30 Most Popular Fast Food Items, Ranked
Fast food is a way of life in America. Some credit Ray Koch of McDonald's for the creation of these restaurants famous for serving up food within minutes that can be eaten on the go. But fast food has been a staple since street vendors sold their foods in ancient eras, from the Hans to the Huns and the Greeks to the Romans.
We've all grown up with fast food, driving through a Burger King for substance on a long road trip, swinging through a Dairy Queen for a celebratory treat after a Little League game, having pizza delivered to our front doors when we didn't feel like cooking. It's a part of our culture.
But there are some fast-food items that became icons and changed our lives, or at least our tastebuds. Here, we celebrate those that mainstays and rank them. How? Why letting your "votes" (social media hashtags) decide which foods from the biggest chains have made the biggest impression.
30. Bread Bowl, Panera
"When I die, bury me in a Panera Bread broccoli cheddar soup bread bowl." — @NeimanMarcusEsq
Little did we know we had been missing out on soup in a bowl until Panera first opened. Although it was the St. Louis Bread Company in 1987, Au Bon Pain bought it in the 1990s and spread the bakery goodness across the country.
Until then, we were simply dipping our bread into our soup. Pffft!
29. $5 Footlong, Subway
"The subway employee had the nerve to put in three jalapeños on my FOOTLONG SANDWICH. I just stood there in pure awe." — @J0eI
Subway first opened its doors in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1965. When it began selling its $5 Footlong sandwiches in 2008, it was a huge hit and became a part of its permanent menu ... and our vernacular.
28. Cheesecake Factory Cheesecake
"Just found out my parents went to Cheesecake Factory without me ... they didn’t even ask if I wanted anything. Feeling: betrayed." — @alexysspaige
While the Cheesecake Factory didn't invent the cheesecake, the gigantic portions and variety of flavors it gave us when it first opened in Beverly Hills, California, in 1972 has made the beloved chain a go-to for special occasions.
Even with a phonebook-sized menu, be sure you save room for what the restaurant does best!
27. Fajitas, Chili's
"It is impossible to make a more dramatic entrance than Chili’s fajitas." — @carterhambley
Chili's didn't invent the fajita either, but this Texas-based chain that first opened in 1975 introduced the entire country to the build-your-own meal in the 1980s.
Ever since, our ears perk up when we hear the sizzling sound of fajitas making its way across the restaurant.
26. Original Slider, White Castle
"At 4:00 a.m., I sent an Uber to White Castle, called the driver and ordered 20 sliders from the comfort of my home. What a time to be alive." — @evan_tlow
Serving its small, square hamburgers called "sliders" since 1921, White Castle is so famous for being a late-night, after-party bite it was the focus of the 2004 flick, "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle."
25. Auntie Anne's Pretzels
"Yes, I've only eaten Auntie Anne's pretzel bites today, and that probably won't change." — @liamwilhelmina
Is it possible to go to a mall and not be lured in by the scent of Auntie Anne's pretzels baking?
Since opening in Pennsylvania in 1988, there are now more than 1,500 pretzel shops around the country.
24. Nathan's Famous Hot Dog
"If the Corona gets Nathans Hot Dog Eating contest canceled, I don't think I'll be able to go on." — @PastelJaws
Not only is the Brooklyn, New York-launched hot dog an American classic, but its annual hot dog-eating contest in the summer has made it a name brand. It's as American as apple pie!
If you think you can eat more than 75 hot dogs, take on the reigning champ, Joey Chestnut, next year.
23. Bloomin' Onion, Outback Steakhouse
"I am always in a Bloomin' Onion kind of mood. It never goes away." —@ajc23510
Forget about onion rings. When Outback Steakhouse opened in Florida in 1988, it resulted in hour-long waits and introduced a new dish to America: the Bloomin' Onion, an entire onion sliced like a flower and deep-fried...
Yep, that's more than 800 calories worth of bliss.
22. BBQ Chicken Pizza, California Pizza Kitchen
"May have eaten an entire CPK BBQ chicken pizza in one sitting." —@TeacherRunner42
Until California Pizza Kitchen opened in 1985, Americans were content with eating traditional toppings like pepperoni and mushrooms on their pizza. Then, we tried the BBQ Chicken Pizza, and life has never been the same.
21. Shackburger, Shake Shack
"Had a dream Ian surprised me with a random mysterious NYC road trip and all I kept asking him was if we could go to Shake Shack." — @ohheyjreed
New York hot dogs may have once been the must-have street food, but then Shake Shack arrived in Central Park in 2001, and everyone went "Nathan who?"
Now, new Shack openings across the country create lines that last hours because these burgers are the juiciest fast-food burgers that money can buy.
20. Rotisserie Chicken, Boston Market
"I am (select all that apply): Single, Married, Widowed, Divorced, in the mood to eat an entire Boston Market rotisserie chicken with my bare hands." — @bye_ology
The concept of this Massachusetts-based chain is simple: Why sacrifice healthy when eating fast food, and why bother to cook when Boston Market can give you a home-cooked meal to go?
It's so popular that you may not get away with trying to pass it off as your own, as people could do when it first opened in 1985.
19. Baconator, Wendy's
"Whomever made the Wendy’s Baconator has their seat prepared in heaven for them already." — @kiimonoo_
Wendy's has been serving its square meat patty burgers since 1969, but it wasn't until 2006 that it created its hit sandwich: the Baconator.
Two patties topped with cheese and six slices of applewood smoked bacon? Yes, please!
18. Loaded Potato Skins, TGI Fridays
"Potato skins with cheese and bacon ... nothing has ever sounded more delicious." — @kayleenelss
If TGI Fridays never opened, would we even know what potato skins are?
But it did open in New York in 1965, and thankfully, one of its kitchen staff making mashed potatoes decided to reuse the skins. These are so popular they now sell them in the frozen aisle of your local grocer, too.
17. Bubba Gump Shrimp
"Anyway, like I was sayin', shrimp is the fruit of the sea." — @NickTalamante
The movie "Forrest Gump" inspired Bubba Gump Shrimp, which opened in 1996, ensuring that we can have our shrimp any way we like it: You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it...
16. Blizzard, Dairy Queen
"Me three times a day: I sure could go for a DQ Blizzard rn." — @kaitlyntrahan
When the popular soft-serve ice cream chain introduced the Blizzard in 1985, we had only ever eaten our ice cream with toppings. Then, those crazy treat purveyors went and showed us how toppings like Oreo cookies and Butterfinger bars could be mixed into the ice cream so we could enjoy them with every bite.
Let's all give DQ a collective: "Thank you."
15. KFC Original Recipe Fried Chicken
"Get you a guy who looks at you like Daniel looks at the KFC Original Recipe Fried Chicken." — @itsmeraizamyr
We may never know how the Colonel's 11 secret herbs and spices make KFC's fried chicken so darn tasty, but that won't stop us from ordering a bucket filled with this chicken we've been licking from our fingers since 1952.
14. Chicken McNuggets, McDonald's
"As awesome as it is to get an extra @McDonalds Chicken #McNugget in my box, I found out tonight, it's equally disappointing to be missing one." — @LostInJake
Before 1983, no one had ever heard of a chicken nugget. Think about that fact and how children across the U.S. would starve if they didn't have chicken nuggets dipped in ketchup nowadays.
And it's all thanks to a place known for burgers.
13. Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich
"The only reason to get in line for a Popeyes chicken sandwich is if it's Sunday and Chick-fil-A is closed." — @TwoHeadedPanthr
Chick-fil-A is awash in controversy, yet despite cries to boycott the restaurant for its openly shared beliefs, diehards cannot give up the chicken sandwich.
Many say there is a secret ingredient in it that makes people crave it. Well, it and waffle fries.
12. Popeye's Chicken Sandwich
"The Popeyes chicken sandwich is so much better than Chick-fil-A, and I never thought I’d say that." — @mwhitaker08
But the debate continues. Is Chick-fil-A better than Popeyes? The New Orleans-based chain set off to prove it could beat out KFC and showed up the Atlanta-based chain, too.
It just may be the best chicken sandwich available in fast food.
11. Root Beer Float, A&W
"My daughter inside of my stomach is somehow whispering 'root beer float' into my ear." — @kailslewis
When a miner in Colorado mixed his root beer with a scoop of ice cream in 1893, he started a craze that led root beer distributor A&W to open a joint and sell it.
The fast-food drink shop opened 80 years before anyone had ever heard of Shake Shack.
10. Whopper, Burger King
"I mean who doesn't love 4-cheese Whopper from BK?" — @mrgbsnt
In order to compete with McDonald's selling more burgers, Burger King came up with its big Whopper of a burger in 1957. This sandwich is so big that it can have up to four grilled beef patties (or now the vegetarian Impossible Whopper patties), mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup and onions on a sesame seed bun.
Now everyone knows BK as the "Home of the Whopper."
9. Original Glazed Donut, Krispy Kreme
"My hotel in Virginia is next to a @Bojangles, a @krispykreme and a liquor store. Guess I live here now." — @johncraven1
Anyone who can drive by Krispy Kreme when it's red "Hot" neon sign is lit has the willpower of steel. First opening in North Carolina in 1937, Krispy Kreme taught the South just how good a simple glazed donut could be.
Now, they are so beloved that people make wedding cakes out of stacks of them.
8. Burrito Bowls, Chipotle
"The Chipotle guy who just LOADED up my burrito bowl is the true MVP." — @chrisstocken
Before Chipotle introduced the burrito bowl in the early 2000s, we actually ate our burritos with our hands.
Now, the company sells more burrito bowls than it does burritos, and we can find bowls filled with rice, beans and our choice of toppings at other Mexican chains.
7. Double-Double, In-N-Out
"UPDATE: In-N-Out burger is now at a TWELVE-HOUR WAIT. I repeat TWELVE HOURS. They will close before you get to the window most likely. Meanwhile, many other local eateries do not have a wait, hint hint." — @AuroraPD
Just days before we started ranking fast-food items, In-N-Out opened a location in Aurora, Colorado, and made the news. Not for its popular double-double cheeseburger but for the 12-hour line of people waiting to get one!
6. Lettuce Wraps, P.F. Chang's
"Lettuce wraps from P.F. Chang's are 10/10 best food in the world." — @_SoganLemler
The mother of P.F. Chang's founder is credited with bringing Chinese food to the United States, so it's no wonder he introduced us to lettuce wraps.
Just search social media to see how many people try to duplicate this recipe ... but nothing will ever beat the original.
5. Whataburger, Whataburger
"At this point, y’all could’ve taken a road trip to Whataburger and still would’ve been more satisfied." — @ieatcha
@ieatcha's response to the 12-hour line at In-N-Out sums up the feelings of the many who believe that Whataburger is the best of them all.
They are only in the South and Southeast, so half of the country still has yet to discover what a Whataburger truly is.
4. Buffalo Wings, Buffalo Wild Wings
"Am I weird for wanting to drive an hour just to get some Buffalo Wild Wings?" — @porshasbeignets
The credit for the creation of the mighty buffalo wing goes to Buffalo's Anchor Bar in, yes, Buffalo, New York. But they didn't followup with restaurants spanning the country dedicated to the tangy and spicy chicken wing (and drumstick). No, that was Buffalo Wild Wings, which opened in 1982.
More than 1,200 restaurants serve more than two dozen sauce flavors, including the original recipe from Buffalo.
3. Big Mac, McDonald's
"Saw a poster for the double Big Mac whilst driving home, and now I can’t stop thinking about demolishing one ." — @ljtrickster
McDonald's wasn't going to be outdone by the Whopper. The Big Mac didn't just add extra patties, it added an extra bun and layers of cheese and a "special sauce."
You don't see McDonald's trying to make an Impossible Big Mac because this sandwich simply beats BK.
2. Domino's Pizza
"I literally can’t wait until tomorrow, so I can eat leftover Domino's pizza." — @FulcrumLebree
The first time a pizza was delivered to a person was to a queen in 1889. But Domino's brought pizza to the doorways of common folk in 1961 and made pizza the most delivered food in the country.
Could you imagine not having a fresh, ooey-gooey, cheesy pizza brought to your home for game day, movie night or just because? Pizza delivery may be common, but Domino's is royalty these days.
1. Classic Roll, Cinnabon
"OK fine, I’ll tell you how I feel about cinnamon rolls. I’m never excited about them. I never get them. But whenever I eat them, it’s life-changing." — @kumailn
We did it. We went and put the Cinnabon before pizza and the Big Mac. And if you have ever eaten one, you know why.
Found in malls since 1985, Cinnabon's cinnamon rolls are world-famous, and despite having more than 800 calories in the Classic Roll, it's worth. every. single. bite.