced back to their first location in Sauk City, Wisconsin, which was opened in 1984. That’s where their famous ButterBurgers were first sold. To this day they source many of their food items, including their cheese curds, from dairy farms in Wisconsin.
Wyoming: Taco John’s
Wyoming is not the first state you think of when you’re pondering where to get your hands on scrumptious Mexican food. Honestly, it’s probably not in the top 30 or 40 states. But in 1968 in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Taco John’s started life as a tiny taco stand. Since those forgettable early days, Taco John’s has grown into a chain that has nearly 400 locations. From their Meat & Potato Burrito to their Street Tacos, and from their Stuffed Grilled Taco to their Cheesy Quesadilla, you are sure to find a Mexico-inspired food item that will thrill your taste buds.