Serious Eats just published their favorites for 2012, which got me to thinking about mine.  Let’s face it, whether we want to or not, there are times when fast food is better than a fast, and interestingly, some fast food is actually worthwhile, and if you don’t live  in the South, you may not be aware of all of the ones I’m about to list, so take note if you should ever visit our lovely part of the States.

1. Chik-Fil-A  Their chicken sandwich, the one and only original, with a pickle and the tiniest bit of mustard (a suggestion of mustard really) gets my vote for best ever fast food. If you want to feel ‘healthy’, order the deluxe version that comes with lettuce, tomato and a slice of cheese (lol!). Pair it with their homemade lemonade (sour, like lemonade should be) and you can call yourself an honorary Southerner!  If you happen upon it at breakfast, hit them up for the Chicken Minis and prepare to fall in love.  They are closed on Sundays.  What can I say?  It’s the South and some things are better unchanged, even though I wish they were open 24/7!

ChickfilA-Chicken-Sandwich

2. Salsarita’s  Yes, there is a lot of competition out there with Chipotle, Moe’s etc. but Salsarita’s gets my vote every time.  I am not a huge eater so the soft tacos (one or two is plenty for me) with shredded pork on one and shrimp on the other is just right.  All of the toppings are exceptionally fresh, and I end up feeling like I actually ate pretty well, versus feeling bloated and disgusting.

Salsarita's soft tacos

3. Arby’s pecan chicken salad wrap  This is a seasonal item, and NOT low calorie, but the dang thing is HUGE, and I can only eat half anyway, so its not a diet killer.  It’s surprisingly tasty, like a chicken salad I would make at home (wait, what, did I just say that??).

4. Sonic When it comes to burgers, I prefer a one-off greasy dive any day of the week, and I’ve heard In & Out Burger comes close (Five Guys does not) but we don’t have them here, so my guilty pleasure is a Sonic cheeseburger once in a while.  The meat’s a little iffy (less iffy than McDonalds though), but it comes the way I like it, slathered with mayo, mustard, ketchup, lettuce, tomato (hold the onion) so the goo drips out while you’re eating…mmmm.

Sonic Cheeseburger

5. Cookout  You’ve probably never heard of it, because they are only in the South, but they do a mean burger, BBQ sandwich, chicken sandwich, and did I mention milkshakes?  If you can imagine it, they’ve got a flavor for it.  Prices for combos are crazy reasonable too.  Check them out if you’re down this way (I’m not paid to say that!).

6.  McAlister’s  Another Southern chain you may not be aware of.  They claim themselves to be a ‘deli’ but I beg to differ.  It’s got a restaurant vibe (almost) and its a very popular lunch place.  I love their sweetberry chicken sandwich off the not-so-secret menu.  The other major reason I go there is because they make the best sweet tea on the planet.  Seriously, I’m not kidding.

McAlister's Tea

7. Panera  My daughter turned me on to the French onion soup served in a sourdough bread bowl.  Hey, it ain’t France, but its pretty good.  And if you’re so inclined, they do a bang-up job in the sweets department.

8. Taco Bell  Yes, I have included some of the ‘big boys’.  I hate to admit it, but I love their chicken quesadillas.  I think the ‘secret sauce’ has crack in it, because I’m addicted to those things.  I have tried the new Cantina Bowl and its pretty decent (remember, we’re talking fast food here!).

Taco Bell Quesadilla

9. KFC  I could not leave out their original chicken…a guilty pleasure since childhood.  I have a recipe for it (I’m not kidding) and the secret is italian salad dressing mix and pancake batter (who knew?).  If anyone wants the recipe, I will be happy to provide it, but it is time consuming.  Honestly, I’d rather stop by ‘the colonel’.

10. McDonald’s Yes, they are on my list.  Filet-O-Fish and fries please…

I can’t count this as part of my top 10 since they aren’t in my area, but I love this fast food chain.  POLLO TROPICAL was one of my favorite places to go when I lived in Florida…I tear up thinking about their citrusy grilled chicken, plantains and black beans and rice.  If you are down in Florida or Georgia, check out this healthy Caribbean-Cuban option.  I wish they would move this way!

Pollo Tropical

And 2 more places that I HAVEN’T been but wish I could…those of you that have, let me know what you think:

JAPADOGS  Started as a food cart in Vancouver and is slowly spreading their most unique hot dog/Japanese concept. They have a location in NYC…got to get there soon.  Thanks to my food-obsessed cousin for turning me on to them.

Japadogs

WOW BAO  Hot Asian buns and homemade ginger ale…need I say more?

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