I would guess that Jesse and I spend about 40% of our time either arguing with each other or arguing with other people about fast food. This shouldn’t surprise you. We’re morons.
So, here’s a fun bar conversation that I ask people a lot:
If you had to eat three meals a day from one chain restaurant every day for the rest of your life, which one would it be?
Let’s look at this systematically and figure out the best choice.
Why are you doing this?
I don’t really know. It seemed better than doing another ranking.
Which restaurants count?
By “chain restaurant” I basically mean fast food and fast-casual spots. No sit-down chain restaurants like Chili’s or TGI Friday’s will be considered. The reason for this is simply because those places have big menus with lots of options and it doesn’t really make this any fun. In order to be considered, you have to pay before you receive your food.
What if it’s a local chain specific to one city?
Los Angeles, for example, is so big and spread out that it has a lot of mini chains like Sugarfish and Pitfire Pizza, but the food at these places is very high quality and that takes the fun out of this exercise. So, in order to be considered, the restaurant needs to exist in multiple cities.
Carl’s Jr. is called Hardee’s and Souplantation is called Sweet Tomatoes in some places. Do they still count?
Yes. That wasn’t even a question. You just wanted to sound cool.
What about dessert chains like Coldstone’s and Krispy Kreme?
Nah. I’ll throw Dunkin’ in the mix though, since they sell breakfast sandwiches and shit.
What about juice places and coffee places?
They technically sell food, but c’mon, you gonna eat the food at Starbucks or Jamba for THE REST OF YOUR LIFE? That’s lunacy.
Does price matter?
For the purposes of this exercise, let’s assume that no matter what you pick, you’ll have enough money to eat three meals a day there forever. That way places like Shake Shack can be equally weighed against McDonald’s.
You forgot a regionally specific chain that I grew up with / my favorite place from mall food courts / some other thing I consider to be obvious and now I’m butthurt. To whom shall I send my hate mail?
A quick RIP shoutout: Koo Koo Roo
Koo Koo Roo, if you’re not familiar, is a now-defunct charbroiled chicken franchise. It was like Boston Market except it didn’t taste like a sewer, and they had these super dank green beans. I could eat that chicken sandwich for the rest of my life, no question. Koo Koo Roo would have been the restaurant I selected for this project for sure.
I started to do a quick Google search for why it went out of business and…
On second thought maybe this isn’t a group I need to be part of.
The Burger Joints — Tier 1
Carl’s Jr, Burger King, McDonalds, Jack in the Box, In-N-Out, A&W, Dairy Queen, Sonic, Wendy’s, Whataburger, Rally’s, The Habit
Let’s start with all these bad boys, because, look, sorry, it’s not happening for them. You may all have your opinions about who has the best fries (Rally’s) or who has the best actual burger (In-N-Out) or who has the best value (In-N-Out again) or who has the best shakes (Wendy’s) or who has the best breakfast (McDonald’s) or who has egg rolls for some reason (J-in-the-B) or who is the most secretly overpriced (Carl’s Jr.) or who might not actually even exist at all because nobody has ever seen one (Sonic), but the fact remains: ain’t nobody eating burgers and chicken tenders three meals a day for the rest of their lives. It’s just not happening. If I HAD to go with something from this list, I think I would go with Jack in the Box because they have a completely unacceptable amount of things on their menu. Jalapeño poppers, tacos, fajita pitas, the aforementioned egg rolls; Jack in the Box makes absolutely no sense to me as a restaurant, but the amount of options makes it the best choice here.
The Burger Joints — Tier 2
Five Guys, Shake Shack
I have elected to put these two in a separate category because A) I want to dispel any and all discussion of Shake Shack vs In-N-Out right here & now, and B) I legitimately consider these restaurants to be incomparable to the others. If you were to spend over $15 at one of the other restaurants, you’re doing something wrong (Except Carl’s Jr. because it gets so weirdly expensive and honestly fuck that place), but $15 at one of these places seems about right. With that money you also get more options and — with the exception of In-N-Out — higher quality ingredients. Just like the others, though, none of these places are going to be the ultimate winner. I suppose between the two of them I would pick Shake Shack because they have hot dogs and an incredible chicken sandwich.
The “Mexican” Joints — Tier 1
Taco Bell, Del Taco, Green Burrito, El Pollo Loco
I’m about to say a bunch of stuff that will infuriate you.
I rank these restaurants thusly: Del Taco, El Pollo Loco, Taco Bell, Green Burrito.
Taco Bell is dumb. Sorry bout it. Del Taco is a wonderful beautiful perfect angel and it deserves your respect. El Pollo Loco has some sneak attack extremely juicy chicken. None of this really has anything to do with the point, because I’m not selecting any of them. I guess if I had to I’d go with EPL though. It has enough on the menu to not make me feel like a huge sack of shit all the time, and the salads are more or less fresh. Eating Taco Bell every day sounds like literal hell.
The “Mexican” Joints — Tier 2
Baja Fresh, Rubio’s, Chipotle
Lemme tell you a brief anecdote that will sum up my feelings about Chipotle right quick. As you read moments ago IF YOU WERE PAYING ATTENTION, I was a huge fan of Koo Koo Roo. There were two Koo Koo Roos in my neighborhood growing up, each about equidistant from my house. They were my go-to spots. BOTH of these locations were replaced by Chipotles when KKR went out of business. This was at a time when Chipotle was sort of a new thing and not all the popular madhouse it is today. My point is that my very first memory of Chipotle is one of pure fiery hatred. It only made me angry that people said they loved Chipotle so much. I probably refused to eat Chipotle for an entire year. However, as Chipotle got more popular it became increasingly unavoidable and I could no longer boycott it. Even to this day I find Chipotle to be just alright. It really doesn’t do it for me the way it does for a lot of people– people flip their dicks over Chipotle, particularly the burritos, and I will never understand that. That said, I will admit that the ingredient quality is definitely higher than it should be for such a gigantic chain and I generally don’t feel gross after I eat a chicken bowl. The menu is also built around customization, which helps a lot for the purposes of this discussion. You can make tacos, salads, burritos, bowls, and a bunch of other nonsense. They also have #ALCOHOL and even some better-than-average sodas like Izze. As much as I hate to admit it, I have to say that Chipotle is in the running to be the winner of this stupid thing.
The Fried Chicken Joints
Kentucky Fried Chicken, Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen, Chic-fil-a, WingStreet
KFC is vile. KFC is wretched. KFC is what I would call “unsuitable” for humans. Popeye’s is better, maybe even kind of good, but it’s not every-meal-forever good. To be completely honest, I’ve never had Chic-fil-a, and I know people swear it’s great but they’re a trash company and also I can’t imagine their chicken sandwiches are better than Shake Shack’s. Just, no way. As for WingStreet, I’ve also never been but that’s part of the Pizza Hut empire so I have no business there. I’m not going with any of these restaurants.
Side note: have you even see how good KFC’s marketing has been lately? They released that romance novel for Valentine’s Day and if you look at who they follow on Twitter, you’ll notice something amazing.
I refuse to put Wingstop in the same category as the others because bing bang boom, I love Wingstop. Those nerds have truly dedicated themselves to making good ass wings. This dedication is actually where they knock themselves out of contention here, because wings are the actual only thing on the menu (besides side dishes like coleslaw and fries). As I mentioned, I can’t eat fried chicken forever. I just can’t.
The Pizza Joints
Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Little Caesars, Papa John’s, Round Table Pizza, Sbarro
Allow to me to begin by saying that Little Caesars legitimately doesn’t have an apostrophe before the “s”. Those big mouth breathing dummies can’t do a god damn thing right.
While the idea of eating pizza every day forever sounds nice, I think eventually I’d get tired of it. Also, here comes a big sneak attack: Round Table is actually my favorite one of these chains. I think the ingredients are high quality and the pizza is just better. Also, just because it’s important to me to humiliate people, I want to point out that “friend” of the Guide Justin Bolois alleges that Pizza Hut is better than Domino’s, something that literally every person he brings it up to disagrees with. Anyways yeah, not choosing any of these.
The Sub Joints
Subway, Quizno’s, Jersey Mike’s, Jimmy John’s, Togo’s, Firehouse Subs, Blimpie, Capriotti’s
Subway & Quizno’s are out right off the bat, because those restaurants are trash that should be burned down. I highly encourage any young children who might be reading this dumb nonsense to go burn down their local Subway or Quizno’s. I’m a big fan of Blimpie (though admittedly not very common on the west coast) and Jersey Mike’s. Capriotti’s is not particularly my favorite, but they have those bigass salads and that seems like a good way to break up meals if I’m eating there every day forever. I’ll give Capriotti’s their Thanksgiving sando though. That shit is pure fire.
You may remember Boston Market from when I was talking shit about them earlier. I first ate at Boston Market in college after somebody told me it would help me get through my Koo Koo Roo withdrawals. They were so fucking wrong.
So, if I may confess, I’ve never been to Arby’s. I live in LA and the only Arby’s I know of is the one in Hollywood. Their social media is outstanding though, and I’ve just recently learned that Ving Rhames is the one doing the amazing VO work on their commercials. Despite all this, I can’t imagine I’d live on fast food roast beef sandwiches for the rest of my life so we’re just going to move on.
Throwing this one in here because for a donut shop, Dunkin’ actually has a lot of stuff. For starters, they have solid coffee and that’s important if you’re going to be eating there forever. At the end of the day, though, breakfast sandwiches are a mighty fine food but they ain’t enough. We need some more diversity in our diet and Dunkin’ Donuts is just not gonna cut it.
It’s very possible most of you have never even heard of Nando’s, a piri piri chicken place — they’re a chain that started in South Africa but it’s all over England. I’m a fancy world traveler and I go to England every year, so I make absolutely sure I eat at Nando’s each time I’m there. I cannot get enough of that shit. The “peri peri” sauces are the nectar of the gods (when I’m in England I buy about three bottles of the sauce and bring it home to chug until I can go back and buy more). The corn is so choice. The chicken itself is fresh to death. Actual Londoners apparently don’t give a fuck about Nando’s but I think we can all agree those ungrateful freaks don’t know anything about anything. Apparently Nando’s has sprouted up along the east coast and I cannot tell you how much I long for one to open in LA. It’s just so good and it’s a clear finalist.
Never been. You can’t convince me I’m missing anything.
I live about a five minute walk from a Souplantation so I’m ashamed to say I have been there more than a few times. It’s pure trash. Nothing tastes good except those little cornbread muffins.
There are a few things ole’ Soupy has going for it. For starters, they twenty five bajillion different things to eat, soft serve among them. Souplantation is more or less a restaurant made up entirely of side dishes. It seems like it would take much longer to get sick of the menu there than it would at other places. Let’s move it to the side for now before we disqualify it completely.
You nerds ever been to a Jollibee? Jollibee cracks me up. It’s a Filipino fast food chain that is weirdly good and for some reason they sell spaghetti. Ordering spaghetti in a drive-thru is really a hell of a move. But back to the matter at hand, nope, I’m not picking Jollibee. I can’t fathom eating there forever.
Long John Silver’s
I have legitimately never even seen a Long John Silver’s before. I’m not positive it actually exists. So yeah, no, I’ll not be living off this fake ass restaurant thank you very much.
I visited the Great Steak once in college at a mall food court (where, by the way, our very own Fart Kid was a mall cop) and I saw a cockroach run across the counter. I promptly stopped ordering and walked to a different stall. No thanks.
The Halal Guys
I love the Halal Guys. I really do. A lot of people say they’re stupid but I’m pretty sure that’s only because it became really popular all of a sudden. I know a handful of New Yorkers who used to swear by it and as soon as it became a huge chain they immediately started talking shit. Typical New York. As much as I like the food, I will admit I would probably get sick of it pretty quickly because it’s such a small menu. Not sure Halal Guys does the trick here, but I just want it be known that I appreciate the fine things they’re doing.
Without question, Panda Express is my biggest fast food guilty pleasure. Remember when I said I live near a Souplantation? Well in that same strip mall is a Panda Express which means I also end up there a a lot more than I should. I simply cannot deny the power of their orange chicken. The chow mein is straight up delicious and all you haters can kiss my grits. Panda Express also has another thing going for it: the food is weirdly fresh. Like, a lot of the options have no MSG and all the veggies are fresh cut and cooked right in front of you in their usually-big-open kitchens. This freshness is a big part of my consideration here, and Panda may actually be an option.
L&L Hawaiian Barbeque
I used to live across the street from one in San Francisco, and I’m happy to say I don’t need to ever go into one of those hellholes ever again.
Pret a Manger
The fact that we don’t have Pret in Los Angeles is a flippin’ travesty, because they would work really well here. I’ve spent a lot of time in New York and London where they are extremely common and I am a BIG fan. If you don’t know Pret, it’s kind of like if 711’s pre-made sandwich section was an entire restaurant and also didn’t taste like shit. They sell sandwiches, soups, salads, sick ass lemonade, and other treats. It’s all really good too, and they do a lot of half portions of each thing so you can mix & match or just get a little snack. It’s convenient as hell and I don’t understand why they’re not on the west coast. Pret’s great and I’ll move it along to the finals.
No idea how they weaseled their way in here, but Sizzler actually counts because you pay first. They’re like Souplantation but a hundred times better. Tons of options. Steaks and shrimp. Big ass salad bar. Tacos. Pasta. Club Sizz seems like it should be the winner here, and I can’t really think of a reason why they’re not, but I just don’t think I’d be able to sleep at night saying that I have no problem eating Sizzler for the rest of my life.
Panera & The Corner Bakery Cafe
I don’t want to get your hopes up about Corner Bake. That shit is the stuff of nightmares. Panera though, is undeniably solid. Sure, Panera is always just a tiny bit worse than you expect it to be but at the end of the day they just sell so many different things. You can comfortably eat breakfast lunch and dinner at Panera with few problems. I’ll say this, and I’ll stand by it: Panera’s Broccoli Cheddar soup is absolutely unbeatable. You can reasonably fuck around with sandwiches, soups, salads, and pastries for the rest of your life. It’s like a heartier (but maybe not as good) version of Pret.
So, what’s the winner? Which chain do I choose?
Final Decision: Chipotle vs. Nando’s vs. Pret vs. Panera vs. Sizzler
I’ll just mention Sizzler for the last time real quick because it does in fact meet all the requirements that I laid out and it deserves to be in the conversation. Now that I’ve said it though, the conversation is fully over and I won’t mention Sizzler again because the shit is just gross and I’m not eating it for the rest of my life.
Now on to Panera; when I started writing this thing, I thought I’d choose Panera. I’m a big fan, but over the far-too-many-days I spent working this all out, I’ve realized that Pret might be a better option because it’s much less of a hassle and it’s way easy to mix and match. You feel a little cleaner afterwards, too. Pret knocks Panera out here.
When I look at Pret vs. Chipotle, I also gotta go Pret because I just don’t really care about Chipotle and I know for sure I’d get sick of the medium-quality meats that Chipotle has to offer. Alcohol is absolutely a plus, but it can’t undo how very very average Chipotle is. Kudos once again for diversity of ingredients, but it simply cannot be the winner.
But then comes Nando’s, and let me tell you, at the end of the day it’s a no-brainer for me. Nando’s is fucking king and I’m salivating just thinking about it right now. They’ve got lots of veggie options that would do nicely for a light breakfast each morning. Chicken sandwiches and wraps for lunch. Full chickens (bone-in, boneless, or hot wings) for dinner. They have so many sides I could easily create a tapas-style meal out of little bites (peas! Portuguese rice! slaw! artisanal olives! flame-grilled corn! taters! many more!) and that amazing garlic bread and their many delicious varieties of sauce. They also have a big craft beer & wine list, plus soda and fresh lemonades and even Izze. And lots of salads. And desserts. In the end, what else is there to think about?
Nando’s, I would you eat you three meals a day for the rest of my life.