No other part of the country does fast food like the South. Beyond Bojangles, Chick-fil-A, Krystal, and Whataburger, these ten smaller chains offer everything from slaw dogs to country ham, making a quick stop for lunch on your summer road trip a joy rather than a necessity. With joints like these, who needs that car-trip cooler full of soggy sandwiches?
Based in Greensboro, North Carolina
Flour from Sanford Milling Co. in Henderson, North Carolina. Pimento cheese from Stan’s in Burlington. Country ham from Suncrest Farms in Wilkesboro. These are the makings of breakfast at this hyper-local chain, where the bakers roll out fresh biscuits every fifteen minutes at each of the fifty-four locations in Piedmont North Carolina and southern Virginia.
Based in Bristol, Tennessee
Once one of thirty-some-locations, the Blue Circle in Bristol survived a corporate apocalypse in the 1960s and 70s and singlehandedly upheld a legacy of snackable sliders with onions, mustard, and pickles until the first new location in decades opened last year in Elizabethton. Like a fighter on the mat, this iconic chain has taken a beating but might not be down for the count quite yet.
Based in Greensboro, North Carolina
Cook Out has locations in eight states and a menu that ranges from hot dogs to quesadillas to peach cobbler milkshakes. But the chain is unmistakably rooted in North Carolina: What other miracle-mile fixture has Texas Pete chicken wraps and Cheerwine floats?
Danny & Clyde’s
Based in Gretna, Louisiana
Attached to three New Orleans–area gas stations, this po’ boy shop is a Crescent City favorite for overstuffed fried shrimp and catfish sandwiches. It isn’t fancy, but it’s open when you need it: 24-7, at the Clearview and West Napoleon location, and pretty darn close at the others.
Based in Birmingham, Alabama
Chances are you’ve seen Milo’s sweet tea at your local supermarket, but what do you know about the burgers, available at 16 central Alabama restaurants? The lip-smacking-good secret sauce on top tastes like a mixture of brown gravy and barbecue sauce.
Based in Macon, Georgia
One of the oldest hot dog chains in the country—with eight locations in Macon, two in Warner Robins, and one across I-75 in Fort Valley—still serves electric-red wieners in chili and slaw blankets a century after the first location opened its doors.
Pal’s Sudden Service
Based in Kingsport, Tennessee
Goofy exteriors decorated with fiberglass hamburgers and hot dogs conceal the steely corporate structure behind Pal’s, which has grown to nearly 30 locations in northeastern Tennessee and southern Virginia. Trained and tested daily, the employees at this service-obsessed chain deliver chili dogs and frosty milkshakes in mere seconds.
Based in Columbia, South Carolina
Seventy-six years after the Rush family opened a drive-in on their dairy farm, all nine locations around Columbia sell fried chicken, hamburgers, and shakes in flavors like pineapple and hot fudge cake to college kids and lifelong regulars alike.
Tudor’s Biscuit World
Based in Nitro, West Virginia
Released in 2013, the “Politician” is a crumbly buttermilk biscuit with egg, cheese, and a fat slice of bologna. Such clever naming is typical of this blue-collar biscuit joint, serving breakfast sandwiches fortified with hash browns, fried apples, and pepperoni at sixty-some locations in the Mountain State and beyond. Try the “Tootie,” with egg, cheese, and country ham.
Based in Augusta, Georgia
When the Masters Tournament stopped using WifeSaver pimento cheese in 2013, locals noticed. WifeSaver wasn’t the original vendor. Franchisee Ted Godfrey reverse-engineered the recipe from a batch made by the late Aiken, South Carolina caterer and forty-five-year tournament veteran Nick Rangos. Fans of the famous pimento cheese sandwich agreed that he got it right, though. And now, you can taste it at four of the six locations of this throwback chain: North Augusta, Fury’s Ferry, North Leg, and Washington Road. While you’re there, make sure to try the fried chicken: It, too, was on the menu at the Masters for years.