Alabama has a fast-food empire that’s almost as cultishly strong as its two football teams (that’d be impossible to really achieve though #RollTide #WarEagle). There’s Milo’s, the Birmingham burger empire that puts a second small square patty on top of every burger and coats it in a secret sauce that customers would probably just start guzzling on its own if that didn’t interfere with the ability to drink Milo's Famous Tea that has such a following that it hit store shelves in gallon jugs in the ‘80s and has piled many rows deep since. There’s also Taco Casa, which has such a cultish spot in the hearts of Alabamians that it was an instant rallying place after the Tuscaloosa tornadoes. The state also has Jack’s, a 50+ year-old classic burger chain that is so condensed in the Northern half of the state that it could rival Sbux density in many cities. And while we couldn’t weigh national chains as strongly as local spots, Alabama has one of the largest selections, from Whataburger to Five Guys to Church’s Chicken.
Notable fact: Dixie’s got the fifth-lowest fast-food to regular restaurant ratio in America, but one of the most varied selections.
In almost all state rankings we do, California tends to score highly based on size, weather, and various other things that make people who don’t live in California infuriated. And when it comes to fast food, it’s hard to argue against their continued dominance. The list of fast-food restaurants that originally started in the Golden State goes on forever, ranging from the really big ones (McDonald's, Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, In-N-Out, A&W) to Mexican favorites (Del Taco, Freebirds, Green Burrito, Jimboy’s Tacos, Juan Pollo) and the small, cool chains (Foster’s Freeze, Baker’s Drive-Thru, Pioneer Chicken, The Hat, Original Tommy’s, Hot Dog On A Stick), plus freakin’ Wienerschnitzel.
Big chains regularly test menus in Southern California (uh, the Waffle Taco ring a bell?) before rolling it out elsewhere. Basically, our point is: if you’ve want to try and open a fast-food chain of any kind, and you’re not thinking about doing it in California first, you may be thinking about this all wrong.
Notable fact: The founder of Wienerschnitzel only started thinking about getting into the fast-food business because the founder of Taco Bell owed him money, and offered to pay him back by letting him get an ownership stake in one of his taco shops. SYNERGY!
Everything really is bigger in Texas, like the sheer number of chains that got their start here, and really the number of fast-food choices in general. Though none of the huge heavy-hitters originated here, it really doesn’t matter once you consider the smaller power players that did: patty paradises Whataburger and Burger Street, Golden Chick, Taco Bueno & Taco Cabana, and Schlotzsky’s all make up the lineup. But of course the Lone Star State wouldn’t stop there (show off!). It’s also the birthplace of authentic New Orleans-style eatery Frenchy’s Chicken, Austin’s multi-location burger stand P. Terry’s, and Houston’s 20-strong hot dog haven James Coney Island and Mexi-Cuban joint El Rey Taqueria.
We wish we could stop there, because most of us don’t live in Texas and we’re seething with envy, but dammit, we can’t. This already lucky state gets to reap the riches of almost-equally-as-dominant Cali with In-N-Out, Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken, and Pollo Campero, as well as the best of the Midwest and South in Culver’s and Raising Cane's. Oh, and did we mention that Texas is gigantic? Because it is, and that kind of sprawl translates to a lot of roads, which translates to a lot of roadside mini-cities comprised of basically every chain you can think of.
Notable fact: The founder of Whataburger wanted to make a burger that required both hands and would have customers screaming “What a burger!” after the first bite. His life goals were very in order.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.
Rachel Freeman is a Food/Drink editorial assistant and thinks a cross-country fast-food road trip may now be in order. You should totally join her: @rachelifreeman.
Reporting was also contributed by: Andy Kryza, Kevin Alexander, Lee Breslouer, and Liz Childers.