Fast Food Opinion Plant-Based The Katchup

The Top 10 Fast Food Game Changers of 2019, Ranked

Conversations and quotes in this article have been transcribed from the Foodbeast Katchup podcast’s two-part episode titled ‘#100: 2019’s Top 10 Fast Food Game Changers Pt. 1 & Pt. 2, both out now on Spotify, the Apple Podcasts App, and all major platforms where podcasts are heard.

The biggest fast food chains in the country play a crucial role in our society by heavily influencing what we eat. In 2019, that was more clear than ever as nearly the entire industry began incorporating plant-based alternatives onto their menu, bringing the vegan replicas into the forefront of daily conversation. These chains also led the way in terms of creating new innovations and establishing all of the core flavors we talked about this year.

Some chains, of course, were more influential and impactful than others, whether they were a first to market on a now-growing movement, or simply creating something wacky that generated a ton of social media buzz. Below are the top 10 major game-changing fast food chains, based on how they altered what and how we eat over the course of 2019.

This full list was put together and discussed as part of the 100th episode of the Foodbeast Katchup podcast, which you can listen to above. The criteria to make this list was that chains had to have, at minimum, a nationwide influence and audience.

10. Pieology

Photo courtesy of Pieology

“There’s a lot more that you can do at Pieology, and it caters to more diets than your Blazes or your Pizza Presses.” – Costa Spyrou, Ep. 100: 2019’s Top 10 Fast Food Game Changers Pt. 1 

In 2019, Pieology has quietly made itself the most versatile chain in terms of pizza offerings. With 6 different types of crusts on the menu, 3 different plant-based meats, a plant-based cheese option, and the ability to customize and build your own, Pieology is perfect for all kinds of pizza lovers, and has made a name for itself with that over the past year with these new additions.

9. Starbucks

“The stuff that lands on Instagram is god awful, but what I’ve noticed in the periphery of Starbucks, is they have a sophisticated ability to try new flavors in their food, regionally.” – Elie Ayrouth, Ep. 100: 2019’s Top 10 Fast Food Game Changers Pt. 1 

In terms of new menu items, Starbucks didn’t create anything crazy, although their new Pumpkin Cold Brew drink is incredible. They get on this list, though, because of their efforts in sustainability and technology. Starbucks was one of the first to come out against plastic straws, and is fully switching over to “Sippy Cup” style lids by the end of the year. It’s a step forward towards getting big names in fast food to increase their environmental efforts.

On top of that, Starbucks is also making the technology it uses for its top-ranked app available to more restaurants. Starbucks is widely regarded as having the best customer rewards program and easy-to-use app out there, with the ability to customize a wide variety of options. By making this technology more accessible, Starbucks is going to start attaining an almost Amazon-like status in the restaurant industry as more switch over to a model that millions are already more comfortable with. They’re already known for the coffee, but Starbucks will begin becoming a restaurant tech powerhouse in the coming years as well.

8. Subway

Photo courtesy of Subway

“Honestly, this next brand probably wouldn’t have been on this theoretical list over the past five to eight years.” – Geoff KutnickEp. 100: 2019’s Top 10 Fast Food Game Changers Pt. 1 

Subway is a surprise on this list because generally, they’ve shied away from innovation and tried to use deals to help recoup from their widespread public relations hits. Since Jimmy John’s crushed Subway at their own game of cheap sandwiches in 2019, Subway chose to take a bold step towards adding new items on their menu. They became one of the first chains to have fresh baked King’s Hawaiian bread, an interesting collab considering that generally, Subway makes their own in-house loaves. Subway also collaborated with Halo Top to make protein-infused shakes, an intriguing test for a restaurant that didn’t even have shakes to begin with. One of their biggest moves of the year was teaming up with Beyond Meat to make their own meatball sub, which has since grown to a few hundred locations around the nation. As these tests continue to spread, expect Subway to keep innovating to keep up with their cheaper sandwich rivals.

7. Panda Express

“These guys had the biggest guts out of anybody that I’ve seen, in innovation for 2019.” – Costa Spyrou, Ep. 100: 2019’s Top 10 Fast Food Game Changers Pt. 1 

Kudos to Panda Express for trying to introduce folks to the flavors of Sichuan cuisine with their Sichuan Hot Chicken. While it didn’t translate to much of the authentic Sichuan flavor, it got folks talking about the regional Chinese food on a nationwide scale, and puts the cuisine into consideration for more innovation in the future. Sure, it would’ve been a lot better if the flavors were more authentic (and they didn’t try to do Nashville Hot), but Panda Express deserves credit for going on a limb here.

6. The Halal Guys

“I don’t think any other nationwide chain has ever put lamb on the menu at that scale.” – Costa Spyrou, Ep. 100: 2019’s Top 10 Fast Food Game Changers Pt. 1

In 2017, we discussed on the Katchup podcast how a major Middle Eastern chain could quickly take hold in the United States. Two years later, The Halal Guys has done just that, expanding their empire of locations to nearly 80 across the nation. They also began introducing LTOs that other national chains have yet to offer, like a widely available spicy halal lamb. The fact that a halal chain, let alone a Middle Eastern chain, is one of the fastest-growing in the nation, is huge, and should be on everyone’s radar heading into 2020.

5. Del Taco

“I was really curious if it was going to hold up… I really couldn’t tell the difference. It felt like to me, whatever spice blend they were using for the turkey or for their ground beef, it got incorporated into the Beyond.” – Geoff Kutnick, Ep. 100: 2019’s Top 10 Fast Food Game Changers Pt. 2

Del Taco’s single major innovation this year? Creating a custom Beyond Taco mix to make virtually their entire menu plant-based. While they opted to heavily market just the unique tacos and burritos they created for the new plant-based substitute, you had the ability to turn everything from breakfast burritos to queso fries into a Beyond Meat item. If they had marketed that aspect more, or had a wider outreach than their cult appeal and 500-plus locations, this would easily be higher up on the list.

4. KFC

Photo courtesy of KFC

“They introduced a first in plant-based, which is hard to do in 2019. They introduced Beyond Fried Chicken, which literally no one knew that they were doing.” – Costa Spyrou,  Ep. 100: 2019’s Top 10 Fast Food Game Changers Pt. 2

When it came to which chain had the most innovative, wacky products, KFC easily took over the helm from Taco Bell. They broke into the collab game with Cheetos to make a unique Cheetos sandwich and sauce, as well as making cinnamon roll biscuits with Cinnabon. Outside of that, they pushed the boundaries of classic combos like fried chicken and donuts, and even got into the plant-based game with their first vegan fried chicken in the US. After sticking mostly to sauce flavors the past couple of years, KFC really broke out in 2019.

3. Krispy Kreme

“I don’t understand! You’re the scientist, Costa. Explain to me how they fill a ring with air in the center. It has to be mechanized.” – Geoff Kutnick,  Ep. 100: 2019’s Top 10 Fast Food Game Changers Pt. 2

No single food item changed the fast food game more than what Krispy Kreme did with their Original filled glazed. It was such a simple concept: fill a ringed donut. But nobody else had done it, and they nailed it to perfection. The chain found such success with it that they kept making all of their later innovations in the filled glaze ring donut form, showing that this might be the way to make your donuts heading into 2020.

2. Popeyes

“Game-changing, yes. Innovative, no. What I think happened, it was a perfect cross section of a really high quality, tasty menu item and dumb-fucking-luck.” – Elie Ayrouth,  Ep. 100: 2019’s Top 10 Fast Food Game Changers Pt. 2

Popeye’s wasn’t the first or the last to introduce a new chicken sandwich in 2019. But they were the clear winner of the chicken sandwich wars, and drove everyone else to try and prove they were as good or better (nobody else could). The effects are still just being revealed as to how impactful Popeyes taking a full, juicy chicken breast and turning it into a sandwich was, but you can bet that in the next couple of years, everyone will be reformulating their chicken sandwiches to be made similar to Popeyes.

1. Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s

Carls-Jr-Beyond-BBQ-CheeseburgerPhoto courtesy of Carl’s Jr.

“They’re using the same patty, and that’s what leveled the playing field with none of these fast food spots making their own plant-based. The plant-based patty you’re getting at Carl’s, is the same quality you’re going to pay at the [sit-down] restaurant. At these BBQ houses that are using Beyond, you’re going to pay $20? It’s the same burger, guys.” – Elie Ayrouth,  Ep. 100: 2019’s Top 10 Fast Food Game Changers Pt. 2

Carl’s Jr. pushed the boundaries more than any other fast food brand this year in terms of what they were willing to innovate. In a time when CBD edible products are popping up everywhere, they were the only major fast food name willing to tack their name on a CBD-infused burger, even if it was just for a day. They also were the first to market with Beyond Meat 2.0 for fast food chains, introducing multiple burgers with the plant-based patty before some chains even had just one.

A lot of these chains, honestly, surprised us, as in previous years, many would not have necessarily been on the list. Furthermore, some of the most influential names of past years, like Taco Bell, didn’t make it on this year. However, we’ll be keeping a sharp eye on everyone in the fast food game in 2020, as always, to see who could potentially make that list next year.

To hear the full reasonings, debate, and discussion around these fast food game-changers, you can listen to the full Foodbeast Katchup podcast here.

Foodbeasts Isai Rocha, Elie Ayrouth, and Geoff Kutnick also contributed to this report.

Design Fast Food

These Are The Fast Food Chains Whose Items Look Exactly Like You See In Ads

Let’s be real, it’s nearly impossible to ever get a sandwich from a fast food joint that looks just like it did on TV. Those intricately stacked burgers we see on the ads are typically served with squished buns, tiny slivers of meat, or massive portions of lettuce that intrude on our lunch. Despite the industry’s reputation on presentation, there are some fast food chains that actually do get it to look pretty spot-on.

Photo courtesy of

An independent study from put 20 of fast food’s prominent players to the test, showing customers the advertised and actual versions of the chains’ signature items. From there, participants were asked to comment on which one was more appetizing, tastier, and a higher quality. They also noted how much they were willing to pay and whether they preferred the branded or real food based on visual appeal.

Photo courtesy of

Only two fast food chains, Papa John’s and Domino’s, had food that looked better than the pizzas featured in their ads. Below are photos of the comparisons that customers made when looking at those two chains:

Photos courtesy of

Chick-fil-A also looks similar to its food, based on the results, but customers wouldn’t pay as much as the chain charges based on visuals. Everybody else had food that looked worse than the marketed images by far, with Burger King and Carl’s Jr having the biggest differences between the two.

Photo courtesy of

Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Taco also looked far off from what was displayed on the ads, as seen above.

In terms of resemblance, though, Chipotle’s meals look the most like what you see in advertising, followed by Domino’s Pizza, Shake Shack, and Panera Bread. So in terms of paying for what you see, those are the chains where that statement holds most true.

The study overall proves that most of the time, you’re not going to get what you see on TV or in ads. If you want more realistic images, you should likely look at the images that customers post of their foods on places like social media platforms.

If you want to look at the full study and see just how different all 20 fast food items looked compared to their advertising material, you can view it here.

Fast Food Restaurants

10 Restaurant Chains You Had No Idea Were Related To Each Other

We often come across fast food chain combo restaurants that remind us how small this industry really is. Anytime a Taco Bell, a KFC, or a Pizza Hut gets together, we know that it’s the work of their parent company deciding to create a unit that serves both brands.

However, these “dual locations” aren’t the only proof showing how connected the restaurant industry really is. Some of the biggest brands in food own some brands you may not expect, including those more associated with fine dining, or even Michelin stars.

Below are just a few of these pairings that may throw you for a total loop:

Taco Bell <-> Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot

2018 dollar menu rollout

This sounds like a totally unconventional pairing, but it stems from a bit of interesting Taco Bell history. There’s a separate branch of the taco giant’s parent company, Yum! Brands, that operates in China. Yum! China is the owner of the entire Little Sheep chain, which in turn has spread out to the United States and has put up nearly 40 hot pot locations across North America. Pretty meta, right?


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California Pizza Kitchen <-> Red Lobster


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An East Coast staple sounds perfect paired alongside a West Coast favorite, right? Well, both chains are part of Golden Gate Capital after the lobster giant was acquired for $2.1 billion back in 2014. Interestingly, it seems that this world of casual family dining chains is pretty small, as the company that sold Red Lobster is the same one that owns Olive Garden.


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Arby’s <-> Il Fornaio


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Sometimes, capital firms that invest in restaurants like having a diverse spread of cuisines. For Roark Capital, that means putting the pricey, bougie Il Fornaio under the same umbrella as the ubiquitous fast food meat purveyor, Arby’s. Maybe having such a unique pool of restaurants to draw from is why Arby’s can do their extravagant venison and duck sandwich specials?


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Dunkin’ <-> Baskin Robbins

Photo courtesy of Dunkin’ Brands

This partnership is interesting in that it’s one of the few ever in restaurant history to result in a joint item being created. Baskin Robbins, who is owned by Dunkin’ Brands, sold Donut Ice Cream Sandwiches made using Dunkin’ Donuts for a limited time back in 2016. With that dessert combination all the rage today, who’s to say they wouldn’t try something like that again?

Photo: Coolcaesar // Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0

Jollibee <-> Tim Ho Wan


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Jollibee is more than just the Philippine’s top fried chicken chain, they also invest in a ton of restaurant chains across the globe. The Jollibee empire’s most recent acquisition? Michelin-starred Tim Ho Wan, whose 40 outlets are owned by a private equity fund that Jollibee has a massive stake in. Michelin-quality, dollar-priced dim sum and fast food fried chicken together? It’s a head-turning combo that may just work for Jollibee.


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Out of all of these, the final pairing is the most intriguing. Who would’ve thought that a Michelin-starred dim sum chain would team up with a fried chicken giant?

You may think that the quality of these finer establishments is lesser or that fast food is better as a result of these pairings. However, know that because of these partnerships, companies will often use similar supply chains, especially for single ingredients that can easily be produced and distributed to thousands of locations. As a result, the quality of all of these spots might be a little more similar (and possibly) better) than you initially thought.

Maybe the whole restaurant industry being so interconnected isn’t so bad, after all. At least it gives us insights that the quality of the food being served on both sides of the spectrum is similar. It’s all a matter of how they cook and prepare it.

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10 of the Best Fast Food Chains You’ve Never Heard Of

Everyone has heard of the big names in Fast Food like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King. However, there are several smaller quick service chains that deserve your love, too. Here are the coolest fast food chains we could find that you might not have heard of before. Warning: you might have to plan a road trip after reading.

Location: Southern California

It’s never too late at night to eat at #albertacos #albertacosorange #carneasadafries #orangeca #hungryinorange #instafood

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California is known for their superior Mexican food and Albertacos is no exception. This small, local chain has been wowing local folk since its was born. Albertacos is especially known for their carne asada fries and their breakfast burrito. There is some speculation about what could possibly make Albertacos’ breakfast burrito so good, but the general consensus is that it’s all in their fluffy, flawless tortilla and fresh eggs.

Cava Grill
Location: Washington, DC

Cava Grill is basically God’s gift to man. The concept runs in a sort of Chipotle-fashion with multiple stations on somewhat of an assembly line, but the food is Mediterranean rather than Mexican. Cava Grill is especially known for their spreads, which include harissa, hummus, Crazy Feta, and roasted red pepper hummus. These spreads are so good that they’re produced in small batches and sold to local Whole Foods stores.

Location: Illinois

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If you’ve ever heard of a “Chicago hot dog,” Portillo’s is it. They opened their doors in 1963, and Chicagoans and Midwesterners have been obsessed ever since. While Portillo’s does sell other items besides hot dogs, like sandwiches and ribs, you should definitely opt for the classic dog. Their’s is served with mustard, relish, celery salt, chopped onions, sliced tomatoes, kosher pickle and peppers all on a steamed poppy seed bun.

Location: Texas

Whataburger is essentially the Texas version of In ‘N Out, but if any devoted fans read this they will probably fight back in protest. Texans are very passionate about their Whataburger, and they think their burgers are in a league of their own. Who knew people could be so territorial about a piece of meat!

Location: North Carolina/Virginia

Biscuitville is pretty amazing. It’s basically a dream of ours to walk into an establishment and be able to order essentially anything served in between two warm slices of biscuit. The restaurant calls North Carolina and Virginia home, and specializes in breakfast sandwiches. A few standouts from the menu include a Pimento Cheese & Bacon Biscuit and the BLT Biscuit.

Golden Krust Bakery
Location: New York City

JERK PORK MEAL (White Rice, Steamed Cabbage & Plantains) #spicyfood #goldenkrust

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Golden Krust is a franchise chain located primarily in New York. They’ve branched out to a few nearby states in the past couple years due to a widespread demand, but majority of the locations are still in the Empire State. Golden Krust specializes in Caribbean food, which in our opinion is severely underestimated among the fast casual scene. The place is especially known for their flaky and filling beef patties, but serves up several other Caribbean favorites like Jerk Chicken and Braised Oxtail.

Buffalo Joe’s
Location: Chicago, IL

Buffalo Joe’s is another Chicagoland establishment that has a lot of fans. Most locations are located in Evanston, IL, which is a college town, and students can’t get enough of the stuff. “Buff Joe’s,” as the place is lovingly called, is especially known for their buffalo wings and tenders. The place also serves classic Chicago dogs, but you should really go for the wings.

Harold’s Chicken Shack
Location: Midwest

Most Harold’s locations lie in the Chicagoland area, more specifically on the South Side, where the chain originated. Harold’s has become immensely popular mainly by word of mouth. The chain doesn’t even have a website or major social media accounts. They pride themselves on making insanely delicious chicken and a variety of unique sauces.

Nando’s Peri Peri
Location: East Coast & Illinois (DC, Maryland, Virginia, Illinois)

Nando’s is extremely popular for their flame grilled chicken seasoned with peri-peri sauce. This sauce originated in Portugal and areas of West Africa, and is primarily composed of crushed chillis, which gives the sauce its red hue. Nando’s does the dish well, and East Coasters have started following the chain with cult-like intensity.

Smoke’s Poutinerie
Location: California, Nevada, Florida, Arizona

#Poutine #FEAST. Photo by @sarena_ry tag #smokespoutinerie to be featured!

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Smoke’s Poutinerie is a joint serving up poutine, or fries with cheese curds, gravy, and various meats, in the Western area of the US. The chain originated in Canada, which is not surprising since the country is the birthplace of the stuff. Poutine has become a guilty pleasure for many and for good reason: it’s one of the most delicious things on the planet.

Fast Food

7 Unique Restaurant Chains That Are Redefining Fast Food


Chipotle isn’t the only restaurant chain that makes it convenient and healthy for Americans to chow-down on the go. Make sure you check out these new restaurant chains that are changing the name of fast food by offering healthy options packed with flavor.


1. Blaze Pizza


This pizza company is spreading throughout the United States like wild fire because it lets you take control of exactly what you want on your pie. Much like Chipotle, you choose your dough, toppings, type of sauce and even the type of cheese you prefer.

They fire the pizzas up in a brick oven in less than 10 minutes, making them faster than your favorite delivery chains. Go grab yourself a personal pizza and while you’re at it, wash it down with some of their house-made blood orange lemonade.


2. SweetGreen


With locations popping up in states like California, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Maryland, SweetGreen is taking the United States by storm. They offer fresh, crisp salads with abundant protein options like salmon, avocado and chicken. This chain is unique for its focus on local ingredients.


3. Cava Mezze Grill


This DC favorite is slowly spreading across the country. Known affectionately as the “Mediterranean version of Chipotle,” the chain offers rice bowls that are loaded with options like hummus, harissa, feta cheese, olives, juicy lamb or chicken and Sriracha greek yogurt.

Although based in DC, this chain moves to Los Angeles this summer with more locations following suit.


4. Bee & Tea


A Chicago based chain, Bee & Tea offers authentic Asian flavors with traditional bao and boba tea. The creators of this franchise wanted to make boba tea available to everyone since its popularity has been sweeping Taiwan for the past few decades.

Boba tea is a milk-based smoothie with beads of tapioca on the bottom, making this a refreshing and decadent treat after a spicy meat-filled bao.


5. Nando’s Peri-Peri


Changing lives since it hit the South African market, Nando’s Per-Peri has been wildly popular overseas. Luckily enough for the US, this chain decided to sail across the Atlantic and grace us with its spicy, succulent chicken. Try one of their salads for a healthy meal or bring a whole chicken home for a quick family dinner.

This chain is slowly expanding westward, so make sure you keep your eyes peeled for their upcoming locations in Chicago and hopefully San Francisco or Boston in addition to their Washington, DC locations.


6. Luke’s Lobster


Lobster rolls are a staple for many northeastern cities, so it only makes sense that Luke’s Lobster would want to bring the flavor of the Atlantic across the country. Although its roots are in New York City, Luke’s Lobster has slowly expanded to cities like Washington, DC and Chicago with hopes to expand farther east and south.

Try their lobster rolls if you’re feeling gluttonous, but their shrimp and crab rolls are equally as flavorful and inexpensive for someone on a budget.


7. Protein Bar


A Chicago-based eatery, this chain is devoted to serving you healthy meals for those who lead a hectic lifestyle. With locations popping up all over Chicago, DC and Denver, it is no secret that this place keeps its customers satisfied. Try some of their chicken chili with Greek yogurt for a hearty lunch or some of their fresh pressed juices for a quick breakfast.

Written by Shannon Keene by Spoon University

Fast Food

This Flowchart Tells You Which Fast Food to Eat, According to Age, Location & Time


Are you a cop? No? Cool. Are you high? Yes? Do you live on the east coast? Yes? Then hustle on over to the closest White Castle. Helping munchie-ridden eaters everywhere, the below flow chart helps you decide where to eat according to specifics such as age, occupation, location and time.

It’s a handy tool of sorts when the weekend hits, it’s 3 am and you and your friends are arguing over which fast food chain to hit up. So, set aside your differences and pull up this chart for the final word. I just used this to help me decide which spot to hit up after work and I got In-N-Out. Double-Double and strawberry milkshake, I see you.

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where should I eat