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15 Amazing Fast-Food Restaurants You've Probably Never Heard Of

Be ready to hit the breaks for burgers and more when you drive by these stellar under-the-radar chains.
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Fast food has changed over the decades since the heavy hitters were established. Yes, McDonald's and Burger King are still the reigning champions, followed closely by places like Taco Bell, Domino's, Wendy's, and KFC, but those aren't the only games in town.

As the market for quick, premade, and easily accessible food has risen, plenty of regional and smaller, less-known brands emerged.

These are the ones that might never become national or global brands, but the cult followings they develop are almost better—these are the "if you know, you know" spots. And whether it's because they only exist in certain parts of the country, or because they fly under the radar, their lesser-known quality is all part of the appeal.

Here's a roundup of some of the best fast-food restaurants you might not have heard of—until now.


Burgerville / Facebook

Locations: Oregon, Washington

Similar To: Burger King, Wendy's

Let's kick things off with a Pacific Northwest hometown hero. I grew up in Oregon, which means the seasonal summer Walla Walla onion rings at Burgerville are one of my all-time favorite fast-food items. The chain is also known for using locally raised beef, partnering with local farmers, and adjusting its seasonal salads and shakes as produce and fruit go in and out of season. If you get a chance to visit Oregon or Washington, especially in summer, make your way to one of the chain's retro burger joints.

 6 Regional Burger Chains With the Highest Quality Food

Howlin' Ray's Hot Chicken

howlin rays hot chicken
Photo: Howlin' Ray's / Facebook

Locations: California

Similar To: KFC, Chick-fil-A

If you live in Los Angeles and are a fan of all things spicy and/or fried, then Howlin' Ray's is probably already on your radar. If not, make sure to look up this Nashville-inspired hot chicken spot the next time you're in town. Founded in 2015 by Johnny Ray Zone and his wife, Amanda Chapman, the fast-casual spot is the culmination of Johnny's experience working under fine-dining chefs including Thomas Keller, Gordon Ramsay, and Nobu Matsuhisa.

It was during a stint working with acclaimed chef Sean Brock at Husk in Nashville that Zone was introduced to hot chicken, which changed his world forever. After returning to Los Angeles, the couple opened up their own hot chicken food truck. It became so popular that Howlin' Ray's Hot Chicken now has two brick-and-mortar locations in southern California—one in Pasadena and one in LA's Chinatown. Whether you get the sandwich (Sando), tenders, or wings, you can't go wrong. Just make sure to select your spice level according to your heat preference.

Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers 

freddy's frozen custard & steakburgers
Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock

Locations: Northwest, West, Southwest, Midwest, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic

Similar To: In-N-Out

Since it launched in 2002, Freddy's has become one of the fastest-growing franchises in the country with branches in 36 states. There are still plenty of folks in the Northwest and Northeast who have yet to experience the chain's thin and crispy steakburgers and frozen custards. Founded in Kansas, the chain quickly spread to the South, where it dominates in states including Texas and Alabama. Another standout on the menu? Freddy's fried cheese curds, which make a stop there an absolute must for me whenever I'm in Arizona or California.

 15 Fastest-Growing Restaurant Chains Right Now

Blake's Lotaburger

blake's lotaburger burger with green chiles
Blake's Lotaburger

Locations: New Mexico, Arizona, Texas

Similar To: Wendy's

The foremost fast-food chain in New Mexico, Blake's naturally tops its standout burger with the state's signature green chile. Originally founded in New Mexico in the 1950s, Blake's has since expanded to Arizona and Texas. It serves breakfast items that incorporate chiles, but it's the burgers with either red or green chiles that are the must-try items.


Bojangles meal

Locations: South, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest

Similar To: KFC, Chick-fil-A

No region in the U.S. does fried chicken and biscuits like the South, and those two items are exactly what put Bojangles on the map. The chain is deeply, deeply beloved in its native state of North Carolina. If you ever run across someone who grew up in that state, odds are you will hear about the pleasure of Bojangles soon after meeting. When you visit, you will get chicken and biscuits, no questions asked. Some diners also swear by sides of mac and cheese, dirty rice, and cole slaw. Oh, and if you're picking up for a whole crew, throw in a tub of pimento cheese while you're at it. It's the Southern way.

 Bojangles Is Making a Major Change To Its Chicken for the First Time in 46 Years

Raising Cane's

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

Locations: South, Midwest, Northeast

Similar To: Chick-fil-A

The South has a real knack for creating fast food chains that churn out reliable copies of the region's beloved chicken, biscuits, and staple carbs such as Texas Toast. Such was the case for Raising Cane's, which was founded in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and spread to other states including Oklahoma, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, and California. Just this past summer, the chain opened in New York City's Times Square. Get the chicken and a slab of Texas toast and you'll be a convert.

Cook Out

cook out corn dog
Cook Out / Facebook

Locations: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Maryland, Mississippi, Virginia, West Virginia

Similar To: Nathan's

What separates Cook Out from some of its counterparts are a few simple menu items—hot dogs and barbecue. When it comes to hot dogs, few places outside of the East Coast favorite Nathan's have become so well known for this childhood nostalgia food. Barbecue is big here, too, and you'll find other fast-casual favorites such as corn dogs, BLTs, quesadillas, hush puppies, and so much more.

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Torchy's Tacos

Torchys Tacos
Torchy's Tacos / Facebook

Locations: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia

Similar To: Taco Bell, Del Taco

Now with more than 100 locations across the country, Torchy's Tacos started when Mike Rypka opened a tiny food trailer in Austin, Texas. There, his experimental creations were little more than a hope and a dream—until word started spreading around town. Rypka made his name by putting all kinds of strange, seemingly disparate ingredients into a tortilla—from fried chicken and chilies in the signature Trailer Trash taco to a fried avocado taco. If you happen to be in one of the 14 states where it's currently open, get a comforting side of queso with your order.


portillo's breaded chicken sandwich and grilled chicken sandwich
Portillo's / Facebook

Locations: Illinois, Indiana, Arizona, California, Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa

Similar To: Arby's

Although most loyal Chicago foodies would balk at the comparison to Arby's, it's hard to find a comparison for what is such a regional staple—the iconic Italian beef sandwich. Portillo's made a name for itself by serving a standard beef version, a supersize beef, and one that mixes beef and sausage. But, of course, it also offers burgers, chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, and even pasta on the menu that wins fans. It's the beef—as made famous, lately, by the Chicago-based Hulu series "The Bear"—that keeps locals coming back for more. The chain is now peppered around the country, so if you happen to spot one of these sandwich shops when you're out and about, you know what to order.

 7 Best Deep-Dish Pizzas in Chicago

Taco Time

taco time burritos
Taco Time / Facebook

Locations: Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Nevada, Alaska, Virginia

Similar To: Taco Bell

Another fast-food chain that was originally founded in the Pacific Northwest, Taco Time locations dot the region and have spread into the middle of the country—even as far as Virginia. While the chain might be regional in the U.S., it has also been franchised internationally in Greece. Founded in Eugene, Ore., in 1960 by Ron Fraedrick, Taco Time has a menu that leans into the Tex-Mex side of things, with favorites like crisp rolled burritos and Mexi-Fries.

Skyline Chili

Skyline Chili's Cincinatti-style chili
Skyline Chili / Facebook

Locations: Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Florida

Similar To: Wendy's

Since Wendy's is one of the few fast food chains to serve chili, it's got to be the comparison to Skyline Chili, born in Cincinnati. Created by the Lambrinides brothers in 1949, Skyline serves a hearty Cincinnati-style chili with sweetness from its signature spice blend with allspice, cinnamon, and cloves. Topped with cheese, the chili provides a mix of savory and sweet and has grown Skyline into 85 locations.

 10 Restaurant Chains That Serve the Best Chili


culver's butterburger cheese and onion rings
Culver's / Facebook

Locations: Wisconsin and across the U.S.

Similar To: In-N-Out, Freddy's

Culver's is found in about half of U.S. states—26 to be exact—so this actually might be a chain that you've heard of. For those based on the East Coast or West Coast, odds are you haven't tried it yet. Originally founded in Wisconsin by Craig and Lea Culver, along with Craig's parents, George and Ruth Culver, the chain built its business on ButterBurgers, fresh hamburgers served on generously buttered buns, alongside frozen custard and cheese curds. After taking over Wisconsin, the chain has slowly expanded throughout the country. If you're ever in the Badger State, you'll see Culver's everywhere—and you should try a ButterBurger while you're there.

The Habit

Habit Burger Grill bacon
Habit Burger Grill / Facebook

Locations: California, Arizona, Utah, New Jersey, Florida, Idaho, Virginia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Washington, Maryland

Similar To: McDonald's

The Habit first opened in Santa Barbara in 1969 as the family-run spot, The Habit Burger Grill. It was purchased about a decade later and expanded to a second location in 1980. From there, the burgers grilled over an open flame began to make a name for themselves. After taking over California, the chain expanded to places as disparate as Utah, New Jersey, and Florida. It's worth popping through the drive-thru when you see one of the chain's more than 350 locations on your next road trip.

 8 Fast-Food Chains That Serve the Best Veggie Burgers

Golden Krust

golden krust jamaican patty
Golden Krust / Facebook

Locations: New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Texas

Similar To: The Halal Guys

Unless you're a New Yorker and live in the greater New York metro area or the South, you probably haven't run across a Golden Krust. Specializing in Caribbean food, this spot traces its origins back to Mavis and Ephraim Hawthorne, who had a shop in Jamaica. Their children opened the first Golden Krust in New York, and the chain still follows the original recipes today for its signature Jamaican patty, a savory pastry with a golden shell, filled with ground meat, usually beef, and spices.

The demand for Jamaican food is high in New York City and on the East Coast, where the bulk of immigrants from the island have settled, and that's where you'll find many of the chain's locations. If you've never tried a Jamaican patty before, it's the perfect place to start.


Biscuitville / Facebook

Locations: North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia

Similar To: KFC, Chick-fil-A, Bojangles

Everything that applies to the North Carolina favorite, Bojangles, applies to Bisicuitville. If anything, Biscuitville might be an even deeper cut for fans of Southern food, especially because it only serves breakfast. Located in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, this is the spot to hit up when you're hungover and need a hearty dose of carbs and grease. The loaded country fries with sausage gravy, cheese, buttermilk ranch, and, of course, bacon bits, are a hit. So are any of the biscuit sandwiches with eggs, bacon, cheese, or more sausage gravy.

Caitlin White
Caitlin White is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle reporter with an expertise in food and travel. Read more about Caitlin