You can go to McDonald's just about anywhere in the world, but for a more distinct experience, a number of smaller regional chains operate across the United States, beloved by those who live in the area but generally unknown to outsiders. Here are some of the best:
Famous for its ButterBurger (a burger served on a butter-toasted bun) and frozen custard, Culver's was founded in Sauk City, Wisconsin in 1984 and has since expanded to 24 other states. The majority of them are in the Midwest and pockets of southern states, leaving the coastal states to merely dream about those Wisconsin cheese curds, concrete mixers (read: custard plus two mix-ins or toppings), and beef pot roast sandwiches.
Nothing about Duchess stands out on paper — it's a fast-food joint that serves burgers, hot dogs, and chicken — but everything at this Connecticut institution is so well made that choosing between it and one of the bigger chains is no choice at all. With just 14 locations and a policy to never freeze its food, all of which is cooked to order, Duchess has endeared itself to the Constitution State since first opening in 1956. (A tip: try the grilled cheese, which is better than it has any right to be.)
There's a reason so many awards-show attendees celebrate their victories at In-N-Out. The California-based chain is beloved by just about everyone lucky enough to live near one — a small list of states that's slowly growing (Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Texas, and Oregon, with Colorado joining their ranks soon). They're famous for their Double-Doubles and Not-So-Secret menu — and though it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing item on the menu, the Animal Style fries (hand-cut fries topped with melted cheese, grilled onions, and Thousand Island dressing) have been an In-N-Out favorite for decades.
Pal's Sudden Service
Don't act like the name alone doesn't interest you. Pal's Sudden Service, usually referred to as simply Pal's, can only be found in the Tri-Cities region of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. With the likes of cheddar rounds (cheese-stuffed crispy potatoes) and their seasonal bar-b-dogs complementing the usual fast-food fare, its 29 locations have been feeding happy customers since Pal's first opened in 1956.
A Texas institution since 1950, Whataburger's design is almost as famous as its menu. Welcoming visitors with instantly recognizable A-frame entrances and a bold orange-and-white aesthetic, the family-owned chain is as beloved in the Lone Star State as the Dallas Cowboys and Tex-Mex. With everything from the Whataburger itself and honey BBQ chicken strip sandwich to Whatachick'n Bites and onion rings, the food itself is classic but unique — and, thanks to expansion, also available in New Mexico, Arizona, and a few southern states.
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