Is This Really The Best Fast Food In Missouri, Illinois, & Kansas?
Our relationship with food can be highly personal and opinionated. Especially when it comes to what we perceive to be "the best" of something. So when I saw an article from Food & Wine called "The Best Regional Fast Food in Every State, and They're All Local Obsessions" I was skeptical. So what do you think about their choices for Missouri, Illinois, and Kansas?
Food & Wine explains its intent with this list and why you won't see Whataburger, Culver's, or other well-known national/regional chains:
"Our goal was to figure out, what are the next big things you might not have heard of yet? And so, farewell to the likes of Culver's and Whataburger and Raising Cane's and a certain Georgia chicken sandwich place that nobody ever talks about at all. Hello, instead, to the closely-held secrets, and to so many ambitious newcomers, not to mention those little gems that might not be dreaming of global domination, but probably ought to."
Missouri's Best Fast Food Place
Food & Wine champions the St. Louis Roast Beef joint that puts Arby's to shame. Yaknow, the one with au jus in a dispenser next to the napkins. I'm talking about Lion's Choice, the Roast Beef fast food joint that got its start in Ballwin. They're all over the St. Louis area, and even have two locations near Kansas City. One on Chipman Road in Lee's Summit, and one in Independence.
Food & Wine cites Lion's Choice roast beef sandwiches, their blanched, brined, flash-fried french fries, and really inexpensive small frozen custard cones as why Lion's Choice is the best in Missouri. Interestingly enough, Lion's Choice also tops Mashed's list of The Best Regional Fast Food Chains In Each State, which can't be said for Food & Wine's choices in Illinois and Kansas.
I've never tried Lion's Choice so I can't speak for how good it is. I also was unaware I could point my car towards Lee's Summit to try it. Here I was thinking I might have to alter my road-trip lunch stop from a St. Louis area White Castle to a Lion's Choice to try their sandwich and fries.
Illinois Best Fast Food Place
Food & Wine names Al's #1 Italian Beef with six locations in the Chicago area as Illinois' best fast food joint. Like Lion's Choice, it's a beef dish that's the small chain's claim to fame. Al's website says, "Al's has been the sandwich of Chicago for 83 years, a true food icon, winner of over 150 culinary & critic awards, and has become a destination for people from across the world."
Food & Wine like Al's because of their Italian Beef sandwiches drenched in jus and topped with their pickled veg. They also say that the Taylor Street location in the Little Italy neighborhood is the best of the bunch, although, the article goes out of the way to say you can't go wrong stopping at any of their locations.
As someone growing up in Chicago I'd seen Al's #1 Italian Beef for years, although it took my first radio Program Director, Nick Farella, to get me to try it. Every time I'd come in to fill in on a Friday night if the subject of downtown Chicago came up, he'd tell me I have to try Al's. Or occasionally he'd mention he was looking forward to getting a beef sandwich before he drove into his weekend DJ gig at Oldies 104.3 downtown.
I did try it and it makes my short list of Chicago joints worth going to for an Italian Beef sandwich. That said, really, I've found it hard to find a bad Italian Beef sammy in Chicago. The scale ranges from good to excellent. Al's is definitely excellent.
Kansas Best Fast Food Joint
Food & Wine names Spangles as Kansas's best fast food joint. Food & Wine says they like the Wichita chain that started as a coney joint because they're good at offering a little bit of everything. They specifically cite the Black Angus beef burgers which start out simple and affordable and range to the absurd and expensive, as well as their breakfast cup combos.
I've actually had a chance to try Spangle's burgers, during one of our road trips between Texas and Chicago. We'd usually shut down the first day of our road trip around Wichita and it was just by chance my wife suggested we get Spangles. I liked it. It was really, really, good. I don't know if I'd drive to Topeka or Wichita to eat there specifically, but if I was passing through I'd order it again and enjoy it as much as I did last time.
The Bottom Line
As I mentioned at the outset, our relationship with food is personal and opinionated so you may not agree with Food & Wine's list. Mashed didn't agree with Food & Wine's list when it came to Illinois and Kansas. They named Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, as Kansas' best fast food joint. As well as a local Rockford fast food joint called Beef-a-Roo as the best fast food joint in Illinois.
I think the real takeaway from Food & Wine is, yeah, places like Whataburger or Culver's or even In-And-Out Burger are probably worth trying if you haven't experienced them. Yet, you probably should try the fast food joint you haven't tried. Or that funky-looking drive-in, or neighborhood joint that speaks to you. You might just stumble into a great burger, perfect fries, or in Chicago, something called a pizza puff, which you need to try at least once.