The Most Historic Fast-Food Restaurants Across America

Historic Fast Food

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White Manna
Kimberly S. / Yelp

Nostalgic Noshes

Fast food is inextricably linked to American culture. Hamburgers, pizza, and tacos are all considered some of America's favorite foods thanks to the culture of quick, inexpensive restaurants and drive-ins that started popping up in the early 1900s and exploded around the 1950s. If you'd like to explore the origins of your favorite fast food chains, look no further than these historic restaurants. 

Related: Fast Food Restaurants Then and Now

Louis Lunch
Jason P / Yelp

Louis' Lunch

New Haven, Connecticut

The restaurant that purportedly invented the hamburger is arguably the most important spot in fast-food history. It happened at Louis' Lunch in 1900 when a hurried customer wanted something he could eat on the go and a charred beef patty was slapped between two slices of toast. That's still how these burgers are served today. Vertical cast iron grills from 1898 are still used to cook the beef, and the only toppings you can get are cheese, onions, and tomatoes. 

Related: Restaurants That Changed American Dining Forever

San Bernardino McDonalds.
San Bernardino McDonalds. by Cogart Strangehill (None)


San Bernardino, California

McDonald's started out as McDonald's Bar-B-Q in 1940 before changing the menu to include burgers and fries and dropping the Bar-B-Q in the name in 1948. The original building is gone, but on the same Route 66 spot is the McDonald's Museum, a homage to the chain's early years before Ray Kroc. It's owned by Juan Pollo Restaurants, a small local chicken chain whose owner, recently deceased, had an affinity for fast-food history.

Related: The Surprising History of the Humble Hamburger

Downey McDonald's
Wikimedia Commons


Downey, California

While that original McDonald's no longer exists, there's a great consolation trip: the oldest operating Mickey D's. It was the third McDonald's restaurant ever, and it opened in 1953. Much of the architecture and design has been preserved, including the single golden arch neon sign with the Speedee mascot. The walk-up window building sports the iconic gold arches architecture, but an addition next to it added dine-in and a drive-thru.

Related: Why McDonald's Fries Used to Taste Better

Pizza Hut Museum
Beckie C. / Yelp

Pizza Hut

Wichita, Kansas

The building the very first Pizza Hut occupied still exists, though the pizza joint has been moved from its original location. It opened in a tiny, brick, residential-looking building in Wichita in 1958, and though it looks like a hut, it's only named that because there wasn't room on the original sign for anything else. In 1986, the building was moved to the campus of Wichita State and it's currently the Pizza Hut Museum.

Original Nathan's Hot Dogs
Kyle W. / Yelp

Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs

Brooklyn, New York

The original location of Nathan's Famous is synonymous with Coney Island. It was opened in 1916 by immigrants who arrived in the country only four years earlier and went on to create one of the most beloved, iconic American foods. Grab a hot dog under the retro neon signs, or turn up on the Fourth of July for the famous hot dog eating contest.

Related: The True Origins of 19 Classic 'American' Foods

Original Chipotle
Nick N. / Yelp



Burrito history was made when Steve Ells opened the first Chipotle just off the University of Denver's campus. It was in a former Dolly Madison ice cream shop, and Ells did practically every part of running the business at first. The location has been remodeled — since leaving it in its 1993 condition would look more dated than retro — but there's a plaque that denotes the importance of this location. 

White Manna Double Cheeseburgers
Rachel L. / Yelp

White Manna

Hackensack, New Jersey

Sliders, made with small beef patties, fried onions, and steamed buns, are inextricable from the American fast-food experience. White Manna is a legendary greasy spoon that has been serving up sliders since 1946. The place is tiny, and if you're lucky enough to snag a seat you'll be overlooking the compact griddle where all the magic happens. Nothing much has changed here except the prices, but you'll still only be paying $1.90 for a slider.

Related33 Things You Didn’t Know About White Castle

Hot Dog on a Stick
Christie L / Yelp

Hot Dog on a Stick

Santa Monica, California

Dave Barham opened a lemonade stand on this spot in 1946 and began selling corn dogs using his mother's cornbread batter recipe. He renamed it Hot Dog on a Stick. The original 440-square-foot walk-up only stand near the Santa Monica Pier was demolished last year, and a larger restaurant was built in the same location. 

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KFC Herman Cafe
Damon D. / Yelp


Salt Lake City

Colonel Harland Sanders started selling his fried chicken during the Great Depression in Kentucky, but the first actual Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise didn't open until 1952 — in Utah. Now the exterior looks like every other location in the chain, but inside there's a lot of historic memorabilia including a retro Harman Cafe sign, one of Colonel Sanders' trademark white suits, and an original pressure fryer.

Anne A. / Yelp

In-N-Out Burger

Baldwin Park, California

In-N-Out Burger has a cult following, but followers unfortunately can't visit the original location since it was demolished for an interstate freeway. Where they can go to pay their respects is this replica built near the original 1948 site. It's not a working restaurant since it's just a tiny stand, but it's like a mini-museum, complete with a drive-thru for one car and menu sign stating burgers are a quarter and french fries are 10 cents. 

Dunkin' Donuts
Vincent L. / Yelp

Dunkin' Donuts

Quincy, Massachusetts

The very first Dunkin' Donuts is still operating. Founder William Rosenberg opened this coffee and donut shop in 1948, though it was called Open Kettle. He changed the name to Kettle Donuts a year later, and then finally Dunkin' Donuts the year after that. Though the building has been remodeled, it retains a retro look, especially the sign outside. Plaques, photos, and memorabilia give a little insight into what it looked like previously.

Del Taco
Christie L. / Yelp

Del Taco

Barstow, California

Del Taco started when Ed Hackbarth rebranded his Taco Tia — a Glen Bell restaurant, of Taco Bell fame — and split from the company in 1964. This is one of the first three locations opened and the oldest operating location, and It's still owned and operated by Hackbarth. Though the building has been extensively remodeled, there's a timeline of the chain's history as a mural on one wall of the dining room.

Kewpee Hamburgers
Hollyann H. / Yelp

Kewpee Hamburgers

Lima, Ohio
Kewpee, named after the Kewpie doll that adorns the logo, is the third-oldest hamburger chain in the country, though most people don't know about it now. It was founded in 1923 and had over 400 locations by 1940. Now, however, it's down to just a handful, including this location that dates back to 1939. It's rumored that the chain's square hamburger patties influenced one other notable fast-food giant: Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy's.

Pat's King of Steaks
Bruce S. / Yelp

Pat's King of Steaks


It's hard to imagine fast food without the cheesesteak, and the modern version of the sandwich we know today was created at Pat's King of Steaks in Philly. It was opened in 1930 by brothers Pat and Harry Olivieri as a hot dog stand, but in 1933 they decided to try something different for lunch and the rest is history. Today, the neon-festooned corner walk-up stand is still the place to grab a cheesesteak "Whiz wit" — that's with Cheez Whiz and onions.  

Rainbow Drive-In
Mika M. / Yelp

Rainbow Drive-In


Drive-in restaurants — whether they operate as drive-ins anymore or not — are a nostalgic part of Hawaii's history. This location of Rainbow Drive-In, one of the most popular fast and cheap eats spots, was the first to open in 1961 just off of Waikiki. It serves traditional Hawaiian plate lunches that come with rice, creamy macaroni salad, and protein like mahi mahi or loco moco, a burger patty topped with gravy and fried eggs, plus burgers, fries, and Spam sandwiches. 

Related: The Best of Hawaii on a Budget 

Pike Place Starbucks in Seattle
f11photo / istockphoto



Starbucks first opened its doors in Pike Place Market, the Seattle landmark, in 1971. It was actually at a location about a block away from this one, but the building was demolished a number of years later. The store moved down the street to this location in 1976, and it's been a pilgrimage site for coffee lovers since. The sign and logo on the window hasn't been updated, so it practically feels like a different place.

Related: 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Starbucks

American Coney Island
Joseph G. / Yelp

American Coney Island


Coney dogs are hot dogs topped with chili, onions, and mustard, and they're iconic in the Detroit area. American Coney Island was opened by a Greek immigrant in 1917 and was the first coney restaurant in downtown Detroit. His brother opened Lafayette Coney Island right next door a few years later, but American is the only one that's still run by the same family. There are hundreds of coney options in the area, but people still argue allegiance over American or Lafayette. 

Related: Legendary Restaurant Rivalries Across America

America's First Sonic
Karole W. / Yelp


Stillwater, Oklahoma 

Though technically the first Sonic was in Shawnee, Oklahoma, this Sonic location in Stillwater is touted as being "America's first Sonic drive-in" by its own sign. Who's to argue? What is true is that the chain started as Top Hat, a drive-in root beer stand, owned by Troy Smith and his wife in 1953. He found out later that the name was copyrighted, and so the name of the restaurant was changed to Sonic as a reference to its quick service. 

Dwarf House
Dwarf House by Michael Rivera (None)

Dwarf House

Hapeville, Georgia

The birthplace of the Chick-fil-A fried-chicken sandwich was at a diner in Hapeville, Georgia, called the Dwarf Grill (and now named Dwarf House). In 1946, Truett Cathy opened the restaurant, and by 1964, he had perfected the chicken sandwich recipe. Today the restaurant serves all the Chick-fil-A chain classics, along with American classics like BLTs, burgers, mac and cheese, and pie.

Panda Inn
Greg G. / Yelp

Panda Inn

Pasadena, California

The precursor to Panda Express, Panda Inn, was opened by Chinese immigrants Andrew Cherng and his father Ming-Tsai Cherng in 1973. It was a more formal sit-down restaurant than the mall food-court staple it became, and that's still the case today. Panda Inn is currently closed, but it is expected to reopen later this year after a rehab.

Related: The Best Chinese Restaurant in Every State

Jamba Juice
Marie M. / Yelp

Jamba Juice

San Luis Obispo, California

Jamba Juice started as a senior project for founder Kirk Perron while he was at California Polytechnic State University. He called it Juice Club, and the avid cyclist was inspired by another local juice bar. That was back in 1990, and now there are over 800 locations. Devotees will note that this original location looks just like all the others, right down to the fresh wheatgrass.