Fast-Food Face-Off: Which Chains Have the Best Food?

Burger King McDonald's Burgers

McDonald's/Burger King

Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.
Burger King McDonald's Burgers
McDonald's/Burger King

Fast Feud

Rivalries are a beautiful thing. Be it in sports, geography, or even fast food, they’re an endless well of conversation. In the fast-food world, it’s rare to find somebody who plays for both teams — the average person is fiercely loyal to one chain over another. So we figured, why not take a look at some of those rivalries? Does McDonald’s have a better burger than Burger King? Can anybody top Taco Bell’s crunchy taco? Who’s got the best fast-food chicken sandwich? Let’s find out. (What’s your take? Tell us in the comments.)

Related: The Best Fast Food Deals to Grab Right Now

QDOBA and Chipotle Burrito Bowls
QDOBA and Chipotle Burrito Bowls by Famartin (CC BY-SA)

Chipotle vs. Qdoba (Burrito Bowl)

Ah, the burrito bowl. Head to just about any U.S. city and people are familiar with it. Qdoba debuted only two years after Chipotle and at this point the two chains have the country pretty evenly spread. The same-ingredients-in-a-bowl-burrito-or-salad setup is an elite lunch move that countless restaurants have adopted. Who does it better?

Related: Secret Menu Items and Hacks from Your Favorite Restaurants

Chipotle Burrito Bowl
Chipotle Burrito Bowl by Michael Saechang (CC BY-SA)

Winner: Chipotle

Though we acknowledge there are Qdoba fans scattered about the globe, let’s be honest … this wasn’t even much of a question. Aside from the fact that the quality of Chipotle’s ingredients are in another league, the model for fast-casual restaurants that Chipotle popularized has become a staple in our society. Where would the American poke craze be if not for the Chipotle model? We appreciate the shrimp option Qdoba provides, but Chipotle’s fresh, tasty meats and veggies beat the life out of nearly everything Qdoba does.

Related: The Best and Worst Fast-Food Chains, According to a Major Customer Survey

Taco Bell Del Taco Crunchy Tacos
Taco Bell/Del Taco

Taco Bell vs. Del Taco (Crunchy Taco)

Back in 1962, when Glen Bell stole the idea of the American “hard-shell” taco from a local San Bernardino restaurant, his new restaurant Taco Bell became an instant success. Two years later, Del Taco showed up selling similar crunchy tacos. Both chains spread like wildfire. The combo of ground beef, lettuce, tomato, and cheddar cheese inside a crunchy taco shell is a beloved Southern California and Tex-Mex classic. Who’s got the best one today?

For more great fast-food stories and deals, please sign up for our free newsletters.

Del Taco Fiesta
Del Taco

Winner: Del Taco

We’re not going to pretend these aren’t very similar. That said, look at the cowardly stuff Taco Bell is up to: hiding your food inside a big Dorito shell? Del Taco has the courage to skip a lot of Taco Bell’s marketing grabs and serve you the food you want. In the freshness department, Del will always top Bell. Throw Del’s far-superior sauces into the mix and perhaps they’re not that similar after all.

Burger King McDonald's Burgers
McDonald's/Burger King

McDonald’s vs. Burger King (Signature Burger)

Arguably, each of these chains have two signature burgers: a variation of a Quarter Pounder (at BK, it’s called a “Quarter Pound King”) and their real signatures, the Big Mac and the Whopper. In the interest of fairness, all four burgers were considered for this. If this were a breakfast taste test, it’d be a no-brainer (McDonald’s rules in that regard), but it’s not, and this is a close one.

McDonald's Big Mac

Winner: McDonald’s

Between a Whopper and a Big Mac, there are a few glaring differences. What we’ve got here is a backyard burger vs. a California-style burger. The Whopper is coming at you with everything you think about when it comes to a cookout — an allegedly char-broiled patty, leaf lettuce, tomato, raw white onion, pickle, mayo, and ketchup. Tomato is a crucial ingredient that many great burgers must have, and in this regard, the Big Mac can’t match up. But there are a few important punches being thrown by Mac that Whop can’t dodge. For starters, diced raw onions are superior to raw onion circles, as they are about a thousand times easier to eat. Nobody wants to take a bite of their burger and bring a long, stringy piece of onion with them. Second, we’ve got a middle bun to help the structural integrity and to soak in sauce… which leads to the third and final strike for the King. Special sauce will defeat ketchup or mayo every time.

Five Guys Burger
Five Guys Burger by Jerry Huddleston (CC BY)

Shake Shack vs. Five Guys (Signature Burger)

Now, let’s move up a tier. Based on their price point, it’s unfair to group Shake Shack and Five Guys with less expensive chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King. A double cheeseburger will run you just about $10 a la carte at these chains, and that’s before you consider adding anything extra such as bacon or avocado. They’ve also got a lot more options for customization, with Shake Shack offering things such as cherry peppers and Five Guys offering things such as grilled mushrooms.

Shake Shack Burger and Fries
Shake Shack Burger and Fries by m01229 (CC BY)

Winner: Shake Shack

It’s not easy to admit this one, because Shake Shack’s popularity often seems a little undeserved. It’s a solid burger (though fried chicken sandwich is the star of that menu), but it’s hard to understand people that say it’s the best in the game. Whatever you think of it, it’s not Five Guys — it’s not sloppily assembled onto a bun, shoved inside some tinfoil, and left to sit while the bun gets soggy from the steam inside the foil. Five Guys probably has better meat, but eating it is such an unpleasant experience, you might as well not.

Jack In The Box Wendy's
Jack In The Box/Wendy's

Jack in the Box vs. Wendy’s (Lunatic Food)

There are many fast-food chains that try to convince you that their food isn’t that bad for you – healthy, even. McDonald’s has devoted whole ad campaigns to showcasing “fresh” produce, but chains such as Jack in the Box and Wendy’s don’t seem to care much about that. Often, they’ll add something to their menu that we put in a category we like to call “Lunatic Food.” Wendy’s has run specials such as jalapeño popper chicken sandwiches, while Jack in the Box currently boasts an entire “Late Night” menu dedicated to its most insane creations. When it comes to Lunatic Food, both of these chains really rise to the occasion.

Spicy Nacho Chicken Sandwich Jack In The Box
Jack In The Box

Winner: Jack in the Box

Jack is far more unhinged than Wendy. This guy has things such as Chick-N Tater Melts and Sriracha Curly Fry Burgers on his menu, and somehow, in the most unsettling way, they taste good. Wendy has some method to her madness, but it’s mostly a disaster. Take her Hot Honey Chicken Sandwich, for example, in which a “Jumanji”-style flood of hot honey sauce comes spilling out of the sides when you take a bite. Jack’s lunacy is measured, controlled. Why does he have egg rolls on the menu? Who cares. They’re great.

Popeyes KFC Chicken Sandwich

Popeyes vs. KFC (Sandwich)

The Chicken Sandwich Wars have been going on for years, and we’d be shocked if they stop anytime soon. (Even Panera is in the mix now.) There are a lot of chains grabbing for the crown, but we’re going to entertain only Popeyes and KFC, as they are by far the most serious contenders — honorable mention to Shake Shack, as mentioned. So who wins this battle? The Colonel’s 11 herbs and spices, or Popeyes’ Louisiana flavors?

Popeyes Chicken Sandwich

Winner: Popeyes

The competing sandwiches are prepared in essentially the exact same way, and since both restaurants have chosen to use brioche, that’s a shame. Let’s all please have one big collective eye-roll for brioche — a really overpowering choice for a bun, as its buttery sweetness can absorb the flavor of anything that touches it. Save brioche for French toast. Since Popeyes’ chicken is better than KFC’s chicken in a landslide, this is barely a contest. Pro tip: At both chains, the spicy version is better than the not-spicy, as it comes with a different sauce than just mayo.

Related: The Best (and Worst) Fast-Food Spicy Chicken Sandwiches

Zaxby's and Bojangles Chicken

Zaxby’s vs. Bojangles (Sandwich)

In the South – particularly North Carolina – nobody talks about Popeyes or KFC. Even the dastardly Chick-Fil-A barely gets mentioned; the real Southern chicken war is between Bojangles and Zaxby’s. Both offer chicken sandwiches and tenders, though it’s bone-in chicken that causes people to pick a side.

Bojangles Fried Chicken
Bojangles Fried Chicken by Evan Didier (CC BY-ND)

Winner: Nobody

Both chains serve very bad chicken. You’ll find dry white meat, lots of crispy excess fried batter to crack your teeth on, and mostly gross sauces. There is no winner here, but there is a loser: whoever consumes this food.

Rally's/Checkers Bojangles Fries

Rally’s/Checkers vs. Bojangles (Seasoned Fries)

Look, everybody’s got fries, and for the most part, they taste the same. So when a seasoned fry pops up (that is, a combo of salt, pepper, cayenne, and garlic a la Old Bay), it can be a real treat. Rally’s/Checkers and Bojangles proudly serve their fries seasoned, finding a way out of the norm. But who does it better?

Checker's Seasoned Fries
Checker's Seasoned Fries by (None)

Winner: Rally’s / Checkers

Not only do Rally’s/Checkers start off with a better fry, but they also show an incredible amount of self-control when it comes to the seasoning. Each bite makes you crave the next — they are, in a word, perfect. Compare this balanced, edited method of seasoning with Bojangles, where the strategy seems to be unloading a dump truck of seasoning on each order. These are the saltiest, most overly seasoned fries you can find, and getting through a bag is a challenge. Steer clear.

Del Taco Shake Shack Fries
Del Taco/Shake Shack

Del Taco vs. Shake Shack (Crinkle-Cut Fries)

Another beautiful alternative to the classic fry is the crinkle-cut. Del Taco and Shake Shack believe in crinkle-cuts and serve them exclusively (if you’re unaware that Del Taco has burgers, rectify that). There’s nothing like a good crinkle-cut fry, so let’s see whose is more powerful.

Shake Shack Crinkle Fries
Shake Shack

Winner: Shake Shack

As deep lovers of Del Taco, this is hard to admit: Shake Shack‘s fries are undeniably excellent. When eaten fresh, they’re always golden, crispy, and salty. While Del Taco makes a bangin’ fry that can’t be ignored, they just don’t measure up. They’re usually missing the wonderful crunch that Shack Shack provides, and they’re definitely a bit more bland. Those fry cooks at the Shack really know what they’re doing.

Domino's Pizza Hut
Domino's Pizza Hut by The Pizza Review (CC BY)

Domino’s vs. Pizza Hut (Cheese Pizza)

There are two types of pizza in this world: good pizza and great pizza. Chances are high that the worst pizza you’ve ever had was actually still pretty good. It ain’t rocket surgery; melty cheese on bread is so very special. So when it comes to the most recognizable fast-food pizza chains, they may not be making the world’s greatest pizza, but they’re still making pizza. And for that, they’re both winners in our eyes.

Domino's Pizza

Winner: Domino’s

Like many of the matchups in this important piece of journalism you’re reading, the two contestants are similar. When it comes to fast-food pizza delivery, there are only a few things to look out for (presumably you are not sitting inside the restaurant for any of these). Is the cheese still melty when it arrives? How’s the crust? Is there enough sauce? Domino’s, after famously confirming it used to have bad crust, decided to pull a little trick and start seasoning it with a lot of garlic powder. In a shock to nobody, that worked real well. Its crust is delicious. Domino’s cheese stretches out from your face the way the best fast-food pizza does. That sauce is deep and robust. Pizza Hut tastes like somebody left some high school cafeteria pizza out in the sun for a few hours. The Hut is good pizza, but Dom’s is great pizza.

In-N-Out Burger

In-N-Out vs. Literally Nobody

We’re going to put an end to this debate here and now: You cannot compare In-N-Out Burger to another chain, because there is no comparison. It’s not the same as McDonald’s. It’s vastly different from Shake Shack. No other chain can match what In-N-Out is doing price-wise or quality-wise, and until one of them can cut 75% of their menu, match the freshness and consistency that In-N-Out provides, and sell burgers for under $5, nobody ever will. The big yellow arrow is simply put, in an entirely different realm of competition.