“Eating is awesome.” -Barry Grandgenett
I’m married with three kids and rapidly closing in on 40 years old and I’ve all but grown out of all the nasty behaviors of my youth, but there is one vice that lingers – fast food. And as a guy with no “medium setting” it’s easy for me to overdo anything and food is no exception. I am happy to report that I almost never eat fast food these days (fitting I’m blogging about fast food, right?), but my history is so rich that it could fill multiple lifetimes. I’m like a life-long junkie that’s been clean for years, minus the occasional taste, writing about the heroin scene. Plus, I don’t feel the fast food world has changed much in the last couple generations. It’s still pretty much burgers, fries and variations on the burrito. Having said that, I feel more than qualified to write on said topic.
Thanks to one of the best marketing campaigns in the history of the universe, McDonald’s has been the king of fast food for like 8,000 years. Their golden arches are the first image to appear in my head when I think of fast food. This is not a coincidence. McDonald’s has been providing beloved breakfast and lunch/dinner items like McMuffins and Big Macs around the globe for decades. Their formula is stupid-simple; tasty, cheap, fast, repeat. Combine that with a massive real estate presence worldwide and you’ve got a $30 billion a year titan.
No one comes near McDonald’s in the fast food earnings department, but there are a handful clustered close together for 2nd place – Subway, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks and Wendy’s, to name a few. These five brands may live in the shadow of McD’s, but they still have a place in our collective psyche due to fabulous marketing (thank you Madison Avenue).
Burgers – After a trip to the Bahamas a few years back, I discovered the Five Guys Bacon Cheeseburger while on layover in the Atlanta airport and my life hasn’t been the same since. I was so used to the typical dollar double that I was unprepared emotionally for the wormhole I was about to pass through while dining there at Hartsfield-Jackson. I’ve been chasing that dragon ever since.
Fries – It may be the most cliche item on my list, but the McDonald’s fries are un-fucking-believable! They’re more than a side dish. I feel they stand alone as a destination item. Few things bring me more joy than snatching up the strays at the bottom of the bag.
Chicken – Popeye’s spicy chicken tenders tops my chicken category. They are a welcome change of pace when I’m in my burger refractory period (Google it). Combined with Popeye’s blackened ranch dressing, they are taken to the next level.
Tacos – I’m split between two local Des Moines favorites; Fuzzy’s Taco Shop and Tasty Tacos. Fuzzy’s is fairly new but they hit the ground running with exotic-for-Iowa tacos ranging from the grilled veggie to the California Heat. My favorite is their tempura fish soft taco. Tasty Tacos, on the other hand, has been a staple in Des Moines for over 50 years. I could eat 2 – 7 of their classic flour tacos every day for the rest of my heart attack shortened life.
Subs – Jimmy John’s Garg w/ bacon. #nuffsaid
Pizza – I’m in no way against gas station fare, but rarely does it lead a food category. Casey’s is the exception. Their taco pizza is all balls, their supreme is tits and their bacon and macaroni & cheese takes me from 6 PM to high fucking noon! Although, you’ll only find their sausage and pepperoni in the heat lamp carousel, I’m breaking the fast food rules and including their specialty pizzas in this list. Any time my wife asks what I want for dinner, I almost always respond with Casey’s pizza. It’s my go-to for almost every meal.
Chinese – I’m only aware of one national fast food chain in the Des Moines metro area and that’s Panda Express. It’s not bad, but I’m only interested in Tsing Tsao. Last I checked (I never checked) there were maybe three locations in Des Moines. The Manager’s Special is my favorite. I honestly cannot remember the entree, but it’s common and it’s delicious. It also comes with the standard sides; fried rice, egg roll, crab rangoon and a cup of soup. All for $5! Well worth it.
Sides – Culver’s cheese curds and Wendy’s chili are honorable mentions, but the best of the best are In-N-Out’s animal style fries. Melted cheese, secret sauce and grilled onions ladled onto their already fabulous fries makes for the superior side dish. They are an “off menu” item, so you’ll have to request it. A must have whenever out west.
Dessert – Ice cream is far and away my favorite food and the fast food world has lots of it to offer. It’s hard to argue against Dairy Queen’s Blizzard or Culver’s custard Concrete Mixer so I won’t. As long as the ice cream is vanilla and there’s multiple combinations of chocolate, I’m all in.
Breakfast – Does it get any better than McDonald’s all-day breakfast? Yes. Although the Sausage and cheese McGriddle is one of the better fast food breakfast options, Casey’s makes the world’s best breakfast pizza. Complete with the fake cheese sauce and topped with bacon or sausage, it’s perfectly designed to be folded in half and eaten while driving. It’s cheap, easy and horrible for you (just the way I like ’em!).
Coffee – I only drink coffee black so I’m partial to actually good quality coffee, not the $6 per cup liquid candy bar bullshit I see so many folks order at Starbucks. I do like Starbucks coffee, though. Their blonde brew is pretty good. McDonald’s coffee is even better, and cheaper. But the best fast food coffee I’ve ever had is Dunkin Donuts. It’s amazing. It’s not the best cup you’ll ever have, but it’s definitely the best coffee you can get without getting out of your car (fight me!).
So grab that breakfast burrito on the way into the office. Treat yourself to a dollar cone at lunch. Surprise the family with a bucket of chicken for dinner instead of the slop your wife was planning on serving. Or tell that Uber driver to take a detour through the Taco Bell drive thru for your 1:30 AM 2nd dinner. The fast food will be there and it’s all good.