Coolest fast food locations around the world

If you're driving through a city you've never been to before, chances are pretty good that you'll still be able to recognize your favorite fast food joint from a distance. You can't mistake McDonald's golden arches, Taco Bell's southwestern feel, or Burger King's bright colors. Brand recognition is an important thing, after all, and they want you to see a certain color scheme and know you're approaching a Starbucks.

But sometimes, fast food spots can be more than a little unexpected. There are some fast food restaurant locations out there that completely abandoned the same old cookie-cutter look in favor of something completely epic. Some of them look so staggeringly different you wouldn't be able to pick them out of a lineup, some are tucked away in the most obscure places possible, and some pay homage to the history of the area they're in. They're all very different, but they all have one thing in common: they're all pretty awesome.

A ski-up Starbucks, California

Coffee and hot chocolate are a must when you're out hitting the slopes, and there's one place in California that makes it super easy to get warmed up without even taking off your skis. In 2012, On The Snow reported that Starbucks had opened the world's first ski-thru coffee shop, catering to the winter sport enthusiasts of California's Squaw Valley. The mountainside restaurant is almost 8,000 feet above sea level, and it features a well-groomed, well-packed ski-up so skiers and snowboarders don't have to take off their gear to grab a quick cup of their favorite beverage before heading back out onto the slopes.

According to Business Insider, the idea could be a pretty big deal. It makes sense, after all, to give sporting enthusiasts a way to minimize their down time and maximize their caffeine intake. And just in case customers would rather watch others ski instead of taking the plunge themselves, it's also got a regular Starbucks inside.

A Georgian mansion-turned-McD's, New York

You probably don't expect your local McDonald's to come with serious history, but there's one location in New Hyde Park, Long Island, that absolutely does.

Their McDonald's is in an elegant Georgian mansion that Newsday says was built in 1795 and was formerly known as the Denton House — which makes it only a few decades younger than the US itself. It was abandoned when McDonald's bought the property in the mid-1980s. They had originally planned to level the building and replace it with a standard, boring McDonald's, but the residents of New Hyde pushed for landmark protection and forced McD's to make one of the most beautiful fast food restaurants in North America. It's complete with enclosed veranda, white pillars, and shutters, restored to its former turn-of-the-century grandeur on the outside… with a kitchen that turns out Big Macs.

A combination Burger King-and-sauna, Finland

If you've never gone to Burger King and thought, "Gee, I'd love to be able to eat my Whopper and fries while sweating away in a sauna," you're not thinking big enough.

In 2016, Burger King opened what might be the most unlikely restaurant ever in Helsinki, Finland. In addition to the standard Burger King set-up, customers will also find a 15-person sauna (along with all the shower and locker room facilities you'll need afterwards). Now you're wondering if it's actually for eating in, and the answer is definitely, "Yes." Burger King employees will bring your food right to you as you sit in the hot, humid air… and presumably really look forward to that ice-cold Coke.

CNN says it's not as weird to Finnish eyes as it is to American ones. Saunas are a way of life in Finland, and they're even a popular place for business meetings. That's cool and all, but that doesn't answer the question of what the heat does to your lettuce.

Barstow's replica train station, California

If you're not familiar with Barstow, California, you should know that it was — and still is — one of the biggest transportation junctions in California (via The Great American Stations). Railway and freight lines formed the backbone of the town, and as far back as 1840 it was a major hub.

That's what makes their Barstow Station stop extra-cool. It's located on East Main Street in Barstow, and it's a rest stop built to look like a train station. Weird California says it's first restaurant was a McDonald's — which is still there — and adds that you can also find a Subway and a Dunkin' Donuts inside, too.

Love trains? Then you need to visit this McD's. Train cars have been turned into dining areas, and there's even a caboose that's been turned into the bathroom. Just how it all came together is as much legend as history, and one of the more insane rumors is that founder Fred Rosenberg won the franchise in a card game — from Ray Krok, the man who grew McDonald's into what it is today. Is it true? No one knows for sure, but sometimes you shouldn't let the truth get in the way of a good story.

An elegantly 19th-century McDonald's, Ireland

Bray is a huge town south of Dublin, and their official history calls them the "longest established seaside town in Ireland." That means they have a lot of history there, and that includes their McDonald's.

Head into town, and you'll notice the building first. It's an elegant, Tudor-style building that dates back to somewhere in the early 1880s, and according to the Daily Edge, it was originally built with the goal of constructing something special for the entire town. It was a market house for a while, and part of it still serves as the town hall. The other part of it serves Big Macs.

McD's moved into the historic building in 1997, after the interior got a complete refurbishment. In case you've ever wondered, The Irish Times also shared how much McDonald's agreed to fork over for the space: £47,000 a year, or around $61,000 USD. Finding the little fast food joint is a bit of a challenge for out-of-towners, as there are no giant golden arches to guide the way. You need to get up close to see the signs — otherwise, it's easy to overlooked this McD's tucked away in a historic shell.

The Bell on the beach

Thrillist stumbled across this national treasure in 2013, and they called it "the greatest Taco Bell in the world".

We agree.

There are around 7,000 Taco Bell locations in the world, and you know the look: vaguely southwestern, bright colors, with the promise of Mexican food that no one who grew up in Mexico would recognize. But their restaurant in Pacifica, California isn't just a place to go for lunch, it's a place to hang. It's an old-school, wood-sided building that stands right on the beach. That's not an exaggeration, either. Stairs off the wrap-around deck (where you can sit and eat all the tacos your heart desires) lead right down onto the sand. They cater to customers just getting out of the water and off of their boards, and to keep the sand mostly outside, there's a walk-up order window. The views of the ocean are incredible, and who doesn't want to grab some oh-so-good, oh-so-bad-for-you fast food while feeling the sea breeze in your hair?

The most beautiful McDonald's in the world, Portugal

Head off to Europe, and you might expect to find yourself enchanted by their cafes. But their McDonald's? Maybe not, but there's a McDonald's in Porto, Portugal that will absolutely change your mind about what a McDonald's should be.

Local Porto says the restaurant moved into the building in 1995, after a complete restoration that preserved every bit of the structure's 1930s charm and elegance. It was given its nickname — McDonald's Imperial — because of the eagle that stands watch over the sign out front (and because the building formerly housed the Imperial Café). Inside, it's all stained glass, arched ceilings, and chandeliers, surrounded by such a perfectly preserved art deco style that you'll find yourself expecting customers in fancy dress to come strolling up to the counters.

And the menu even reflects a bit of that old school sort of charm. There are some special items on the menu here, like a cinnamon-topped custard tart served alongside your coffee.

Starbucks' shipping container stores, various locations

While you might never get to see some of the more obscure locations we're talking about here, it's entirely possible you're going to find yourself visiting these nifty little mini-Starbucks stores some time in the not-too-distant future.

According to Today, Starbucks opened their first shipping container store in 2011. Located in Tukwila, Washington, the entire store was nestled inside four reclaimed shipping containers. Customers could head inside or coast through the drive-thru, and it's a pretty brilliant idea for a number of reasons. They're more environmentally friendly than a traditional store, and they're portable. They can be picked up, moved, and reassembled in just days, and that allows Starbucks to judge how popular one of their restaurants will be in any given location without making a major commitment, and to put stores in non-traditional places.

As of 2018, they've built 45 of the tiny stores, and they're popping up across the country. Think your town's too small for a Starbucks? They might have you covered after all.

Close encounters at McDonald's, New Mexico

Whether you believe in the existence of extraterrestrials or not, there's no denying the staying power of the allure of the mysterious Area 51. Nestled away in the Nevada desert, it's not surprising that this ultra-secure, ultra-secretive facility has spawned a ton of rumors. Popular Mechanics says that aliens are just one of the things said to be secreted away there, but it's aliens that McDonald's decided to use when they designed their Roswell, New Mexico location.

The UFO-shaped fast food joint is the only alien-inspired one in the world, and there's no better place for it than Roswell. New Mexi.co says it was built in the 1990s, and designers went all out. There's a space-themed mural outside (complete with a rocket-riding Ronald McDonald), and best of all might be the 2,000-square-foot, alien- and space-themed PlayPlace. Ever want to hang out with spacesuit-clad Ronald and pals, while hopping on some child-sized rocket ships? This is the place to do it.

A decommissioned DC3 plane, New Zealand

If you're lucky enough to vacation in (or live in) New Zealand, you can expect to see a ton of very cool stuff. An awesome McDonald's might not make your list, but it's there and it's in Taupo.

Their McDonald's is part building, part decommissioned DC-3 plane. Part of the inside of the plane has been remodeled into a dining area, and you can take a peek inside the cockpit, too. If you're not up on your aviation history, you might not know why the DC-3 is something that needs to be seen to be believed: it revolutionized air travel when it first took to the skies in the 1930s. Popular Mechanics credits the DC-3 as being the craft that allowed air travel to become a reliable and profitable industry, so if you flew to New Zealand to see this particular McD's, you actually have that plane to thank for building up an entire industry so you could take the trip in the first place. Plus, who doesn't want to kick back and enjoy a McMuffin in a plane where there's actually some leg room?

India's specially-abled KFCs

This isn't just one location, but a series of locations across India. Even better, they come with an awesome story.

In 2008, KFC India got involved in the movement to provide education geared toward the specially-abled. That led to the opening of KFC Academy, a school that Business Insider says trains employees not just for the chicken joint, but for other employers, too. Those that do stick with KFC have opportunities to work in restaurants entirely run by managers and team members who are either deaf or speech-impaired. Since 2008, they've employed more than 300 people in a series of stores across the country, whose designation as a specially-abled store is indicated by signage that also tell customers how to order.

According to the employees, this is a huge deal. In a country where they haven't gotten much support before KFC stepped in, it's a life-changing opportunity. KFC employee J Srikanth says it best: "There are thousands like me in India. We're everywhere, yet we're nowhere. Seen, but not heard. That is, until now."

A sky-high Subway, New York City

To get into this Subway location, Gothamist says you needed to be a part of an elite group: the construction crew working on New York City's 1 World Trade Center site.

The "restaurant" was more standard shipping container than standard Subway shop, and the idea behind it was pretty brilliant. As the tower got higher and higher, it took workers longer and longer to make it down to street level to grab a bite to eat. That process can take an entire lunch break, so the site started taking bids on what restaurant would be installed in a mobile unit and hoisted into the air by cranes, rising with the addition of each new floor.

According to Cleveland.com, there were a few other restaurants vying for the honor, but Subway won out for a simple, selfless reason: it was part of their pitch that they didn't care if they made a profit, they just wanted to feed the city's ironworkers — it's a good thing, too, because slow sales meant they never profited from the venture. It closed in 2012, when the growing structure ran out of room on the higher floors.

Domino's on the Moon

This one isn't real yet, of course, but the key word here is "yet." In 2011, Domino's Japan announced they had been working on something pretty epic: putting a location on the moon.

It was reported by Popular Science, and Domino's says this wasn't just some, "Hey, wouldn't it be awesome if…" sort of scenario. They had put a ton of thought into just how to get a restaurant on the moon, and they also figured it would cost them a shocking $21.74 billion. But once the basic building equipment was up there, they say they'd use the moon's resources to make concrete to build the structure. It would include living quarters, entertainment rooms, and a gym for the staff, along with a 2-story dome with clear walls to give staff and customers a breathtaking view of the Earth. In case you're wondering about supply problems, the outpost would include facilities for growing most of the ingredients you need to make a pizza. And don't worry, they're pretty sure they can handle deliveries, too —  there's a moon-bike in the works for that.