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10 Fast-Food Chains Where Chefs Actually Eat

Chefs share their go-to spots for a quick, satisfying bite.
FACT CHECKED BY Meaghan Cameron

Whether it hits late at night, right after a workday, or first thing in the morning, there's nothing quite like a fast food craving. When you're craving a juicy burger, hot fries, crispy tacos, or cheesy pizza, you simply have to have it. Luckily, there's no shortage of stellar fast-food joints around.

A recent study on restaurant habits showed that consumers are choosing fast food more often, not just for convenience, but also because of rising food costs. Chefs aren't any different from you, whether they're running a massive hospitality organization, working in a fine dining restaurant, or behind the pass at your local favorite. They head to their favorite drive-thru for convenience, quick service, and flavorful food.

But where are their go-to? We asked chefs to dish on their favorite fast food chains, and to share some ordering tips. Here are the fast-food spots they love, their top orders, and some pro tips for getting a flavorful meal.

RELATED: 10 Most Overrated Fast-Food Burgers

Taco Bell

taco bell double steak grilled cheese burrito
Taco Bell / Facebook

Living más is a popular choice among the chefs we polled about fast food, with the cheesiness and crunch of Taco Bell menu items being a major factor.

Brian Poe, the chef and owner of The Tip Tap Room and Crane River Cheese Club in Boston, is a fan of the Cheesy Gordita Crunch (we weren't kidding about cheese and crunch), and says, "I love it so much that when I can't get to a Taco Bell, I often recreate it at Crane River Cheese Club, The Tip Tap Room, and at home."

"My guilty pleasure fast food item is the Cheesy Gordita Crunch from Taco Bell. It instantly takes me back to my slightly irresponsible late teen and twenties years with that first bite," says Poe. "My tip when ordering is to upgrade your Cheesy Gordita Crunch (they have a 'make it your own' list with extra features) by adding refried beans, extra hot sauce, and avocado ranch. Might as well order two or three."

Chef Tobias Cox, VP of Dimension Hospitality Group, is also a fan, and for good reason, as he explains, "I started my career at Taco Bell in Littleton Colorado when I was 15, I had to have a special permit to work because of my age."

"What I learned at Taco Bell was really fundamental for my career. I learned how to be fast at everything I did, learned how to deal with great customers and tough customers, I learned how to work and communicate with a team in a fast-paced environment while being organized, and willing to learn and do whatever I needed to get the job done," he shared.

Cox remains a huge fan, and is a Mexican Pizza enthusiast. He told us, "I joined the hundreds of thousands of fans all over the world and wrote in on a petition to save this amazing dish. Now I am happy to report it's on [the menu] for good and I just had one yesterday.

Raising Cane's

raising canes box combo extra sauce
Courtesy of Raising Cane's

Everyone loves chicken tenders, and Raising Cane's are among the best you can get, says Executive Chef Rafael Gonzalez of JW Marriott Houston Downtown.

"The best chicken tender restaurant! I love the four-piece meal," Gonzalez raves. "The chicken tenders are huge and tender. I like to exchange the coleslaw for another Cane Sauce (Cane Sauce is way better than Chick-fil-A's Polynesian sauce). My kids love the Sweet Tea here."

If you're a chicken finger fan, seek out one of the 670+ Raising Cane's locations in 38 states across the country, though the chain has the most locations in Texas and California. And don't skip the predominantly pink Post Malone-designed branch of the restaurant in Utah if you're in the area.

Wendy's

wendys chocolate frosty
Courtesy of Wendy's

Cox is also a fan of this burger chain, but not for the item you'd expect! He tells us, "My family and I love to go to Wendy's for an original Frosty."

He even offers a pro-tip for how to eat the frozen drink, saying, "Anything can be dunked in a Frosty—especially Wendy's French Fries!"

He's not the only fan. "As for fast food, it would have to be Wendy's junior bacon cheeseburger," says James Beard-nominated Chef Douglass Williams, owner of Mida and Apizza in Boston told us previously. "More than just eating it, I have so many memories of making it, the touch of the bun, the pride that I took in making it, and understanding its simplicity. I can talk about this burger and just smile!"

McDonald's

mcdonalds fries
Adobe Stock. Design: Joe Heroun / Eat This, Not That

It's no surprise to see America's favorite fast food chain on this list, but seeing it praised by a member of the family that built NYC's Delmonico's is shocking. Max Tucci, whose book "The Delmonico Way," which celebrates his family recipes, told us, "On my current book tour, I'm oftentimes asked, 'growing up in Delmonico's and having the best chefs, did you or do you ever eat fast food?'"

The answer is yes, says Tucci. "I tell them, I prepare a Delmonico Steak and have McDonald's French Fries delivered!"

Arby's

arby's curly fries
Courtesy of Arby's

Top Chef winner Kristen Kish is a fan of the roast beef sandwich chain, but not for the sandwiches. The chef, who admitted she has a "childish palate," says that Arby's "Chicken fingers and curly fries are by far the greatest fast food I think that is out there." She went on to explain that "it's just chicken fingers all day, every day, no matter what fast food place I go to, I always gravitate towards the fried chicken of some kind."

Shake Shack

shake shack burger with bacon and cheese
Shake Shack / Facebook

We've talked to dozens of chefs who've raved about this chain, with Chef Charles Withers, of C Salt on Cape Cod saying he always goes for Shake Shack's Smoke Shack burger, saying, "It has some heat and acidity from the cherry peppers, smoked bacon, and American cheese. It hits all the best notes of a delicious dish for me." Executive Chef Aidan McGee of Boston's The Dubliner is also a fan and also goes for extra cheese.

In-N-Out

in n out meal
In-N-Out Burger / Facebook

It's not unusual to hear chefs wax poetic about this West Coast chain that has only moved as far east as Texas so far. With fresh, never frozen beef that is ground from beef at company-owned facilities, fresh-cut fries, and freshly baked buns, In-N-Out is all about quality.

Chef Withers' favorite is the In-N-Out Double Animal Style, which he put on the same level as Shake Shack's Smoke Shack burger. Other famous In-N-Out fans include celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsay, the late Anthony Bourdain, and Tyler Florence.

Whataburger

whataburger cheeseburger
Whataburger / Facebook

Celebrity Chef Aarón Sánchez, who appears on Iron Chef America, MasterChef, and Chopped, is a fan of the Texas-based chain Whataburger, and it's all about the sauce.

"Most of the other places have that special sauce, which is basically ketchup and mayo with relish in it." Whataburger, on the other hand, says Sánchez, uses "a mustard-based dressing. That makes a huge difference as far as flavor."

Chipotle

chipotle steak bowl
Chipotle / Facebook

The burrito and bowl chain isn't just a favorite of office workers around the country, it's also got a fan in Celebrity Chef Richard Blais. He not only enjoys its food, but appreciated how the company is run, he said "I'm a big fan of Chipotle from every which way from their [food] and business model. They're just a sound company, and we eat a lot of Chipotle in my house."

Pollo Tropical

pollo tropical
Shutterstock

Blais also shouted out this Florida chain, which makes amazing Caribbean-style food, saying, "I don't know if you've ever had Pollo Tropical, but it's Caribbean-inspired grilled chicken, and plantains, and beans and rice, and I could eat it every single day. And it's fast food, but one of my favorite concepts." Pollo Tropical has about 140 locations throughout Florida and some surrounding states that focuses on citrus-marinated chicken and other proteins with a tropical flair.

Tanya Edwards
Tanya Edwards is a seasoned food and health journalist, who has held roles at Yahoo Health as Managing Editor and at Food Network as Programming Director. Read more about Tanya