Fast food may conjure up those Golden Arches, but the concept has come a long way from frozen burgers. The best fast-food chains around the world are getting serious about quality, offering up bowls of pork ramen, freshly baked baguette sandwiches, and sustainably caught fish for the masses.
For travelers, fast-food chains represent a convenient, inexpensive taste of how everyday residents in far-flung cities eat. Some menus are more traditional than others: Teremok in Russia serves cooked-to-order blini; while Goli Vada Pav No. 1 in India adds modern twists like cheddar cheese to vada pav, the fried potato patty sandwich that’s an Indian street food staple.
Granted, fast-food chains aren’t exactly hidden gems. But they have their own quirky appeal and dish out a quick fix of local culture and cuisine. Forget Mickey D’s and seek out the following fast-food chains instead.
England: Pret a Manger
Nearly all 230 locations of this quick-service sandwich shop have an on-site kitchen where food is made fresh daily, using all-natural ingredients that change seasonally. Rather than being kept overnight or thrown out, unsold products are donated daily to homeless shelters. This winning concept is spreading; look for Pret locations in Paris, New York, D.C., Chicago, and Hong Kong.
What to Order: Chicken and avocado sandwich on malted wholegrain bread with yogurt dressing and fresh basil.
Fast food gets a Filipino twist at this quick-serve chain, which is so beloved that its mascots star in their own children’s television show. There are more than 700 locations across the country, serving everything from fried chicken and hamburgers to local favorites like palabok, rice noodles with meat sauce, shrimp, and hard-boiled egg.
What to Order: Spicy Chickenjoy, fried chicken coated with chili powder.
It’s easy to spot Teremok’s 175 orange-and-red kiosks and restaurants that have sprung up in St. Petersburg and Moscow (the name is Russian for “fairy-tale cottage”). The main item is cooked-to-order blini, essentially Russian crêpes—perfect for eating on the go. Fillings run both savory (ham, cheese, smoked salmon) and sweet (chocolate, fruit, jam).
What to Order: Blini with red caviar, of course.
South Africa: Nando’s
Chicken, basted in one of four consecutively spicier piri-piri chili sauces and flame-grilled to order, is the star at this casual sit-down Portuguese-Mozambique chain. Cheeky advertisements and a welcoming, woodsy aesthetic have propelled Nando’s into 30 countries worldwide.
What to Order: 1/2 grilled chicken with hot piri-piri sauce and French fries.
It’s all about ramen at this stylish chain, which features an open kitchen and bar and table-style seating. Most bowls start with the chain’s signature slow-simmered pork bone broth and thin, chewy noodles. Toppings range from the traditional (roasted pork) to the more inventive (a Spanish-inspired bouillon cube).
What to Order: Akamaru Ramen with miso paste and roasted garlic oil.
Canada (mainly Quebec): St. Hubert
With both quick-serve and slightly more upscale sit-down operations, family-friendly St. Hubert is known for its rotisserie chicken doused with a tangy brown sauce—so habit-forming that it’s sold by the jar in Canadian grocery stores.
What to Order: Quarter chicken leg with bun, coleslaw, and French fries.
Australia: Chocolateria San Churro
As the name implies, chocolate is the focus at this bohemian-chic dessert chain, and the menu has a Spanish accent. Freshly fried churros and spice-laced hot chocolates are on offer alongside organic, fair-trade coffee and milkshakes.
What to Order: Churros with an individual pot of melted couverture chocolate.
Puerto Rico: El Meson Sandwiches
The combinations are nearly endless at this Caribbean sandwich spot. Most sandwiches start with a base of mayo, margarine, cabbage, and tomato, then get piled high with juicy fillings and griddled on both sides.
What to Order: The Midnight sandwich: roasted pork, Virginia ham, pickles, mayo, and margarine on sweet, eggy bread.
Taiwan: Din Tai Fung
Yes, there will be a line at this well-known dim sum destination, whose dumplings are so popular the chain has spread across 10 countries. But you’ll be glad you waited, and once you’re inside, you can take your time in the comfortable, if crowded, dining room.
What to Order: Xiao long bao, steamed soup-filled pork dumplings with a thin, delicate skin.
The Brazilian steakhouse concept goes casual at this meat-centric chain that turns out both burgers and grilled steaks with that national staple, a side of rice and beans.
What to Order: Flame-grilled picanha (top sirloin), a juicy and tender cut that’s one of Brazil's most beloved steaks.
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