One of my favorite things about coming home from college is being able to ask my parents to take me out to real restaurants. But at the same time, one of the things I miss the most when I’m out of the city is the fast food I can’t get in my rural hometown.
There are little things about my college town that I don’t realize are specific to big cities. Movies always come out earlier in the theater by my dorm than they do in my hometown and, more importantly, I’m able to live off of fast food restaurants that don’t even exist when I come home for the holidays.
Classics, like Chipotle, are around anywhere, but there are some quick food options that are only available in select cities in the US. Sure, a big part of city dining is upscale restaurants with good reputations, but just as unique are the options available on a smaller budget.
Whatever you’re willing to spend on your next big city trip, you’d be remiss not to try these urban stables.
A true city classic, I try to limit my visits to Shake Shack to just special occasions (and when I’m showing around visitors from home).
Shake Shack is a modern twist on the classic burger joint, with each location having a minimalist feel. The restaurant also keeps up with the trends by offering vegetarian burger options, dog-friendly menu items, and of course, their own special sauce.
The food always tastes fresh, and dining in the restaurant never fails to be a pleasant experience. A great change of pace from McDonald’s or Burger King, Shake Shack is a must the next time you’re looking to up your burger game in a big city.
One of the best things about living in a city is the fact that there are actually healthy fast food options. Sweetgreen is basically Chipotle for salads, and it couldn’t be tastier.
Sweetgreen steps up the salad game in a way that’ll make you want to go grocery shopping and make them for yourself for the rest of the week. They have a wide array of ingredients, like sweet potatoes, goat cheese, nuts, fruit, and even rice.
Customers can build their own salad, walking down the line and choosing their own ingredients as the dish is made fresh in front of them. If there are just too many options to choose from, they have several pre-decided orders that can be made fresh as well.
A quick and affordable meal that will leave your taste buds and your body satisfied, Sweetgreen is a gift to city dwellers.
Pret a Manger
A big city chain, Pret is an easy stop for breakfast or lunch on the go when you’re in a hurry. Pret has classic breakfast staples, like oatmeal, coffee, and pastries, as well as pre-made options like sandwiches and fruit.
While not an overly noteworthy restaurant on the surface, the focus on convenience really conveys the true city experience and makes diners feel like a part of the hustle and bustle.
This type of restaurant can also be fun and useful for people who aren’t usually in large cities, as Starbucks is the nearest chain with more widespread locations, but their food options are sparse.
Even more exciting than all the healthy fast food options in cities is the amount of quick and affordable vegan and vegetarian choices.
By Chloe is an all-vegan restaurant with unique menu items that will impress even the most avid meat eaters. With lunch items ranging from salads, to pastas, to burgers and fries, By Chloe manages to turn a vegan diet into a classic fast food experience.
In addition to their more conventional menu items, they also put their own spin on their food with their signature beet ketchup, as well as their smoothies that rotate flavors regularly.
If you’re not looking to sit down for lunch, By Chloe also has a grab-and-go refrigerated section, as well as a wide selection of bakery items.
Vegan and vegetarian restaurants are on the rise, and big cities are quickly becoming havens for plant-based eaters. Even if you’re a meat eater, with non-meat options becoming so accessible, there’s never a downside to branching out and trying something new.
Au Bon Pain
Similar to Pret a Manger, Au Bon Pain is a convenient staple of any major city, and eating there will surely make you feel like a local.
Au Bon Pain can be a cozy breakfast spot to watch the city move along, an easy place to meet-up for lunch, or a quick pit stop on the way to work.
With a full bakery, coffee bar, and breakfast menu, Au Bon Pain is a satisfying breakfast destination, while their soups, salads, and sandwiches offers options reminiscent of Panera.
While Au Bon Pain is similar to other, bigger chains, city restaurants often incorporate a wider variety of ingredients into their menu, even in their fast food. Au Bon Pain has a seasonal menu featuring dishes that include ingredients like pumpkin, gingerbread, and kale.
Many city chains, like this one, are often overlooked for more unique or well known dining choices, but when it comes to eating in a city, any restaurant can surprise you.
In N Out
While not necessarily specific to big cities, In N Out is an honorary member of this list because its locations are limited to the west coast.
As an east coast resident who’s only journeyed out west a handful of times, visiting this chain is an essential part of every trip, and the restaurant has become synonymous with travel and adventure.
What’s notable about In N Out right of the bat is its extremely simplistic menu. Advertising only cheeseburgers, hamburgers, fries, and milkshakes (in just the three classic flavors), the restaurant certainly leaves its mark on these classic items. With its unique grilling style (including loading the burger patties with mustard before grilling them) and signature sauce, In N Out definitely knows how to make a killer burger and fries.
However, as good as their menu items are ordered as-is, what’s maybe even more alluring about In N Out is the secret menu that locals and regulars seem to have down pat. Looking around the dining area of any In N Out, you’ll see an array of dishes that suggest that the restaurant has an extensive menu.
There are many secret menu hacks online, with the most popular being animal fries- fries loaded with carmelized onions and signature sauce, among other ingredients. Doing some research is a good way to get an idea of what your options are, but the only real way to order off the secret menu with confidence is to visit enough times to observe the ordering habits of other customers. The challenge of a secret menu might just be what keeps people coming back.
What are your favorite fast food stops in the city? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured image via Pinterest
Casey is a junior at Emerson College majoring in screenwriting. She's extremely passionate about petting dogs, writing, and being outside, but if she's not doing one of those things, she's probably napping!