Yes, fast food is food. I guess. Readers of this blog know our disdain for fast food places, but some fast food places are a lot better than others. And people eat there commonly and have strong opinions about which fast places are good or bad. So, it's time to give fast food its due and conduct a top 5 list of the best fast food places in Memphis.
Here are some ground rules for this top 5 list. The place has to be in Memphis. So sorry In and Out Burger, you don't qualify (though I wish you did). Second, when we say fast food, we mean it in its classical sense and not just a place where you get food fast. Think McDonald's, Burger King, etc. I think intuitively this means that a place must have a drive through to qualify or be extremely nationwide and offer extremely inexpensive meals. So that means places like Pei Wei, Jason's Deli, Panera Bread don't qualify. But Subway does.
Now, I admit my definition is partly contrived and gerrymandered. But if anyone can offer a better definition of a fast food place then please do. In a sense, I feel like Socrates in the Euthyphro asking the title character to define piety. Eventually, Euthyphro storms off, mad that he can't give an adequate definition. Alternatively, however, the Supreme Court may provide a way out. In one famous case, the Justices were asked to define what obscenity is. In a concurring opinion, Justice Potter Stewart noted that "hard-core pornography" is hard to define, but "I know it when I see it."
I think the same principle probably holds for fast food too. And let's face it, hard core porn and fast food have a lot in common. They are both horrible for you, they both ruin people's lives, people are addicted to both, and there are huge industries out there devoted to convincing/encouraging you to consume these products. But I digress. Now onto the list! (also, rather than link to their website, I'm linking to their wikipedia page for interesting historical facts).
1. Chick-fil-A: This is an easy #1. Chick-fil-A is pretty awesome. Great chicken nuggets, great chicken biscuits in the morning, the fries are good, and the shakes are pretty good too. Even setting aside the great food, the staff at Chick-fil-A are always super nice and the place is almost always very clean, well organized, and efficient. Who doesn't like Chick-fil-A? The real debate is not whether Chick-fil-A is #1, but which Chick-fil-A in Memphis is the busiest. My vote is the Poplar location near Mendenhall. Have you ever tried to go by that place at lunch? It's crazy busy. But a testament to how good Chick-fila-A is. Just remember, eat mor chicken.
2. Back Yard Burgers: this is where the list starts to get hard. I didn't choose BYB because of its burgers. I actually am not a huge fan of their burgers since I like my burger cooked med-rare and that ain't happening at BYB. Probably a good thing though, when you think abou it. On the bright side, at least you can tell it's real meat, and they actually put a moderate amount of meat on the burger, rather than give you mostly bread. The key at BYB is the chicken sandwiches, especially the blackened chicken sandwich. I'm a big fan. They also have the best fast food milkshakes. No doubt, real ice cream. Other good products include their cobblers and lemonade.
3. Sonic: Sonic's a summer classic. The large variety of limeades and milkshakes and ice cream desserts are the big appeal at Sonic. I'm always in the mood for an Oreo Sonic Blast. Neel and I often hit up Sonic on road trips in the rural south because they seem to be the fast food place of choice in small towns. Sonic's food isn't too bad either. I think the big plus here is the large variety at Sonic. They just seem to have some classic foods that other fast food places don't, like tater tots, onion rings, and a breakfast menu served all day. And the first few times I saw their commercials, I enjoyed them.
4. Dixie Queen: Not to be confused with Dairy Queen, Dixie Queen is a burger joint with a wide variety of frozen treats. I've only encountered it in Memphis. This selection is a bit of a shout out to my youth when I would go with friends in high school. The appeal of the chocolate malt, breezes, freezes, and other ice cream desserts was just too much. The burger and fries were above average, like their other food products. It's been a while, but I also remember this place being even cheaper than other fast food places. Thus, cheap, above average food + good ice cream = a top 5 fast food place.
5. Wendy's: Wendy's always has had a special place in my heart as my favorite, nationwide burger chain. I do like their square burgers more than any of its nationwide competitors like McDonald's, Burger King, etc. But what put Wendy's on this list are its other unique products. Though it sounds gross, Wendy's chili is actually pretty good and not awful for you. The frosty is also a classic, though it's fake ice cream. And what can top that great combo of dipping fries into your frosty? Trust me, it's good. Finally, the chicken nuggets are better than most places. So there's some good tasty selections at Wendy's. Their new jingle is also catchy.
Addendum: I didn't put Jerry's Sno Cone on the list because I've never actually eaten any food there. And who actually goes to Jerry's for the food anyway? Ok, that's my list, how do you rank them?