Regional chain restaurants we publicly admit to loving
We tend to eat pretty well around here. Fancy chefs drop by the Test Kitchen to cook nice things. We make our own special sauces and conduct caviar taste tests with minature caviar spoons with our names engraved on them. And mostly we're out and about all the time trying the latest hot spots. But sometimes that rumbling in our collective stomachs is the sound of pure nostalgia calling. When that happens it's not the new and now we're after, but the old familiar, served with a side of onion rings and a thick shake. So in honor of, uh, nothing much, here are some not-quite-ready national-primetime spots we'll always love.
"Please don't tell my family, but I always sneak in a meal at Zippy's when I touch down in Honolulu before digging into dinner lovingly labored over by my grandma. It's like Denny's—little booths, ugly tiled floors—but the food is that great, funny Asian-Portuguese mashup that makes Hawaiian cuisine what it is. My dad swears by its chili and rice, and I always get a steaming bowl of saimin, a fishy noodle soup with cabbage, sweet-sticky char siu and wavy, springy noodles." — Elyse Inamine, assistant editor
"I'm so enamored with this sub shop that every road trip now involves plotting J-Mike's stops along the way. Besides the fact that all of the employees are unfailingly nice (seriously, it's weird), each store makes the roast beef in-house, a practice even old-school delis have abandoned and which makes the No. 6 (roast beef, provolone, your choice of no-fuss toppings) the only thing you need to order." – Jillian King, associate managing editor
"I went to high school in Atlanta, GA, and if I was late, it was usually because I swerved my car toward the nearest Chick-fil-A, the fast food chain founded by Southern Baptist billionaire S. Truett Cathy. The sweet perfume of artificial butter and fried chicken was irresistible. And the breakfast biscuit, super soft and sandwiched with a little piece of fried chicken, was not a terrible way to start the day." — Tejal Rao, senior writer
"Cook-Out is a super grimy, NC-based, double-sided drive-thru (so you have the luxury of ordering on either the driver's or the passenger's side), and it's one of my guiltiest pleasures. My standard order: a quarter-pound "Cheddar style" burger with bacon, grilled onions, mayo and liquid-y cheddar cheese (which I can only assume comes out of a vat and is pumped on top of the patty), plus a side of onion rings and a massive, super thick, fluorescent green mint milkshake loaded with Oreo cookies." — Lizzie Munro, associate editor
Steak 'n Shake
"Thin, griddled 'steakburgers' (always fresh, never frozen, so they say) on a buttery bun and thick hand-spun milkshakes are what I miss from the Steak 'n Shakes of my Midwestern youth. There was a 24-hour location across the street from my high school, and I didn't realize how much I'd miss it until after I moved to New York. Sure, Danny Meyer might have modeled Shake Shack after SnS (and, a few years ago, one did open near Times Square), but somehow it'll never taste the same." — Jamie Feldmar, senior editor
Truckee Bagel, Co.
"I'm sure that New York-style bagels are not the first things that come to mind when you think of Nevada—unless you've had a Truckee Bagel. Even as a New York transplant, I loyally stand by Truckee's salt bagel—especially when it's handed to me in a greasy wrap of aluminum foil stuffed with eggs, Swiss cheese and house-made sundried tomato cream cheese. In the summer, there's no better picnic for a Sunday at Tahoe." — Leslie Stephens, editorial intern
"Since Shoney's locations are primarily in the Midwest, Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, I was particularly 'lucky' to have one randomly located in Barre, Vermont where I grew up. I have fond memories of hitting up their salad bar on a weekly basis with my grandmother, piling our plates high with cubed ham, ambrosia salad and other foods that now mainly terrify me. Every visit culminated with a trip to the lollipop tree, where departing patrons could enjoy a high-frustose-corn-syrup treat. Never change, Shoney's." — Emily Warman, integrated content editor
"What exactly is in the 'cookie crumble' filling that separates the layers of chocolate and vanilla in their famous ice cream cakes? I'm not saying there's an illegal substance in there, but that crunchy stuff is so addictive, there may as well be. I digress: Fudgie the Whale and Cookie Puss both deserve a place in the birthday cake hall of fame—and you've gotta hand it to a chain that's clever enough to use the same Fudgie the Whale mold to make a Santa cake around the holidays. Bravo." — Karen Palmer, executive editor
"While Togo's covers all the usual sandwich classics (ham and cheese, Cuban, etc.), it's the hot pastrami sandwich that reminds me of my childhood. I'm not really a fast-food guy but this sandwich is out of this world. With the thin-cut lean pastrami piled high on crusty bread, all you need is a dousing of spicy mustard. It's no wonder my whole family loved this sandwich so much. It only took a little bit of teasing from my cousins for me to graduate from the 6-inch sub to the husky 9-inch." — Andy Baraghani, food editor
"Though I haven't been in years, this Caribbean chain brings me back to trips to West Palm Beach, FL, during my childhood. Rarely would more than a day go by without a trip. Most people opt for the grilled chicken, but I go for black beans and rice (always with extra garlic sauce) and an order of crisp yuca fries." — Dylan Stilin, editorial intern
"This one almost doesn't count, since it seems like they've got In-N-Outs everywhere but NYC. But you can't discuss important chains and leave this place out. I always order Animal-style everything. There's something magical about that hot, melty mess of Thousand Island dressing, sweet sautéed onions, bits of relish and American cheese piled on top of their floppy fries. Once I stuff myself with Double-Doubles, Neopolitan milkshakes and lotsa Animal-style fries, I know I'm home." — EI