Wednesday, August 31, 2011

America's favorite fast food chains

Sorry McDonald's, you don't make the cut
Piper Weiss, Shine Staff
Thu Jun 30, 2011

For the best restaurants in the country ask a Michelin guide reviewer. For the best fast food joints, ask everyone else. That's what Consumer Reports did in their new survey out today. They polled 36,733 subscribers to their magazine on their favorite go-to chains for instant gratification.

Based on over 98,000 visits to 53 chains, readers judged the service, speed, cost and overall deliciousness of their quick dining experience. The big surprise: the highest rated fast food didn't come from the biggest chains. McDonald's, Taco Bell, and KFC, also took a backseat to the slightly smaller franchises. Here are readers' picks for the best fast food experience.

Burgers: In-N-Out burger. The West Coast chain beat out Burger King, McDonald's, and countless other burger-flipping joints to rate highest in taste, speed and service. Their freshly prepared, preservative-free patties were a shoe-in for flavor, and also earned high marks for value. Who needs super-sizing when you've got a super-secret menu?

Mexican: Chiptole Mexican Grill. With only 8 chains in this category, the competition is slim, but readers gave this tacos-and-guac haven the highest marks not only for flavor but for speed and service.

Chicken: Chick-fil-A. The fried chicken trays and sandwiches at this nationwide chain beat out KFC's buckets by a long shot.

Sandwiches and Subs: Jason's Deli. The little guy stepped out of the shadows of Quiznos and Subway, as a top pick. It's massive menu options (subs, muffalettas, wraps and even pasta) and "grab-and-go" meals, garnered big-time service and speed points.

Pizza: Papa Murphy's Take N' Bake Pizza. Don't bother making the pizza, we can do it ourselves. That's the message with this surprising fan favorite, a pizza chain that sells prepped, uncooked pizzas that you heat up at home.

Best overall value: Papa Murphy's, CiCi Pizza and In-N-Out Burger. Readers picked these three chains medium-sized chains as the best bang for your buck.

Not everyone was so positive about the fast food experience. Readers rated Round Table Pizza, KFC and the struggling Italian chain, Sbarro's, as offering the least value. And casual dining restaurants like Cracker Barrel and Outback Steakhouse pleased patrons far in terms of experience than the standard to-go chains. Not surprisingly, only 13 percent of those surveyed considered the last meal they ate at a fast food restaurant "healthful." Despite a growing number of lower-fat menu options one thing is clear: they don't turn to the drive-through for diet tips.

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