The Best Regional Fast Food Chains, According To The Mashed Staff

With McDonald's, Taco Bell, and KFC found in nearly every corner of the United States (and even overseas in some cases), it can be easy to forget that these fast food giants were once just regional enterprises. For the better part of 80 years, fast food has been a part of the food landscape in the United States, and there are more choices for quick bites served in a paper bag than ever before. 

Of course, not every fast food business wants to become the next Chick-fil-A or Burger King, many regional chains are content with keeping things local. Staying small(ish) can allow a chain to maintain better store-to-store quality and it often creates a devoted fan base with customers feeling like they have something special the rest of the country doesn't. 

Because we're fans of fast food done right around these parts, the Mashed staff came together to share our picks for our favorite local and regional fast food chains. From burgers to tacos and fried chicken, these are the regional chains that never disappoint when it comes to a late-night fast food run. 

Burgerville - Brian Boone

Burgerville comprises a robust 40 locations, with nearly all of them in or near the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area. Keeping things close means the quality remains consistent and the ingredients fresh, particularly because Burgerville prides itself on using some of the "Orewashingonian" region's most signature and seasonal ingredients. That means strawberry shakes and strawberry shortcake in the late spring, or onion rings made from sweet Walla Walla onions in the early summer. Those are just a couple of items available at Burgerville that aren't commonly found at other quick-bite haunts. It sells deep-fried asparagus spears, turkey burgers, and fish sandwiches and fish and chips baskets made with premium Alaskan halibut. 

But before and beyond all that, Burgerville is a northwest institution that chose to put the word "burger" in its name because it's so proud of that line. Many of the patties are grass fed, many come topped with flavorful (and local) Tillamook cheddar and/or "Burgerville spread." That's the chain's proprietary version of Goop sauce, a condiment found throughout burger joints in Oregon and Washington, a sweet and tangy mixture of mayonnaise, relish, and mustard. And no visit to Burgerville is fully realized if it doesn't include a hazelnut and chocolate shake.

Tacodeli - Kirstie Renae

If you're looking for a classic taqueria, look no further than Austin's Tacodeli. The fast-casual taco restaurant was founded in 1999 by two University of Texas alumni, Roberto Espinosa and Eric Wilkerson. The original location on Spyglass Drive in Austin, TX, opened with a small menu of tacos, wraps, salads, and tortas. Nearly 25 years later, the restaurant has become an Austin institution known for its selection of award-winning breakfast tacos and lunch or dinner offerings in the form of chicken, beef, pork, and vegetarian tacos.

Diners love Tacodeli for its Austin-style uniqueness, including its somewhat controversial potatoes, which come on the tacos mashed just like Espinosa's grandmother used to make. The restaurant is also heralded for its signature spicy and creamy green salsa, dubbed Salsa Doña after the Tacodeli employee, Doña Bertha, who created it for a staff salsa contest in the early 2000s.

Tacodeli tacos that frequent "Best Of" lists and online recommendations include the Otto, a classic breakfast taco with organic refried black beans, avocado, bacon, and Monterey jack cheese, the Frontera Fundido Sirloin, a brunch favorite with grilled sirloin, jack cheese glaze, and sautéed poblano-onion rajas, and the Cowboy, a lunchtime classic with beef tenderloin, grilled corn, caramelized onion, roasted peppers, guacamole, and queso fresco.

The small chain has 12 locations across Austin, Houston, Dallas, and Plano, with seven located in the capital city of Texas. Whether you're a Texas resident or just passing through, you can't go wrong with Tacodeli.

Swensons - Alex Darus

First founded out of a station wagon in Akron, Ohio in the 1930s, Swensons Drive-In has been a Midwestern fast food institution. The crown jewel of the restaurant chain is its Galley Boy sandwich — a mammoth double cheeseburger on a toasted bun smothered in two special sauces and garnished with a signature green olive. It's messy and glorious. Swensons is also known for its signature specialty drinks named after a few U.S. states, like grape-flavored California, orange-flavored Florida, and cherry-flavored Ohio.

While now operating several drive-thru locations, many Swensons still offer carhop service to keep the old-school feel alive and well. It's no surprise that with its rich history, Swensons continues to expand across Ohio and Indiana. Notable Akron local and NBA star LeBron James is a self-proclaimed lover of Swensons. His go-to order as of 2023 is a double cheeseburger, onion rings, and a banana milkshake with real ice cream.

Taco Bueno - Amy Bell

Every time I go to Taco Bell, I get sentimental about the exponentially-better food at Taco Bueno. You can only find Taco Buenos in three states: Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas. Unfortunately, I moved to a region without one. Despite writing often about fast food, Taco Bueno is my only fast-food weakness. I've had serious thoughts about taking a road trip just for a Muchaco platter. Taco Bueno's Muchacos look a little like a Taco Bell Chalupa, but the bread is pillowy soft and addictive. If Taco Bueno still sold its sour cream chicken chilada with its amazing chili powder sprinkled on top, I'd definitely have made a road trip by now.

I have a soft spot for Taco Bueno platters. They come with Mexican rice, rich and yummy refried beans, and your main food item of choice (like tacos, Chiladas, or Muchacos). The best part is that you get a dollop of sour cream and guacamole in the middle of the platter, with a small bag of tortilla chips for dipping. And you can't miss the salsa bar, which provides a couple of types of salsa (there's one I still crave over a decade after it disappeared), fresh pico de gallo, and pickled jalapenos.

Taco Bueno filed for bankruptcy in 2018 and ended up closing down several locations (like the one in my new city). However, the restaurant is still limping along with a smaller menu and fewer locations. Hopefully, it can rise like a phoenix from the ashes again.

Chicken Shack - Crysta Coburn

If you live in the metro Detroit area, and you have a craving for flavorful, juicy Broasted chicken, and you need it fast, there is only one place to go: Chicken Shack. Technically speaking, while the small Michigan chain uses Broasters, a patented pressure fryer, to make its delicious chicken, it can't really be called Broasted chicken because it follows its own secret recipe rather than that of the Broaster Co. But even though the menu reads only "chicken," know that you are in for something truly special.

Chicken Shack doesn't only serve chicken, though it is obviously the main attraction. You can also order seafood and ribs. The most popular of the side dishes are the Shack Potatoes, which are tossed in the Broaster before being added to the deep fryer. You could order French fries, but why would you when these crispy on the outside, pillowy soft on the inside, and hand-cut daily potato bites are also available?

Foosackly's - Mary White

If you're a fan of chicken tenders, get yourself to a Foosackly's location the next time you're in southern Alabama or northwest Florida. Foosackly's doesn't have a huge menu selection, but what it does have is oh-so-delicious. This place is all about chicken tenders, which is the only meat option on the menu. This once-local, now-regional fast-food chain is home to what just may be the best tenders you'll ever find — not just at a fast-food restaurant, but anywhere. The deep-fried chicken tenders at Foosackly's are nothing shy of amazing.

Foosackly's chicken tenders come breaded by default, but you can order them naked (sans breading) if you prefer. You can get a box (which includes five chicken tenders, fries, coleslaw, and Texas toast), a bigger box (the same as a box, but with two more tenders), or a smaller kids' meal or snack. Each box includes your choice of homemade sauce. You've got to try the Foo sauce. The ranch is also top-notch, as is the honey mustard. Who are we trying to kid? The sauces are all awesome. Foosackly's also has chicken tender sandwiches and meal-sized salads topped with — you guessed it — chicken tenders.

Insider tip: If you order a box but don't like (or want) coleslaw, ask them to leave it off and give you an extra piece of Texas toast instead. Yum! If you want to dress up your fries, you can add queso or bacon. You won't find this specified on the menu, but it's a thing. Enjoy!

Smithfield's Chicken 'N BBQ - Kenan Dudley

I'd be lying if I told you that you could find North Carolina's best BBQ at Smithfield's. That's no knock on Smithfield; it's just a fact. The state has a lot of great pulled pork, and there are just too many hole-in-the-wall establishments with hickory smokers out back. What makes Smithfield's great is the convenience: No other Tarheel-based barbecue maker has better harnessed the power of drive-thru. Cook Out comes close, but it doesn't even have a vinegar-based sauce. Smithfield's is a bonafide fast food beacon of Eastern-style North Carolina pork that slings sandwiches and pints of BBQ with delicious vinegar-based coatings in seconds.

As far as I see it, Ii you're not in the mood for BBQ, you can leave. Luckily, Smithfield's is a bit nicer. The Piedmont chain rounds out its menu with fried chicken sandwiches and heaping piles of fried shrimp to make sure everyone can get what they want for supper. The cherry on top of Smithfield's BBQ appeal is the whole shoulder. While you have to order this slow-cooked delicacy one day in advance, there aren't many other places where you can pick up fresh pork shoulder in a drive-thru lane. 

Once I-40 flattens out and you start seeing the Smithfield sign hovering under signs like "Food – Exit 140," you'll never be much more than a pit stop away from a pig pickin'.

P. Terry's - Crawford Smith

The U.S. may not need more fast food places slinging a typical burgers-and-fries menu, but a restaurant can still stand out from the pack if it executes this familiar formula well enough. P.Terry's, which has locations in Austin and San Antonio, is the best burger chain I've ever visited. Although it was founded in 2005, this local chain's restaurants have the groovy midcentury Googie-style architecture of a classic '50s drive-in. The food is a callback to when fast food was made with real ingredients and actually tasted good.

The menu follows the In-N-Out formula of doing a very small number of items exceedingly well. Except (sorry, Californians) P. Terry's is better than In-N-Out. The fries in particular are spectacular. They're made with fresh Burbank potatoes cut shoestring-style, fried to a proper golden-brown crisp, and showered with a hefty amount of salt. You always get a huge amount of fries with your order, but it's never hard to finish them. The burgers are no-nonsense, super-thin patties made with Angus beef that has never been frozen. I always get a double cheeseburger with jalapeños on top for some added Texas flair. The special sauce is yummy, the burgers are juicy despite how thin they are, and the garnishes are always fresh and crispy. Don't sleep on the milkshakes, either, particularly the special flavors the chain runs periodically. P. Terry's is a perfect slice of fast food nostalgia in the Lone Star State.

Anna's Taqueria - Adam Swierk

Mexican food may not be the first cuisine that springs to mind when it comes to the Boston, Massachusetts area (or even the fifth). Yet when asked to consider the greatest regional fast food chain, I didn't hesitate to name Anna's Taqueria — the local purveyor of mouth-watering, authentic Mexican food in and around the city of Boston.

First opened on Beacon Street in 1995, Anna's Taqueria features a team of aptly-named "expert Burrito rollers," as described on its website — an absolute necessity for a restaurant where long lines are essentially a part of the décor. Of course, while I could wax poetic for days about the legendary Mexican chain's fully-stuffed-yet-perfectly-wrapped burritos — the best burrito in Boston (feel free to quote me on that!) — it's the sensational quesadillas, and house-made tortilla chips and guacamole that will have you eager to celebrate Cinco de Mayo every day of the year.

With seven open locations as of May 2023 — including one in Davis Square in Somerville, Massachusetts, which I frequently visited during my Tufts University days (go Jumbos!) — there's ample opportunity for you to try this iconic Boston-founded establishment on your next trip to Beantown. In fact, considering it's been several years since I've personally devoured a grilled chicken burrito from Anna's, well ... I think I just figured out my weekend plans.

Filiberto's - Steve Luna

The best Mexican fast food in the Southwest isn't found at the Bell or the Del, but at a chain called Filiberto's. This ubiquitous franchise grew from a handful of sites around the Valley to a full-blown phenomenon loved by locals and visitors alike. Whether you order an overstuffed burrito or an overflowing plate of carnitas nachos, you'll get a heaping helping of tasty Tex-Mex deliciousness. Favorites such as breakfast burritos and combo platters share the menu with daily specials, kids' meals, and all-day breakfast for lovers of early eats. The drive-thru is open 24 hours, keeping late-night customers happy no matter when their hunger happens.

Filiberto's is such a popular regional dining locale, it's inspired a slew of imitators, all with names ending in -berto's that make finding the authentic locations a confusing task. As reported by AZ Central, a California taco shop named Roberto's was the original, while the first Filiberto's showed up in San Diego in 1988. In 1993, the first official Arizona Filiberto's location opened in Mesa, and the chain has exploded since then. There are now 93 Filiberto's locations in the Southwest, turning the restaurant into a fixture on the fast food circuit.