There are two legitimate reasons to eat fast food for breakfast: 1) you're on a coming-of-age, cross-country road trip with your best friends and stuck eating on the road with minimal funds, and 2) you eat whatever the hell you want for breakfast "because it's your body and you do what you want with it, thank you very much." Fine.
In either scenario, if you don't have a game plan, you're going to be stuck staring slack-jawed at a menu board while the queue behind makes passive-aggressive comments about your indecision. Have a game plan. Know the best stuff. We did the dirty work and loaded our guts with every variety of fast-food breakfast, so you can reap the greasy, bacon-bedecked benefits. No need to thank us. Just pay our inevitable hospital bills, OK?
Spend a handful of weeks touring around the American South and you'll become real, real tight with this Charlotte-based chain -- and for good reason. Don't tell your meemaw, but Bojangles' flaky, handmade biscuits might just be Dixieland's best. The buttermilk number is consistently light and fluffy, as soft as Carolina cotton, and as soul-quenching as strawberry wine. Slide a piece of Cajun-battered (translates to: smoked paprika, a little chili), tender-AF fried chicken between those butter-buns and get ready to straight-up melt into the 100+ degree sidewalk. If you don't turn right back around for seconds, you're a monster.
Burger King manages to separate itself from the glut of nondescript breakfasts with a novelty item that actually doesn't suck. What it's got going here is just stupid enough to be brilliant (if that makes sense): it chops up French toast into convenient little strips and pairs them with a steaming cup of (something like maple) syrup. It all comes down to banking on customers who don't care that "the most important meal of the day" is composed of fried dough and fructose, not any actual food groups. We don't care, so neither should you.
Back in late 2004, Carl's Jr. made waves when it dropped this heart-stopping stack of meaty, cheesy, ketchupy satisfaction, and more than a decade later, the beast is still kicking. It begins with the standard fixings (fried egg, bacon, American cheese), then takes a welcome turn with the addition of two unexpected elements: a handful of hash-brown nugs and a charbroiled all-beef patty, presented between two pillowy seeded hamburger buns. Biting into this baby is quite the experience, with each explosive layer contributing its own special taste and texture. Basically, it's a burger with breakfast on top -- what more could a penny-pinching brunch junkie want?
Good things are said to come in small packages. Engagement rings. Volkswagen Beetles. Tom Cruise. We could continue, but instead, let's focus on the lil'-est entry on this list (with the most hyphens, weirdly), Chick-fil-A's Chick-n-Minis. Basically, they're minute versions of the classic chicken biscuit. Why do the mini-options reign over their big-boy brother? When you eat one of these, you get the best bite of the big chicken sandwich, in every single nosh -- an essential pastiche of biscuit and fried chicken that fits comfortably in the palm of your tongue, always guaranteed to hit the right spots on your palate. Also, they're just fun to look at. So little!
Nothing says Cali-Mex cuisine like an overloaded breakfast burrito. Del Taco's heavyweight scrambler lives up to its name with a pound of decently fluffy eggs, two fresh and tangy handmade salsas, hash brown sticks (!!!), spicy chorizo crumbles, and a heap of gooey cheddar. Stashing the potatoes inside is Del Taco's standout move here. Unlike many of its fast-food burrito compadres, this is no dinky breakfast wrap dressed in some cheesy (see what I did there?) Lucha Libre-like disguise. It's legit burrito-sized and a single one of these filling puppies is all the breakfast your sleepy ass needs. Even better, they're sold from 11pm to 11am at DT's 24-hour locations, ensuring California munchie-questers have a full night of crispy tortilla-wrapped bliss.
Sometimes, you can't play coy, or buy into the bullshit of trendy breakfast sandwiches or healthy-ish options that crop up on fast-food menus. Sometimes the best is ubiquitous and boring for a damn good reason. If there's one food that Dunkin' simply does better than the rest, it's its kaleidoscopic array of donuts -- for instance, the ubiquitous strawberry-frosted with sprinkles (or in layman's terms, the "Homer Simpson"). America, apparently, runs on them. Though it needs to take a quick breather after a few steps to let its sky-rocketing blood pressure cool down.
Soft-pretzel overlord Auntie Anne has been singing her siren song to teens across America for decades now, her signature salty oil seeping into Hot Topic T-shirts with reckless, detergent-defying abandon. And just recently, some perverted Hardee's genius decided to split dear Auntie's mall-rat masterpieces down the middle, toasting the halves and stuffing them with a surprisingly thick slice of ham and a folded, uniformly fried egg, hugged by not one, but two layers of melted cheese (American and Swiss). These classic breakfast sandwich furnishings are hearty, if not a tad salty, but the pretzel bun truly steals the show here. Ya girl's still got it.
When it comes to breakfast, bigger is always better, and you can rest assured that the Loaded Breakfast Sandwich delivers the shit out of that idiom. It's like a fast-food Dagwood, with two distinct, real-life fried eggs (as in, they look and taste like they came out of an actual shell instead of a murky, industrial-sized plastic bag), two slices of American cheese, and what can only be described as pork three ways: a smoky sausage patty, a thin slab of salty ham, and a couple crunchy bacon strips, piled high between two buttery slices of Jack's beloved seared sourdough. You might not feel amazing after housing one of these greasy devils, but damn does it ever feel good going down. Pass the napkins, please.
Availability: All day (in most locations, until 10:30am in some places)
For this one, we're going to quote the only people we really trust -- ourselves. "If the BEC McGriddle is the wild cousin of the BEC McMuffin, the bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit is that girl next door you always knew you would marry. She's the Topanga of breakfast sandwiches. The biscuit is the best bun Micky D's has. The bacon tastes like bacon that was also infused with extra bacon flavoring -- just to be safe. The eggs are a delightful fold of prime eggy-ness, and the layer of cheese adds enough excess to make this thing really sing... like a young Janis Joplin, or a middle-aged Tina Turner. If you only have one choice at the breakfast menu at Micky D's, make it this one."
Breakfast Toaster may seem like a term of affection for a wake-and-bake enthusiast -- and that's not too far off. It's easy to imagine Sonic's prime demographic being thoroughly stoned by the time they order this Texas toast sandwich packed with eggs, American cheese, and your choice of bacon, ham, or sausage. The egg- and sausage-packing burritos are tasty, too, they just lack the substance and girth (hehe) of this sandwich. Does breakfast taste even better when a teenager on roller skates shimmies it out to the window of your Camry? Yes, yes it does.
Despite a curious recent foray into happy hour territory, Starbucks is a breakfast chain, so narrowing its lengthy menu down to one AM choice was understandably tough. We decided to pull from its more substantial offerings. (read: no Frappuccinos), and the slow-roasted ham and Swiss immediately rose to the top. In this piping-hot, artisanal-style sandwich, a savory croissant roll acts as a vehicle for delicate cuts of Italian 'prosciutto cotto' (OK Starbucks, calm down), a perfectly round fried egg patty, and the most flavorful Swiss cheese to have ever graced a convenience sandwich. Though somewhat oily, these sophisticated snackers manage to hit the spot without immediately knocking you out, a rare feat in the gut-busting fast-food community.
As someone who's tried more than their fair share of disgusting things from Subway, it's a breath of fresh, Subway-smelling air to be able to actually enjoy the sandwich juggernaut, for once. This flatbread sandwich with thick cuts of steak, surprisingly tasty eggs, and melted cheese is a solid breakfast analogue to the packed-lunch-with-a-cookie stalwarts, and it's a different look than most other fast-food fodder. Overall, it's one of the more solid choices on this list, for a real-deal breakfast in a pinch. And if you make a joke about that Jared guy, you get 50% off! (No you don't, don't do that.)
Taco Bell has blasted into the fast-food breakfast world like theKool-Aid man busting into your '90s living room -- bringing some of the most intriguing, borderline egregious breakfast alchemy this side of of a cereal bowl. The Breakfast Crunchwrap has a lot going for it. It's massive, for starters -- often requiring both hands (especially if you have Trump vulgarian hands or are a carnie). And in the middle, it's all that messy, hot, indescribable Taco Bell fillin', set to breakfast mode: sausage, bacon, eggs, cheese. If that doesn't whet your appetite, you're reading the wrong list, cowpoke.
In general, it's just a very well-done burrito. The eggs are always fluffy, the potatoes aren't oddly shaped, or with those burnt chunks like you get at places like Sonic. The tortillas are toasted, too, so it has this very light crunch when you bite into it. Bueno's salsa is pretty legendary; needless to say it goes amazingly well with egg and potato. While it may seem like a basic dish, sometimes simplicity goes hand in hand with greatness. Oh yeah, and they're usually on sale for 59 cents, which is insane. A small price to pay for possibly dying young.
"This is what 'good morning' tastes like," boasts the famed Canadian transplant's website. We're still pondering over good morning's edibility, but we do know a quality sandwich when we see one. Hortons' hot breakfast sandwich is a delectable, highly customizable wonderland of fat and flavor. Timmy Ho's devotees can top their omelet-and-cheese combo with sausage, bacon, or turkey sausage, and choose from a homestyle biscuit, a toasted plain bagel, a buttery croissant, or a nostalgia-inducing English muffin (nooks and crannies, anybody?). Only in a country as accommodating as Canada do you get eight completely unique variations of a single breakfast item, and we couldn't be more thankful.
To be fair, Wendy's breakfast menu is quite limited. The usual suspects are accounted for, including a just-fine sausage biscuit, nicely seasoned potato wedges, a decent, palm-sized sausage burrito, and an admittedly gelatinous bowl of steel-cut oatmeal (really, Dave?). But while morning meals might not be Mr. Thomas' strong point, the insanely moist, impeccably crisp chicken is a lesson in fast-food greatness. And the honey butter chicken biscuit? No exception. The sandwich features Wendy's crack-like chicken breast, fried to succulent, juicy precision, drenched in sweet honey butter, and then stuffed inside a velvety buttermilk biscuit. If you order anything else before 10:30am, you played yourself.
If Whataburger takes the crown as Ms. Fast-Food Texas -- and trust me, it does -- then the taquito with cheese is breakfast royalty. It's simple, sure, but the simplicity is what makes it great. The wrap's four basic ingredients are woven into irresistible, shining harmony, a silky sea of scrambled eggs and marble-sized potato rounds nestled atop American cheese, swaddled in a chewy, lightly toasted flour tortilla. Considering all the meaty competition at Whataburger (not to mention the writers' penchant for pork rolls), the taquito's dominance is a bit of a welcome surprise.
White Castle: Breakfast Waffle Slider Availability: All day, erryday We didn't even know White Castle served breakfast, far less a breakfast sandwich as inventive, visually appealing, and f-ing delicious as the Waffle Slider. We're talking an honest-to-God freshly cracked egg, fried and topped with a zesty sausage patty, smothered in cheese, and cradled between two semi-sweet, semi-crunchy Belgian waffles. It's what every other savory-sweet breakfast creation wants to be when it grows up, equal parts salt and sugar, with just enough spice to sufficiently pique the average diner's interest. Word on the street is that some locations also sell an upgraded Sausage & Gravy Waffle Slider. Somebody call Harold and Kumar, it's time to re-up that road trip.
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Meredith Heil is a staff writer for Thrillist. She can always make 'em smile, from White Castle to the Nile. Fwd all winky emojis to @mereditto.
Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. He just ate one ripe banana and a Slurpee, on purpose. Follow him: @wilfulton.