Of all great things giant American metropolises have to offer, a glut of fast food restaurants is not one of them. New Yorkers, Los Angelenos and Chicagoans have so many dining options, from neighborhood pizza shops to open-kitchen bistros, fast food giants have never taken a large foothold. In fact, New York, Boston, L.A. and San Francisco have the fewest number of fast food joints per person of any city with more than a quarter-million residents.
So, where are all the fast food cities? They're mid-sized Midwest cities, tourist towns and Southern metros. Industrial cities with large blue-collar workforces and a rising millennial population. Whoppers, Big Macs and Baconators are meals for hard-working Americans and dual-income families.
So, what are the happiest places to find a Happy Meal? What are the best cities for fast food lovers per capita in America? Here are the 10 best fast food cities based on the ratio of the number of franchises of 10 of the largest fast food chains to the municipal population.
For a small city like Fort Wayne to make the top 10, there must be a significant fast food culture in Northwest Indiana. There even exists what locals call the “Fast-Food Block" along West Jefferson Boulevard by the Grand Wayne Convention Center.
The city, the second-largest in the state behind Indianapolis, was a major industrial power through the '60s and where the first refrigerator, gas pump and video game console were all produced.
At a crossroads of the Midwest, along the Lincoln Highway and just 20 minutes from the Ohio border, Fort Wayne reaches across the fast food spectrum, a modest population but one with double-digit locations of Burger Kings, McDonald's, Pizza Huts, Taco Bells and Wendy's, plus three dozen Subways, offering one fast food spot for every 2,417 people.
Its industrial past belies its modern economic and cultural revival, which keeps rents reasonable and the city a well-kept secret success. A one-bedroom apartment can be found on the Extra Value Menu, averaging a nice $824.
Why is Atlanta a top 10 best city for fast food lovers? One simple double-hyphenated word: Chick-fil-A. The chain was founded as Dwarf House in Hapeville (near Atlanta Hartsfield Airport) in 1946. The chain, which changed to its current name in 1967, is still Atlanta-based with its headquarters in nearby College Park.
But even with 40 locations within the city limits, Atlanta is not a one-chicken town. With 232 locations of the top fast food chains including 35 McDonald's and 78 Subways, the home of the world's busiest airport and some of America's worst traffic is always convenient to fast food, with a drive-thru for every 2,096 residents.
Whether you “Eat Mor Chikin" or not, Atlanta isn't the most affordable apartment town with an average rent for a one-bedroom coming it at $1,541. And your rental office is probably open on Sundays, even if Chick-fil-A is not.
The state of Florida occupies several spots on this list, and it's not a surprise. It's a state of convenience for vacationers and working-class residents, with a criss-cross of interstates and a low cost of living.
Tampa is a city on the rise from the Bay's Channel District to the nightlife of Ybor City, with a plethora of industries and proximity to gorgeous Gulf beaches.
Spread out along the Tampa Bay interior, there's a fast food restaurant for every 1,927 suncoasters, including about two dozen each of Pizza Huts, McDonald's and Burger Kings, as well as 66 Subways.
For its location convenient to all those chains and so close to the Gulf and dozens of tourist destinations, rents in Tampa, the fourth-largest metro area in the Southeast, are reasonable, with a one-bedroom unit available for an average of $1,264.
While the city of Pittsburgh has finally begun to shed its reputation as a smoggy steel town in favor of its gleaming new glass-and-tech image, residents of The 'Burgh are still industrial blue-collar, down-and-dirty hard hats at heart.
Despite residing in the same state as East Coast Philadelphia, Pittsburgh is pure workaday Midwest. It's a town, at the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, where citizens love a good fast food meal a few nights a week as much as their Great Lakes neighbors.
As such, when they pull up to their local burger chain, one in town for every 1,926 Yinzers, they're ordering a pop with their happy meal, not a soda, and they won't be calling the sandwiches “hoagies" at their 60 Subways. But they may be putting French fries on them.
And with the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment sitting at an East Coast-like $1,307, Pittsburghers might have an interest in that dollar menu.
Cleveland is an easy place to knock if you don't know it. The “Mistake On The Lake," where the river once caught on fire. The city that LeBron turned his back on. Twice. The town that didn't see a winning football game for 635 days.
But even as fortunes turn on tech and tourism, from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a world-class art museum to, yes, beautiful lakeside beaches, the citizenry still revels in the basic working-class Buckeye lifestyle of “Major League" and “The Drew Carey Show."
That proletarian, egalitarian way of life in Cleveland is ripe for a love of the accessibility and affordability of a fast food meal after a hard day's work or on the way home from picking up the kids at hockey practice. That's a good indication why there's one fast food restaurant in town for every 1,899 Clevelanders. With 74 locations, Subway is king, and convenient to apartments everywhere around town, which list for an average of $1,357 for a one-bedroom.
It isn't difficult to understand why Las Vegas lands in this top 10 for sheer volume of fast food locations. The 39 Pizza Huts, 77 McDonald's, 36 Taco Bells and 122 Subways are all more than any other city in the top 10.
But it's not locals that are the reason for the whopping 354 major fast food restaurants within the city limits, one for every 1,813 people. The Las Vegas Strip is the second-most visited out-of-town tourist attraction in America, and those 42 million visitors need somewhere to eat.
Sure, the casino hotels offer five-star celebrity chef dining and a gaggle of themed restaurants, but travelers are creatures of habit and gravitate to familiar turf. A stop at one of 35 Burger Kings is easy, satisfies the kids and is a known quantity item.
But lucky you, Las Vegas resident. You benefit from all those sightseers with all that fast food availability. And at rental prices at an average of $1,067 for a one-bedroom, snagging an apartment a quick ride from the Strip won't be much of a gamble.
St. Louis is the Gateway to the West and the unofficial capital of the Mississippi River Basin. And as such, it's a diverse hub for hearty Midwesterners, immigrants, farmers, industrial workers, evangelists, sports fans, hipsters and beermakers.
The Show-Me State's largest city wants to keep it real, from its old-school baseball team (the westernmost team in America for the first 50 years of the 20th century) to its penchant for hometown Budweiser, Busch and Michelob brews over craft beers, which helps define its love of fast food, with one chain restaurant for every 1,794 residents.
Subways, Tacos Bell and McDonald's rule the roost in Cardinals town (with, oddly, just 6 Wendy's. Sorry, Dave Thomas). And if you want to chow down on your Nachos Bell Grandes and Chicken McNuggets and toss back a Bud Light Lime on your own apartment couch while binging "Superstore," expect to shell out an affordable $1,100 for an average one-bedroom.
The Queen City is king of Midwestern fast food. With one fast food establishment for every 1,522 people, there's no more fast food saturated city in the Midwest (or Northeast for that fact) than Cincinnati.
Cincinnati is populated by that hearty Midwestern worker toiling days in manufacturing facilities, a legacy agricultural industry and at headquarters of multinational corporations like Procter & Gamble, Kroger and Macy's, a populous that loves their fast food. In fact, Ohio consumes more fast food than most other states, making more than 50 percent of their restaurant purchases at fast food joints. It's no surprise that Cincinnati, nicknamed “Porkopolis" as the country's chief hog packing center in the 1800s, is big on fast food love.
While the proliferation of fast food stops runs the gamut of top chains, what stands out is its 30 Wendy's locations, as the square-burger and Frosty giant is headquartered just a couple hours up the road in Dublin, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. So, if you're kinda tired of packing and unpacking, settle down in Cincy, where an average of $1,031 will score you a one-bedroom rental.
Miami. Home of Cuban sandwiches, barbacoa and Floribbean specialties. And a ton of fast food. In fact, there's a fast food eatery for every 1,457 residents. Miami features a diverse population, with large middle and blue collar classes, a young university crowd and a swath of sun-seeking seasonal snowbirds, all groups who enjoy fast food at high percentages.
So, it's no surprise Miami has large numbers of the most popular chains, a massive 318 in total, including 19 KFC's and 34 Wendy's, both most among our top 10, as well as 110 Subways.
What stands out is the abundance of Burger Kings in the South Florida metropolis, with 45 locations spread around the city. The reason? Miami is the home of the “Home of the Whopper." While the original chain, called Insta-Burger King, was founded up the road in Jacksonville in 1953, the company was sold a year later to two Miami-based franchisees, who moved the company to town and dropped the prefix.
With such a fan base, no one will fault you for munching on your Croissan'wich or chicken fries on the beach, but living nearby will run you a pricey average of $1,994 a month for a one-bedroom unit.
It doesn't take a Masters in foodology to figure out why Orlando tops our list of Best Cities in America for fast food lovers. Three words: Tourists, tourists, tourists. As in other tourist cities like Vegas, Orlando has a profusion of themed restaurants, Iron Chef-fronted bistros and hotel lobby eateries.
But after a long day of rides and lines, sightseers and visitors gravitate towards fast food. It's a known quantity, consistent taste nationwide, and will satisfy a hungry, fussy child. People enjoy the familiar, and nothing is as familiar as the Golden Arches or the red-and-white striped bucket.
But locals have to eat, too, so it's their benefit that fast food is so readily available in Orlando, one fast food joint for every 1,058 Orlandoans, especially after a long day dealing with said tourists. A large percentage of the population works at amusement parks, including 74,000 at Disney World and 25,000 at Universal alone, so hitting one of 33 Pizza Huts or 14 KFC's on the way home is easy.
And with the influence of its unique economy and workforce, an average Orlando one-bedroom apartment leases for a reasonable $1,348.
Searching for more cities that soothe your drive-thru-loving heart? You'll find a number of surprising rankings up and down our list of the 50 best cities for fast food lovers.
|City, State||Fast Food Establishments per Resident|
|Orlando, FL||1 per 1,058|
|Miami, FL||1 per 1,457|
|Cincinnati, OH||1 per 1,522|
|Saint Louis, MO||1 per 1,794|
|Las Vegas, NV||1 per 1,813|
|Cleveland, OH||1 per 1,899|
|Pittsburgh, PA||1 per 1,926|
|Tampa, FL||1 per 1,927|
|Atlanta, GA||1 per 2,096|
|Fort Wayne, IN||1 per 2,417|
|Saint Paul, MN||1 per 2,434|
|Greensboro, NC||1 per 2,591|
|Louisville, KY||1 per 2,725|
|Minneapolis, MN||1 per 2,742|
|Sacramento, CA||1 per 2,758|
|Toledo, OH||1 per 2,850|
|Kansas City, MO||1 per 3,000|
|Memphis, TN||1 per 3,006|
|Lubbock, TX||1 per 3,022|
|Omaha, NE||1 per 3,032|
|Albuquerque, NM||1 per 3,036|
|Tucson, AZ||1 per 3,044|
|Indianapolis, IN||1 per 3,071|
|Wichita, KS||1 per 3,100|
|Virginia Beach, VA||1 per 3,195|
|Bakersfield, CA||1 per 3,201|
|Colorado Springs, CO||1 per 3,226|
|Houston, TX||1 per 3,285|
|Tulsa, OK||1 per 3,293|
|Buffalo, NY||1 per 3,359|
|Raleigh, NC||1 per 3,417|
|Lexington, KY||1 per 3,425|
|Durham, NC||1 per 3,433|
|Honolulu, HI||1 per 3,435|
|Columbus, OH||1 per 3,559|
|Jacksonville, FL||1 per 3,597|
|El Paso, TX||1 per 3,715|
|Laredo, TX||1 per 3,724|
|Aurora, CO||1 per 3,741|
|Lincoln, NE||1 per 3,796|
|Milwaukee, WI||1 per 3,816|
|Denver, CO||1 per 3,829|
|Corpus Christi, TX||1 per 3,831|
|Oklahoma City, OK||1 per 3,877|
|Fresno, CA||1 per 3,907|
|San Antonio, TX||1 per 3,917|
|Plano, TX||1 per 3,920|
|Portland, OR||1 per 4,074|
|Charlotte, NC||1 per 4,091|
|Baltimore, MD||1 per 4,133|
If you're just looking for the cities with the most fast food establishments without any population consideration, here's how the top 10 would have been dished out.
|City, State||Total Fast Food Establishments|
|San Antonio, TX||386|
|Las Vegas, NV||354|
|Los Angeles, CA||352|
We took cities with populations more than 100,000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau and used 8 million commercially available business listings to add up the restaurants in each city of 10 of the nation's most popular fast food chains – Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Hardee's, In-N-Out Burger, KFC, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Subway, Taco Bell and Wendy's. We then divided each city's population by this total to determine a ratio of the number of fast food businesses for each resident to come up with our quantitative ranking. These listings may not reflect recent restaurant openings or closings.
The rent information included in this article is based on February 2019 multifamily rental property inventory on ApartmentGuide.com and Rent.com and is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein does not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.