13 Once-Popular Fast Food Joints We Wish We Could Eat at One Last Time

If you could go back to one restaurant you remember eating at with your family that's not in existence any longer, chances are good it's on this list.

happy kid with burger
Updated July 18, 2024
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There’s something special about the restaurants we grew up with, whether it’s the memories with family or hanging out with friends as teenagers. When those locations close, it can be heartbreaking.

There are dozens of fast food and fast casual restaurants that have shuttered their doors over the years that hold a special place of nostalgia for so many. These once-loved locations are sure to bring up some memories from your childhood.

Check out these fast food joints that you probably want to eat at one more time if you could (and those 60s and 70s prices would surely stretch your restaurant budget!).

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Doggie Diner

5second/Adobe Hot dogs with mustard and ketchup

A super small walk-up stand was present in the San Franciso Bay area, and Doggie Diner was the perfect place for a great hot dog or a juicy burger.

Originally established in 1948, it struggled under the weight of the competition and, in 1986, folded for good. There is talk about a return, and that could be exciting for those who loved this location as a kid.

Pizza Haven

Macus/Adobe pepperoni pizza on wooden board

For many in the 1970s and 1980s, pizza was on the menu at least once a week, and heading to an eat-in location like Pizza Haven was always the best way to end the day. This Seattle-based location had 42 restaurants before shuttering in 1998.

Founded in 1958, it served some pretty awesome pies, and employees communicated with delivery drivers via radio phone when orders came in.

Red Barn

romaset/Adobe young man eating cheeseburger

Yes, Red Barn may have looked just like a big red barn, but this Ohio chain was one of the best for fresh burgers. The Big Barney on the menu (which was a direct competition for the Big Mac) was a favorite for many. But that self-service salad bar was a new treat for many.

It opened in 1961 and quickly grew to include between 300 and 400 locations across 19 states and even entered the Canadian and Australian markets.

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Royal Castle

Brent Hofacker/Adobe Homemade Beef Cheeseburger Sliders

Royal Castle is another take on White Castle (which is still around in some areas). Small-sized burgers and a root beer-like drink called Birch Beer made this location a fabulous place to stop on a Saturday with your grandparents.

Royal Castle was founded in 1938, grew to about 175 locations in Florida, Ohio, Georgia, and Louisiana, and served up 15 cent burgers, fries, and Birch Beer.

Weston’s

Natalia/Adobe classic burger and fries combo

Going back to those evening meals as a kid (or perhaps your parents may remember this one), Weston’s was the place to go for a burger and fries combo that cost just 25 cents at the time.

Weston’s was really popular from 1959 to 1975, having 70 locations throughout the country. Like others, it couldn’t compete with the big guys like McDonald’s and Burger King.

Winky’s

azurita/Adobe classic burgers

Winky’s was a fun location established in 1962 that was mostly based out of Pennsylvania. You may remember (depending on how old you are) their slogans, “Fast Food Cheap” and later “Winky’s Makes You Happy To Be Hungry!”

The chain had 42 locations over the years, peaking in 1977, but ultimately suffered from economic losses.

Yankee Doodle Dandy

escapejaja/Adobe asian girl eating cheeseburger

Yankee Doddle Dandy was founded in 1966 and grew to 27 locations before shuttering in the 1980s.

The menu was pretty simple, with burgers (it seems that just about everyone had the same thing!). This location was much like Burger King in terms of menu choices.

Burger Chef

Georgii/Adobe american hamburger with two beef patties

Perhaps one of the largest, now-defunct fast food restaurants is Burger Chef. It began in 1954 and grew to 1050 locations, including some in Canada, but then shuttered in 1996.

What made them unique was their flame-broiled burger (yes, like Burger King — but they did it first and patented the process). They spread quickly and targeted smaller towns (without all the competition).

At one point, their quarter-pound hamburger, called the Super Shef, was directly competing with McDonald’s and even bigger than the Golden Arches in some states.

Burger Queen

fiermanmuch/Adobe southern style fried chicken

A fast food chain that began in 1956 in Winter Haven, Florida, Burger Queen later changed its name to Druthers Restaurant. The name change helped the location ensure people understood it had more to offer than burgers.

In fact, they were known for their salad bar and fried chicken. They even had a kid's meal called the Andy Dandytale, marketed directly to young kids with a Saturday morning cartoon.

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Lum’s

agungai/Adobe pickled hot dog on white background

Mostly located in Florida, Lum’s was more of a family restaurant chain than a fast food destination. The company was founded in 1956 when the owners purchased Lum’s hot dog stand and began selling.

They expanded their initial location quickly, using the differentiating factor of a hot dog that was steamed in beer. The chain remained open until 1982, though some franchises stayed open beyond that.

Howard Johnson

mdurson/Adobe colorful ice cream sundae at table

When Howard Johnson first opened in 1925, it was recognized as a restaurant, not a hotel. The restaurant component of the business is no longer, but for those with memories, it was a fantastic treat.

In the 1960s and 1970s, this was the largest restaurant chain in the country, with 1,000 locations. The last location closed in 2022.

The chain was known for its ice cream and soda fountains at some locations and its frankfurters, chicken pot pies, and fried clams at most locations.

Steak and Ale

Imagine/Adobe beef steak bbq on wooden board

A step up from traditional fast food, Steak and Ale took on a new concept, offering fast casual dining with good food.

The location offered herb-roasted prime rib, New York strips, and fancy Hawaiian chicken, along with a soup and salad bar and an always-filled basket of honey wheat bread.

Good food for sure, but it played heavily on affordability in its nearly 60 years in operation.

Sandy’s

Our Scrapbook/Adobe milkshake with white heavy cream

If you like Hardee’s now, you have Sandy’s to thank. This drive-in destination was based on the McDonald’s concept and sold 20-cent milkshakes, 15-cent burgers, and 10-cent fries.

At its peak, the location had over 120 locations. It continued to operate until 1979, when it could no longer compete with the bigger organizations.

Bottom line

Atstock Productions/Adobe woman eating deep fried chicken

What locations come to your mind when you think of those rare nights of eating out with your family or perhaps a Saturday afternoon stop for a burger before heading to do your weekly grocery shopping at the supermarket?

Even more interesting is learning how these early locations have shaped the fast food industry we know today.

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Sandy Baker

Sandy Baker is a has over 17 years of experience in the financial sector. Her experience includes website content, blogs, and social media. She’s worked with companies such as Realtor.com, Bankrate, TransUnion, Equifax, and Consumer Affairs.