The Best Midwestern Fast Food Spots
Deep-fried, cheesy and too tempting? You know Midwesterners love their fast food joints. Check out some of their favorite regional spots for a quick bite.
Locations in the Midwest and beyond
There can be no Midwestern fast-food roundup without mention of Culver’s. This fast food stop is known for its fried cheese curds and fresh frozen custard—particularly the ever-changing Flavor of the Day. But don’t sleep on this chain’s signature ButterBurger—we think it’s the best fast-food burger out there.
Locations in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin
This sub shop was founded on the idea of better bread, better subs. That’s what makes Cousins a go-to for so many Midwesterners looking for a good sandwich. Piled high with toppings, these sandwiches are darn tasty and the bread is the best you’ll find anywhere. And because this chain is pure Wisconsin, don’t forget to order a side of their mac and cheese.
Locations throughout the Midwest and beyond
Need a jolt of caffeine on the go? Midwesterners will tell you to swing by Caribou Coffee for your morning joe and a good breakfast sandwich. While you’re there, you might want to warm up with a hot chocolate, too—it’s one of our staffers’ favorites.
Locations in Missouri, Illinois and Kansas City
At Lion’s Choice, you’ll come for the roast beef sandwiches, but stay for the roasted turkey, pulled pork, smoked ham and Italian beef. If one of their 31 locations isn’t enough for you, keep an eye out for their food trucks—a fun way to enjoy this Missouri classic.
Locations in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska
This Nebraska-based chain is known for serving up the state’s signature dish on the go. You can opt for the classic—beef, cabbage, onions and cheese—or try fun variations on this stuffed sammie like barbecue bacon, Southwest flavors or mushroom and Swiss. If you can’t make it to a Runza, make your own at home with this recipe.
Locations in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin
Erbert & Gerbert’s is more than a standard sandwich shop. All of the restaurant’s fillings and toppings are just a little bit more than you’d expect (pleasantly so!). The chain doesn’t do anything basic, which is why sandwiches like the Chicken & Peppadew Mustard, Roasted Red Pepper Banh Mi or Chicken & Cranberry Wasabi are so popular. They take the everyday and make it even better.
Locations in Illinois, Indiana and beyond
Chicagoans know that the best place to snag a bucket of fried chicken to go is Harold’s. This small chain specializes in chicken, wings and fried fish dinners, and has a dedicated fan base. They’ve begun to expand westward with shops in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Learn how to make your own fried chicken at home.
Locations in the Milwaukee metro area
Milwaukeeans know that Kopp’s is the best place to grab a giant burger (they’re nearly the size of a dinner plate!) and a great scoop of frozen custard. This small chain will keep you coming back with their inventive flavors of the day like Eclair Affair, German Apple Strudel and Chocolate Cherry Bum Bum.
Locations in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and beyond
The secret to Hungry Howie’s Pizza is all in the crust. This Michigan-based chain lets you customize your pizza with eight different flavors including ranch (every Midwesterner’s favorite), garlic herb, Asiago and more. And don’t forget to try the Howie Bread: garlic bread stuffed with your favorite pizza toppings.
Locations in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin
Portillo’s is every fast foodie’s paradise. This chain serves up burgers, chicken sandwiches, Italian beef sandwiches, hot dogs, ribs and even more. When you stop by, don’t forget to save room for dessert. Yes, they serve up tasty malt shop favorites, but don’t forget about the strawberry shortcake, chocolate cake and eclair cake—it tastes a lot like our favorite shortcut eclair cake!
Locations in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and Ohio
Iowa is home to the loose meat sandwich—a seasoned ground beef sandwich (somewhere between a burger and a sloppy joe). Maid-Rite makes these Midwestern sandwiches right, then lets you choose how to top them.
Locations in Illinois and Indiana
Locally owned Schoop’s Hamburgers first opened its doors in 1948 with a burger that was called “the finest hamburger this side of the moon.” Today you can snag a cosmically good burger at one of their 19 Midwest locations—all complete with old-fashioned charm.
Locations in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin
Build your own burrito—or burrito bowl or salad or taco at Pancheros. This fast-casual Mexican joint is beloved for their freshness. You’ll never find freezers or friers at Pancheros. And their tortillas? Well, they’re made from scratch every day right in-house. This is a delicious way that Pancheros stands out from the crowd. (Here’s how to make tortillas from scratch.)
Locations in Kansas
Flashback to the ’50s with Kansas’ own Spangles. This retro fast food stop serves up burgers, sourdough melts and beer-battered onion rings. If you’re feeling really daring, though, order their Beast Steakburger—a towering burger made of six third-pound patties. You might want to split that one with a friend (or two).
Locations in northern Indiana
Who wouldn’t want to drive in at this adorably named fast food spot? Indiana’s Penguin Point is known for the drive-thru classics like burgers and fries, but their real claim to fame is the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich. Order one along with a milkshake. And if you’re not driving through Indiana, make your own crispy pork tenderloin sammies at home.