The Best Fast Food Joint? Not McDonald’s

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Consumer Reports conducted its first major survey of fast-food restaurants for its August issue, and the results aren’t what you might expect.

The biggest chains often earned some of the lowest ratings on taste. For example, when it comes to Mexican food, Taco Bell scored only a 6.0 out of 10, while the winner in that category, Chipotle, scored a 7.7. KFC scored 6.6 out of 10, while category winner Chick-fil-A earned a 7.6. As for burgers, McDonald’s got only a 5.6 out of 10 – the bottom of the ratings. Burger King fared little better with a 6.3.

“Chains like McDonald’s and Taco Bell boast supersized values, but consumers don’t necessarily think they offer much bang for the buck,” says Tod Marks, a senior editor at Consumer Reports. Instead, the magazine recommends…

The best overall

  • For burgers: “In-N-Out Burger rated highest of all 53 chains rated in Consumer Reports Survey with high scores for food, service, value and speed.” Runners-up: Back Yard Burgers, Burgerville, Culver’s, and Five Guys Burgers and Fries.
  • For chicken: “One chicken chain topped the rest hands down: Chick-fil-A. With outstanding scores for politeness of staff, and high marks for food, value, and speed of service, respondents rated it higher than seven other leading poultry stops.” Runners-up: none.
  • For Mexican: “Chipotle Mexican Grill was among the best of 8 leading Mexican food chains, and earned high scores for food, politeness of staff and speed of service.” Runners-up: Baja Fresh, Qdoba, and Rubio’s Fresh.
  • Best for subs: “If you’re craving a top-notch wedge, hero, hoagie, or sub served quickly with a smile on the side try Jason’s Deli or Firehouse Subs. Readers gave them the highest marks for food and favorable scores for politeness of staff and speed of services among 11 sandwich and sub chains.” Runners-up: Jersey Mike’s Subs, Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches, Potbelly Sandwich Shop, and Schlotzsky’s.
  • Best for pizza: “The single standout for pizza: Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Pizza, which has an unconventional concept where the patrons order a pizza to bake at home. It earned the highest marks for food, and exceptional scores for value, staff politeness and speed of service among the pizza chains.” Runners-up: none.

The best value

If you’re most concerned about price, you’re not alone. The survey also found that 22 percent of the people polled eat out at fast-food restaurants less often than they used to for financial reasons, and 54 percent cited low prices as a reason for picking a restaurant.

To save money, check the “Food” section of the Deals & Coupons page for coupons before you head for fast food, or dine at the restaurants that Consumer Reports says will stretch your dollar the furthest…

  • Best value: Cici’s Pizza, In-N-Out Burger, Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Pizza
  • Worst value: KFC, Round Table Pizza, and Sbarro

The slowest

If time is money, Consumer Reports says to avoid these restaurants…

  • Slowest service: KFC, Pizza Hut, and Popeyes

The healthiest

If you’re hungry for something healthy in hurry, Consumer Reports recommends…

  • Healthiest: “Subway, with a ‘Fresh Fit’ menu and spokesman Jared Fogle (an everyday guy who lost 245 pounds partly by living on the chain’s low-fat subs), had the most diet-conscious eaters: Almost half of respondents who ate there said they chose a nutritious meal. But not all sandwiches are created equal, even at Subway, where the footlong Italian B.M.T. sub packs 900 calories and 40 grams of fat.”

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