Fast Food in America: Each State's Favorite Fast Food Chain

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

Table scene of assorted take out or delivery foods. Hamburgers, pizza, fried chicken and sides. Top down view on a dark wood banner background.
Updated May 13, 2024
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Fast food is part of the fabric of life in the U.S., but certain chains are more popular than others in different parts of the country. To get a handle on the state of fast food in America, our team at FinanceBuzz collected popularity data using metrics like search volume and number of restaurant locations for nearly 70 major fast-food chains throughout the country. Find out which restaurant chain is the favorite in your state.

In this data study

Key findings

  • Wendy’s and Sonic were the favorite chain in five states each, tied for the most of any chain restaurant.
  • Subway and Jimmy John’s were the only other restaurants that were the favorites in more than two states.
  • 17 different restaurants were the favorite in the state in which the chain was founded.

The top fast food restaurant in each state

Across the country, 30 different restaurants took the top spot in at least one state, showing a diversity of tastes when it comes to fast food.

A map of the United States showing the logo of the favorite fast-food restaurant in each state.


No single fast-food chain dominated the results, but a pair of restaurants did just enough to claim top honors overall. Both Wendy’s and Sonic were the favorite fast-food chain in five different states — the most of any chain.

While 11 more restaurants took the top spot in multiple states, a pair of sandwich shops — Jimmy John’s and Subway — are the only chains other than Wendy’s and Sonic to be named the favorite in at least three different states.

Notably absent from the results is perhaps the most ubiquitous fast-food chain in the world: McDonald’s. Despite not taking the top overall spot in any state, the Golden Arches was in the top five to 10 spots in many states by both search popularity and locations per capita. But McDonald’s was rarely at the very top.

Homemade favorites

Certain restaurants are beloved and omnipresent in the states where they originated. All told, 17 different restaurants were the favorite fast-food spots in the state where the chain started. (A factor that likely helps them finish ahead of McDonald’s on our list.)

Restaurant chain State where the chain was founded
Wendy's Ohio
Sonic Oklahoma
Jimmy John's Illinois
Taco John's Wyoming
Shake Shack New York
Papa Murphy's Oregon/California
Jersey Mike's New Jersey
Chick-fil-A Georgia
Bojangles North Carolina
Whataburger Texas
Qdoba Colorado
Popeyes Louisiana
MOD Pizza Washington
Little Caesars Michigan
Culver's Wisconsin
Pollo Tropical Florida
In-N-Out Burger California

Additionally, two states that host the corporate headquarters for fast-food chains saw those chains take the top spots, even though the restaurants started somewhere else. That includes Papa John’s, which won Kentucky despite being founded in Indiana. Plus Hardee’s, which won Tennessee even though it was founded in neighboring North Carolina.

Most of these chains have expanded beyond the state where they started, but these results show that they’ve maintained high levels of popularity in their home states and regions as well.

Full state-by-state results

State Favorite Fast Food Restaurant
Alabama Captain D's
Alaska Domino's Pizza
Arizona Jack in the Box
Arkansas Sonic
California Jack in the Box
Colorado Qdoba
Connecticut Jersey Mike's
Delaware Chick-fil-A
District of Columbia Shake Shack
Florida Wendy's
Georgia Chick-fil-A
Hawaii Panda Express
Idaho Papa Murphy's
Illinois Jimmy John's
Indiana Arby's
Iowa Jimmy John's
Kansas Sonic
Kentucky Papa John's
Louisiana Popeyes
Maine Subway
Maryland Chipotle
Massachusetts Panera Bread
Michigan Little Caesars
Minnesota Jimmy John's
Mississippi Sonic
Missouri Taco Bell
Montana Wendy's
Nebraska Arby's
Nevada Jack in the Box
New Hampshire Five Guys
New Jersey Jersey Mike's
New Mexico Sonic
New York Shake Shack
North Carolina Bojangles
North Dakota Subway
Ohio Wendy's
Oklahoma Sonic
Oregon Papa Murphy's
Pennsylvania Wendy's
Rhode Island Burger King
South Carolina Bojangles
South Dakota Taco John's
Tennessee Hardee's
Texas Whataburger
Utah Wendy's
Vermont Subway
Virginia Hardee's
Washington MOD Pizza
West Virginia Wendy's
Wisconsin Culver's
Wyoming Taco John's

Bottom line

No matter where you eat, it’s possible to save money while enjoying fast food. Here are some of our top tips for saving money while you eat out at your favorite spots:

  • Eat and drink your way to rewards. Some credit cards offer specific rewards if you use them to pay your restaurant bill. Use one of the best credit cards for dining out every time you’re at a fast food chain to get the most out of your purchase.
  • 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 money back on the experiences you love, such as dinner and drinks.

Methodology

FinanceBuzz pulled the Google Trends score for each fast-food restaurant and multiplied it by the number of locations per 100,000 people in every state to determine each state’s favorite fast-food chain. Certain manual calculation adjustments were made to a handful of chains to normalize data and account for outliers related to the number of locations. Data was collected in March of 2024.

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Author Details

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.