8 fast food chains you won't find everywhere
When you travel it’s easy to find a McDonald’s, Burger King or Wendy's. It's even getting much easier to find Chic-fil-A, the home of a savory chicken sandwich once found only in the South. While you could settle for one of these restaurants when you travel , you would be missing out on some other great tastes, especially in the South. Here are a few chains I’ve encountered on my travels that are certainly worth a visit when you’re in the neighborhood.
If you’ve ever lived in or visited the Tri-Cities of Upper East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia chance are you've passed by a Pal's. These aqua colored box like restaurants with a giant hot dog, fries and drink sitting on the top are hard to miss. Pal’s Sudden Service only has about 30 restaurants total. Nearly all of them are drive through only, but a few sit down locations do exist. Cravings for Frenchie Fries, hamburgers, Chipped Ham and Cheese, Bar B Dogs, milkshakes and Pal's signature Big Sweet Tea are as big as the food on the sides of the building.
The original Pal's Sudden Service is in Downtown Kingsport, TN. It's missing the big food items on the roof, but provides a truly nostalgic eating experience. You can even download the Pal’s Sudden Service game on your smartphone or tablet, when you aren’t able to get to Pal's to eat.
Petro’s Chili and Chips
In 1982, millions of people heeded the call to "be there" when the World’s Fair came to Knoxville, Tennessee. While they were there, they gobbled up Petros, a tasty twist on the chili pie. A bag of Fritos Corn Chips were turned over on their side with the bag cut open, doused with a generous helping of chili then topped with cheese, green onions, tomatoes, black olives, jalapenos and sour cream. They were such a big hit that Petro's eventually franchised the idea.
Eventually, Petros made their way out of the bag and into cups, but the taste hasn’t changed. You can get them on chips or pasta and even substitute vegetarian chili if you want. While you’re at Petros be sure and wash down your chili and chip creations with a Hint of Orange Sweet Tea. Petros are served up at more than a dozen locations in the Knoxville and Tri-Cities area and one store in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.
The South is known for its Barbecue and there are often plenty of choices when it comes to places to enjoy it. In the Knoxville area Buddy's Bar-b-q has been serving up tasty creations for decades and you don't have to wait long to get your hands on BBQ ribs or pulled pork. Buddy’s BBQ has 14 restaurants in the Knoxville area and like Petros, also served up food at the World’s Fair.
While you won’t find burgers on the menu at Buddy's, this is fast food. Just walk up and order, pick up your tray of food, pick up a drink and find a seat. Don’t let the fast nature of the place make you think you won’t be getting top notch BBQ because that simply isn’t the case . And whatever you do, don’t forget the hush puppies!
If you’ve ever driven I-59 through Mississippi, you know there aren't many towns along the interstate with Meridian, Laurel and Hattiesburg being the largest. The area known as the “Pine Belt” is home to a refreshing fast food chain that’s about 40 stores strong.
Ward’s is famous for it’s “Big One” hamburger which is topped with homemade chili. You’ll also find hot dogs, chicken and shrimp on the menu, but the real treat is what you’ll find to drink. Just like A&W restaurants, Ward’s makes its own root beer and it’s pretty good. So, if you're in the "Pine belt" take a little time and try a taste of Ward's .
Jack's Family Restaurants
Throughout northern Alabama, the big red circle with the “Jack’s” spelled out in bright white letters is easy to spot on the Interstate signs. This somewhat ordinary looking fast food joint has grown into a chain of 150 restaurants, with a few outside Alabama including some in Tennessee. It’s been a few years since I’ve eaten at Jack’s, but the times I have eaten there, the was always good and reasonably prices. In addition to the burgers like the “Big Jack,” chicken and fries, Jack’s is also known for its breakfast biscuits.
My first experience with this North Carolina chain was during a family trip to Boone. The restaurant there was drive through only, but offered combos for $4 (they’re now $4.99) that came with two sides. My son was excited to get a BBQ sandwich, until he found out it had slaw on it, but somehow it all worked out and we were hooked on Cookout. Today there are more than 230 Cookout restaurants in 10 states and you can find many of them in East Tennessee. It’s one of the few places where chicken nuggets and corn dogs are considered “sides.” You can also substitute one of their 40 flavors of milkshakes for a drink in the combo for just a buck more.
Just a few miles from downtown Mobile, AL along U.S. 90, the bright orange and white stripes on an A-Frame Drive-In lets you know you have arrived at the famed Whataburger. Based in Texas, this fast food favorite has grown to about 800 stores in several states. The burgers come with a signature mustard (you can buy at some Walmart stores) along with chopped onions, and whatever else you want on them. On our trips down to New Orleans, we try and stop at Whataburger when we can.
If you've driven through downtown Atlanta, chances are you've seen the giant red "V" surrounded by a wide array of skyscrapers. This is The Varsity and its been part of the rhythm of life in Atlanta for 90 years. Its one of the largest drive-in restaurants you'll find anywhere and if you're in the city you need to try it out.
As you step up to the long counter inside (or order from the stalls outside), employees greet you with the slogan, "What'll You Have?" Be sure and grab a slaw dog and onion rings and top it off with the hometown drink, Coca-Cola. If going downtown isn't your thing, there are seven other Atlanta area locations, but going to the original certainly dials up the nostalgia.
Where do you like to go?
All of the restaurants on this list can be found somewhere in the South, but I know there are many other small chains that are definitely worth a visit. When we go to Ohio we try and eat at Gold Star or Skyline Chili. Maid-Rite (home of a classic loose meat sandwich) is one of my wife's favorites. They are found mostly in Iowa and surrounding states. I remember the joy of eating again at a Roy Rogers in Maryland a few years ago thinking they had disappeared entirely. Mrs. Winners Chicken and Biscuits went out of business a few years ago and now they are making a comeback. And In-and-Out burger is one I keep hearing about, but haven't been able to try just yet.
In the comments, let me know what are your favorites on this list and what other regional or local chains would make your list?