Fast-Casual in America: Each State’s Favorite Restaurant

FinanceBuzz found the top fast-casual chain in every state using Google Trends data and the number of locations per capita.

Food orders on the kitchen table in the restaurant.
Updated May 13, 2024
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Fast-casual restaurants fill the void for a quick, affordable meal when you don’t want to cook at home and need something better than fast food.

But similar to fast food chains, favorite fast-casual restaurants often vary by region. So which restaurant does each state love best, and is it worth your hard-earned cash? Our team at FinanceBuzz wanted to know, so we collected popularity data using metrics like search trends and locations in each state to find out.

In this data study

Key findings

  • Applebee’s was the favorite restaurant among nine states. That’s more than any other fast-casual chain.
  • Waffle House came in a close second — it was the favorite restaurant chain in seven different states.
  • Denny’s, IHOP, Chili’s, and Buffalo Wild Wings were the only other chains on our list that were favorites in three or more states.

The favorite sit-down chain restaurant in each state

All told, 20 different fast-casual chains took the top spot in at least one state, showing how diverse the tastes and preferences of diners are across the country. However, even with such mixed preferences, a few restaurants managed to stand out.


Applebee’s is the favorite sit-down chain restaurant in nearly 20% of the country, taking the top spot in nine different states. This restaurant proved particularly popular in the Northeastern region of the country, which is home to six of the nine states where Applebees is the favorite.

Waffle House is the most popular chain in the second-highest number of states, and it has a similar regional popularity. This all-hours breakfast joint tops the list in seven different states, all of which are located in a contiguous group in the South that stretches from Louisiana to North Carolina.

We found similar, but less extreme, trends in the Midwest and the West. Buffalo Wild Wings reigns supreme in the Midwest where it’s the favorite chain in the connecting states of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. Meanwhile, out West, Denny’s is the go-to for people in California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Full state-by-state results

State Favorite restaurant
Alabama Waffle House
Alaska Dave & Busters
Arizona Denny's
Arkansas Chili's
California Denny's
Colorado PF Chang's
Connecticut Chili's
Delaware Applebee's
District of Columbia Yard House
Florida First Watch
Georgia Waffle House
Hawaii California Pizza Kitchen
Idaho Sizzler
Illinois Buffalo Wild Wings
Indiana Buffalo Wild Wings
Iowa Applebee's
Kansas IHOP
Kentucky Cracker Barrel
Louisiana Waffle House
Maine Applebee's
Maryland IHOP
Massachusetts Uno Pizzeria
Michigan Applebee's
Minnesota Perkins Restaurant & Bakery
Mississippi Waffle House
Missouri First Watch
Montana Famous Dave's
Nebraska Village Inn
Nevada Denny's
New Hampshire Applebee's
New Jersey Applebee's
New Mexico Denny's
New York Dave & Busters
North Carolina Waffle House
North Dakota Applebee's
Ohio Bob Evans
Oklahoma Chili's
Oregon Red Robin
Pennsylvania Applebee's
Rhode Island Uno Pizzeria
South Carolina Waffle House
South Dakota Perkins Restaurant & Bakery
Tennessee Waffle House
Texas Chili's
Utah Sizzler
Vermont Applebee's
Virginia IHOP
Washington Red Robin
West Virginia Bob Evans
Wisconsin Buffalo Wild Wings
Wyoming Dickey's Barbecue Pit

Bottom line

No matter where you eat, you can find ways to save while enjoying a night out. Here are some of our top tips for saving money on dining:

  • Eat and drink your way to rewards. Some credit cards offer specific rewards if you use them to pay your bill. Use one of the best credit cards for dining out every time you’re at a restaurant or pub.
  • Choose a credit card that rewards your experiences. If you’re someone who enjoys performances and dining out, choose a card that offers cash back. A cash back credit card with no annual fee could help you earn rewards on the experiences you love.

Methodology

FinanceBuzz pulled the Google Trends score for each restaurant and multiplied it by the number of locations per 100,000 people in every state to determine each state’s favorite fast-casual restaurant chain. Data was collected in March of 2024.

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Josh Koebert

Josh Koebert is an experienced content marketer that loves exploring how personal finance overlaps with topics such as sports, food, pop culture, and more. His work has been featured on sites such as CNN, ESPN, Business Insider, and Lifehacker.