After reading an article from Business Insider about Cook Out, written by New Yorkers, in an attempt to compare it to Shake Shack and In N Out, I felt compelled to voice my opinion. In total fairness, they did a good job of fairly depicting the pleasures of Cook Out and had good things to say about the chain restaurant for readers outside of the South. What was surprising to me was the complete lack of experience of a popular Southern product such as Cook Out for individuals in the New York or LA bubbles. This gave me the idea; rank the 5 best southern fast food chains.
Firstly, I wanted to address the BI article however. As I previously mentioned, I appreciate the author of the article for unbiasedly reviewing Cook Out. What I thought was a little unfair however was comparing Cook Out to Shake Shack and In N Out. As an Austin resident, I felt there were much fairer comparisons right here in the (hipster) capital of Texas, mostly because we have both of those “regional” chains in the city.
Austin Fast Food Comparisons
- P. Terry’s>In N Out: this comparison is based on menu simplicity. P. Terry’s is a very local burger chain that is only offered in Austin. Like In N Out however, it offers a very limited menu of burgers, chicken sandwiches and milk shakes. P. Terry’s, in my opinion, is a much better option for very similar fast food experience.
- Hopdoddy>Shake Shack: both of these “fast food” options are usually busy and not cheap. Rather than simplicity and speed like most fast food chains, these two focus more on quality. The Austin-born chain, Hopdoddy, in my opinion, holds up to the hype better than Shake Shack.
Now, Onto the Main Course
Although there is plenty of amazing fast food options that originated in the south, this list is meant for chains that are only available to customers in the south. Unfortunately for the delicacies of Chick-fil-a or Raising Cane’s, they do not qualify. In all fairness, I felt compelled to include a few chains that had limited locations just outside the southern region or an asterisk for a few others that deserved similar praise.
1) Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits
Bojangles is like the more localized and southern version of Chick-fil-a. Rather than chicken sandwiches however, this North Carolina chain stays true to their local roots by offering chicken and biscuits. While the Cajun filet biscuit is an all-time favorite, Bojangles’ offers a wide variety of biscuits such as country ham, sausage, steak and even gravy biscuits. Although they now officially have 1 store well above the Mason Dixon in Pennsylvania, I’m still giving Bojangles’ the No. 1 spot for overall quality as the king of Southern fast food chains.
Personal Order: Cajun filet biscuit with coleslaw and Texas Pete hot sauce (pro tip: just order a side of slaw and put a scoop of it on the biscuit yourself, you’ll end up with extra), seasoned fries and a sweet tea.
2) Cook Out
As described in the BI article, Cook Out is the cheap fast food king of the south that originated in North Carolina. By offering an immensely-wide variety of food at an extremely low price, usually with two drive-through lanes and staying open past 2 a.m., Cook Out has become extremely popular in college towns across the south. You can order anything from a burger, hot dog, BBQ sandwich all the way to a quesadilla. For those reasons, I’m awarding Cook Out the No. 1 spot for best value. Like In N Out’s infamous Animal Style, Cook Out has a special style of its own that you can add to essentially any item on the menu;
“The double burger is far from a classic fast-food burger, especially when ordered Cook Out style. The burger is topped with chili, coleslaw, mustard, and onion, which makes for a surprisingly balanced palate.”
Personal Order: BBQ sandwich, side of hush puppies and a Cheerwine.
Continuing our line of North Carolina based chains, Biscuitville focuses on, you guessed it, biscuits. If you live in North Carolina or Virginia and get tired of all the biscuits you eat at Bojangles’, fear not, you have even more biscuit options at Biscuitville. If the amount of biscuit options between these chains seems unnecessary or redundant, you probably don’t live in North Carolina because they can’t get enough of the stuff. Once you try a scratch-made breakfast biscuit sandwich from biscuitville however, you’ll understand the obsession as well. Biscuitville is so southern, their website even trolls people who order unsweet tea;
“Freshly steeped sweet tea that’s brewed every day. Fresh-brewed unsweetened tea also available (if you’re not from around here)”
Personal Order: Spicy chicken and honey biscuit, grits with cheese and a southern tea.
If you’re fond of White Castle, then Krystal is right up your alley. Krystal was literally created based on White Castle. Started in Chattanooga, Tennessee during the Great Depression for an affordable and clean food option, hence the name, Krystal is the oldest burger in the south and one of the oldest in the US. Today, Krystal is enjoyed throughout the south from Virginia down to Florida, Tennessee to Louisiana and everything in between. Similar to White Castle, Krystal is known for their sliders.
Personal Order: 3 Bacon & Cheese Krystals Combo with fries and a coke.
In the heart of the deep south sits the criminally forgotten food state of Alabama. Similar to the Alabama BBQ style, most of the south doesn’t have the pleasure of enjoying Jack’s. with 155 locations, only a few are outside Alabama in Tennessee, Georgia and one in Mississippi. Although only offered in the deep south, Jack’s slogan is, “All About the South.” They offer a limited menu of cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches but make up for their lack of options in food quality and their delicious Jack’s secret sauce.
Personal Order: Double cheese burger with fries.
Although the pride of Texas, Whataburger couldn’t be officially included in this list in good conscience because of the vast number of locations in New Mexico and Arizona. Nevertheless, Whataburger is offered along the gulf states as well as the surrounding Texas neighbors with a whopping 800 stores. Originally located in Corpus Christi, Texas, Whataburger was officially declared a Texas Treasure by the state government in 2001. Whataburger is famous for their large burger portion sizes as well as their rotating favorites.
Personal Order: Monterey melt whatasize combo with fries, spicy ketchup and a Dr. Pepper
While founded in Georgia, Zaxby’s wasn’t able to make the official list due to their locations in Indiana and Utah. Regardless, the famous chicken fingers of Zaxby’s are enjoyed in all the southern states. Zach McLeroy, founder of Zaxby’s, got the idea from a similar chicken restaurant while attending the University of Georgia. Beginning as a college restaurant, Zaxby’s quickly took off across the south with their famous dipping sauces. Similar to the widely-spread Raising Cane’s from Louisiana, preference between the two has been hotly contested throughout the south.
Personal Order: Kickin Chicken sandwich, fries and a sweet tea.