The official fast-food burger power rankings

The Official Fast Food Burger Power Rankings image
(Photo by Henry Hargreaves)

Let’s just launch right into the exhaustive and extremely correct Fast-Food Burger Power Rankings. I’ve evaluated burgers from large, national chains in this ranking, making a couple of notable exceptions for California-based chains. I’ve tried to put these burgers into context: I’m not picking the best burger in general. I’m picking the best fast-food burger, which is an important distinction. (To get a better idea of what I mean, please refer to this piece I wrote last year about chicken nuggets versus chicken tenders.)

A great fast-food burger should taste good, of course, but it should also be convenient. It can have toppings — lots of toppings — but it shouldn’t be overly busy. It should be compatible with eating inside a moving car, ideally with one hand only.

Is it fast-food or fast-casual? You could argue that in order to qualify as fast food, a place should have a drive-through window. But there are more and more upscale fast-food burgers these days eschewing convenience in favor of higher prices and a premium product. I’ve tried to factor that in and have included an extremely subjective value/affordability metric on the y-axis of the matrix to go along with taste rating.

The 23 chains below are ranked from worst to best, but all the chains in the top 10 are pretty good. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be on a diet of weak tea and steamed vegetables for the next six months.


23) Burger King

Recommended burger
Whopper Jr.

Honest question: What do people like about Burger King? Is it the paper crowns? The French toast sticks? The unsettling mascot? Some people obviously love it: The Florida-based chain has many thousands of locations. But what’s the appeal? There are better fries and there are certainly better burgers.

Maybe last place is too harsh, but I honestly don’t know what’s keeping the lights on at Burger King. This judgment could be, more than anything else, a reflection of my disappointment in the five burgers I tried — a Whopper, Whopper Jr., Impossible Whopper, Bacon King and a regular cheeseburger. The meat patties were insipid or dry. Even the grill marks seemed like they were phoning it in, though the meat did taste a little like liquid smoke.

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The Whopper relies strongly on its image of freshness and abundance — thick onion and tomato slices, hearty lettuce leaves, fat slices of pickles. But mine had somewhat sad and flavorless vegetables, as well as the overpowering signature flavor of a Whopper — that of ketchup and mayonnaise. The creamy sweetness was slightly nauseating and begged for something else — mustard, more pickles, something — to balance it out. Unfortunately, that help never arrives.


Recommended burger: Whopper Jr.
Value/Affordability ranking: 9

22) Jollibee
You don’t really go to Jollibee for burgers — you’re there for the spaghetti or fried chicken. So I don’t feel too bad saying this: The burgers at Jollibee aren’t great. The meat was gray and tasteless, and there was a desperate need for something sharp or acidic. The big pineapple ring on the Aloha Yumburger could have done that, but it tasted like any kind of spirit or enthusiasm had been blasted out of it during the cooking process.

Recommended burger: Aloha Yumburger
V/A ranking: 21

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21) Wienerschnitzel
Wienerschnitzel, the funny little chain known for (1) not serving Wienerschnitzel and (2) being housed inside what looks like giant versions of Snoopy’s doghouse, is known primarily as a hot dog destination. The burgers are beside the point and, well, it certainly shows.

They’re approximately what you’d expect from an average hospital cafeteria, although the chili cheeseburger, with a sloppy joe-like sauce, wasn’t too bad. (Shout-out to Original Tommy’s, which I adore but, with only 33 locations, was not a big enough chain to make this list.)

Recommended burger: Chili cheeseburger
V/A ranking: 5

Upper Left Quadrant

20) Sonic
I like the idea of Sonic, the non-hedgehog-related chain founded in Oklahoma more than six decades ago. (Speaking of which, apologies to videographer and Oklahoman Mark Potts for not including the chain Braum’s. I couldn’t make it out to Tuttle.) I like the parking and ordering at the kiosks; I like the carhop experience of having food brought to your vehicle.

What I don’t love is the food itself. When I ranked French fries a few years ago, I wondered if the Sonic I went to was maybe just having a bad day. And visiting again recently, I was forced to wonder if that Sonic was just having a bad day. A cheeseburger that was supposed to have ketchup and mayo had only mayo. A Chophouse cheeseburger that was supposed to have fried onions and peppery aioli had only the (pretty good) aioli. Overall, a decent choice if you’re looking for witty banter in the car, but I’d pass otherwise.

Recommended burger: Chophouse cheeseburger
V/A ranking: 12

19) Rally’s


Recommended burger
Smoky BBQ Bacon Buford

Rally’s, which you may know as Checkers depending on where you live (you’ll mostly find Rally’s in California but only Checkers in Florida, for example), isn’t the best burger you’ll ever eat but does provide decent value. The Double Fry Lovers burger attempts to create a Primanti Bros.-style sandwich by putting fries on top of the burger. Unfortunately, there are bewilderingly few fries included (how much could a few extra fries cost?). The patties on the burgers I tried had a slightly oily/greasy taste to them.

Recommended burger: Smoky BBQ Bacon Buford
V/A ranking: 4

18) Del Taco
Here’s another case of “this isn’t what you came for.” The fries are surprisingly good, but this isn’t the place to get a burger. Del Taco’s burger could be greatly assisted by the addition of some pickles, but you’ll have to make do with some of its Del Inferno hot sauce.

Recommended burger: Double Del Cheeseburger
V/A ranking: 8

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17) White Castle
I couldn’t find the word “burger” anywhere on White Castle’s menu and it’s just as well, as the sliders it serves don’t really resemble burgers in any recognizable way. They are simply sliders — communion-wafer-thin disks of meat served on buns so insubstantial they’re consumed in bags of 10. A thicker specialty burger called the 1921 Slider is fine but sort of defeats the point. The White Castle Original Slider might be the only fast-food burger in the country that costs less than a dollar.

Recommended Burger: Cheese Slider
V/A ranking: 1

16) Dairy Queen

Recommended burger
Loaded A.1

One of the more amusing policies in the world of fast-food came from Dairy Queen, which once promised to flip your Blizzard upside down in front of you or you get the next one free. (This policy is now instituted on a store-by-store basis.)

Ice cream will always be the strong suit of DQ, which operates only a certain number of stores as “Grill & Chill,” meaning they have a wider menu of hot food options, including burgers. Its best burgers feel somewhat gimmicky, but I’ll allow it: The FlameThrower Stackburger is a decent bacon double cheeseburger with a slightly piquant aioli, but you’ll want to get the Loaded A.1. burger, which I’m pretty sure is the only fast-food burger I’ve had that includes the unique sweet-spiciness of A.1. sauce.


Recommended burger: Loaded A.1.
V/A ranking: 17

Upper Right Quadrant

15) Jack in the Box
Jack in the Box is a fitting name for this franchise, as it’s a jack of all trades, master of none. This is by design, I’m sure, but I think it will ultimately lead to an identity crisis for the brand. Jack in the Box, what are you good at? Do you need burgers, chicken sandwiches, teriyaki bowls, fajita pitas, mini pancakes, eggrolls, cheesecake and loaded tiny tacos on the menu? What is your aspiration in life?

On the other hand, there’s no other fast-food brand that screams “stoner” louder. The Stacked Grilled Cheeseburger is just that, anthropomorphized, with an entire grilled cheese sandwich serving as the top bun of this cheeseburger. On days you haven’t eaten half a package of gummies, however, a Sourdough Jack will do just fine, with bacon, beef and cheese shelved within slices of buttery, toasted bread.

Recommended burger: Sourdough Jack
V/A ranking: 10

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14) Steak ‘n Shake
The venerable chain, founded in Illinois during the Great Depression, fell on difficult times during the pandemic but still has hundreds of locations throughout the country (if you’re in L.A., though, you’ll have to drive out to Victorville to find one). And it still makes a pretty good burger. A Garlic Double Steakburger, with a tall bun shaped like a popover and literally dripping in garlicky butter, steps over the line into excess. I’d stick with the regular butter burger, which toes the line.

Recommended burger: Butter Double Steakburger
V/A ranking: 11

13) The Habit

Recommended burger
Teriyaki Char

California-based burger specialist the Habit, which walks that line between fast food and fast casual extremely closely, probably deserves to be a little higher. More important, it hits a sweet spot, providing a good-quality burger at a fair price ($4.99 for its standard Charburger). The burgers are extremely lettuce-heavy, however — even on the patty melt, which seems inappropriate.

Recommended burger: Teriyaki Char
V/A ranking: 3

12) Wendy’s

Recommended burger
Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger

Wendy’s, the brand known for its square patties and beloved “Where‘s the beef?” commercials from the 1980s, is probably best known these days for its celebrated, sassy Twitter persona, which posts memes and roasts brands with awesome put-downs. Epic win!

Just kidding, guys. Do not engage with the brand. Evaluate the brand on its burger quality, which is, for the most part, decent but not much more. Wendy’s is pretty dependent on bacon in its menu: The one nearest me currently has 20 different burgers, 13 of which include bacon. I don’t know — it feels a little like cheating.

Recommended burger: Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger
V/A ranking: 7

11) A&W
A&W may not be the brand it used to be, but put some respect on the name: Founded in 1919 in Lodi, right between Stockton and Sacramento, it became a thriving international chain based entirely on root beer, the drink that is palatable only when you put ice cream in it. (Fun fact: Marriott International started as an A&W stand in Washington, D.C.)

The burgers are good — there’s a solid bacon cheeseburger (A&W claims to have invented it in 1963) — but I recommend just the simple cheeseburger. With a thick, pillowy bun, cheese melted to a practically liquid state and plenty of pickles, it’s a solid prototype for the category.

Recommended burger: Cheeseburger
V/A ranking: 15

Lower Left Quadrant

10) Shake Shack
I won’t wade too deeply into the Martin’s Potato Rolls/Doug Mastriano controversy — you can read plenty about it online. But I will say this: I’ve never much liked potato rolls for sandwiches and burgers. They’re a little too gummy and soft, like chewing a memory foam mattress.

Shake Shack doesn’t make a bad burger by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s the “pick me!” franchise of the bunch — it tries a little too hard. Its best burger, the Roadside Double, with Swiss cheese and caramelized onions, is ultimately too messy and ungainly to be a go-to fast-food burger.

Recommended burger: Roadside Double
V/A ranking: 20

9) Smashburger

Recommended burger
Classic Smash

Owned by Jollibee, Smashburger offers a premium burger — certainly better than the ones served at Jollibee itself. Is it nitpicky to complain that the meat patties didn’t really have those fine, sharp edges characteristic of a smashed burger? Tasty enough but not great value here, with a single-patty specialty burger costing $10.99.

Recommended burger: Classic Smash
V/A ranking: 23

8) Five Guys
Five Guys, the Virginia-based chain founded in 1986, really pioneered the whole move from fast food into fast casual — the simple strategy being to charge more money for a better product. It worked — there are now Five Guys in every state except Alaska.

Five Guys has solid burgers, like you’d imagine having at a backyard barbecue. My one, picky complaint is that when ordered “all the way” — their version of “everything on it” — the burger becomes unwieldy with grilled onions and mushrooms. Again, these are pricy burgers. A bacon cheeseburger (double patty) set me back $12.99. Would you rather have five double cheeseburgers from McDonald’s, give or take? I could see both arguments.


Recommended burger: Cheeseburger
V/A ranking: 22

7) Culver’s
My dad once told me that when he was a kid growing up in rural Illinois, he and his family used to order pizza and slather butter on the slices. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Midwest has also given us Culver’s and butter burgers, burgers cooked in butter or with butter put on them (Culver’s serves its ButterBurgers on a buttered bun).

What else do you want me to say? It’s a buttery burger. It’s delicious.

Recommended burger: The Culver’s Deluxe
V/A ranking: 16

6) Whataburger

I’ll resist the urge to make a joke about the vastness of Texas, but the burgers at Whataburger, a favorite in the southern United States, really are big. They’re flat and wide, making them difficult to handle with just one hand. They’re good but not particularly cheap — the specialty Bacon Blue Cheese Burger costs $8.99. An uncustomized Whataburger comes dressed with vegetables and mustard only — a refreshing change in a ketchup-happy society.

Recommended burger: Double Meat Whataburger with cheese
V/A ranking: 18

Lower Right Quadrant

5) In-N-Out
I’ve always maintained that In-N-Out is overrated — but that doesn’t mean it’s not good, especially if we’re just talking about the burgers. The Double-Double is a California icon — and I’m making a concerted choice to use the word just once in this entire piece. It’s a great burger. I love the too-toasted bun, the embrace of raw onion and the watery iceberg lettuce.


The meat has never been the strong suit in In-N-Out burgers, but the tangy ketchup-mustard-mayo-pickle combo of the special sauce has always rendered that point fairly moot. Once possibly the best deal in fast food, a Double-Double is not as cheap as it once was — it’s now more than $5 at the location near me — but it’s still a bargain. Just skip the fries.

Recommended burger: Double-Double
V/A ranking: 2

4) McDonald’s
No matter what you may think of the corporation or its effect on the world, did you really think McDonald’s wasn’t going to make the top five? The Quarter Pounder With Cheese is the model. Competing chains hate it. Other burgers want to be it. McDonald’s could serve nothing but Quarter Pounders, Double Cheeseburgers and fries and still make billions a year — it has mastered the art of simplicity.

Gimmicky specialty burgers? No need. Throw bacon on everything? We’ll pass. The simple formula of onion, pickles, cheese, ketchup and mustard is oft repeated, but no one does it quite like McDonald’s.

Recommended burger: Quarter Pounder With Cheese
V/A ranking: 6

3) Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers

Recommended burger
Freddy’s Original Double

This quickly growing, Wichita, Kan.-based chain is not exactly a household name in California, but it may just be a matter of time, as some private equity guys bought the company last year.

The smashburger-style place serves patties with pleasantly crisped-up edges and a smart, concise menu. Honestly, there are worse things we could be subjected to — the burgers at Freddy’s are very good. There’s a patty melt, an In-N-Out rip-off — ahem — homage called “California style” and its best burger, Freddy’s Original Double, with cheese, generous pickle slices, onion and mustard. We’ll talk about frozen custard next time — it’s popular in the Midwest.

Recommended burger: Freddy’s Original Double
V/A ranking: 19

2) Carl’s Jr.

Recommended burger
Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger

The hypothesis: The Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger is one of the best-tasting fast-food burgers ever created, full stop. The rebuttal: Wouldn’t anything taste good slathered in barbecue sauce and topped with bacon?

Maybe so, but it doesn’t make the sandwich less delicious. Carl’s Jr., or Hardee’s as it’s known in some parts of the country, almost took the top spot due to the excellence of not only the aforementioned burger but one nearly just as good: the Jalapeño Angus Burger, with pickled jalapeños (which make anything taste better) and remarkably crisp and fresh-tasting vegetables. There are cheaper chains: Those burgers run around $8 at my local store.

Recommended burger: Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger
V/A ranking: 13

1) Fatburger

Recommended burger

You may say there’s a whiff of civic bias in making this chain, founded in South Los Angeles 75 years ago, No. 1 — a little home cooking from the paper of record. But I will not apologize for this pick. I will simply say to the states that don’t have Fatburger — and that’s most of you — this is currently the best burger out there. And now you have another reason to visit Los Angeles.

The paper-wrapped burgers are indulgently thick, as the name would imply. The meat on a Fatburger, pressed fresh onto the grill, develops a wonderful, crusty meat lace like you see on some of the better smashburgers. The default toppings (“the works”) are lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, relish, mustard and mayo. And it’s those last four ingredients that are the difference makers. The inclusion of both pickles and relish gives an exceptional amount of tang and acid to the burger. And while I don’t disapprove of ketchup on a burger per se, the use of mustard only is the right call here, further helping to cut through the heaviness of a thick burger.


A regular Fatburger is probably the way to go, but the Western Bacon BBQ is very good, using actual Swiss cheese (what is the point of processed Swiss cheese?) and fairly substantial onion rings. Extra points for having a good turkey burger too. Fatburger isn’t perfect — I don’t love the gloppy Thousand Island burger — and the longish wait time for food definitely blurs the line between fast food and fast casual. But I’ll happily go to one over any other chain, anytime.

Recommended burger: Fatburger
V/A ranking: 14