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Elite eats: Survey names America’s favorite burger

According to the latest Fast Food Survey by Zagat, the best burger in America comes from Virginia-based chain Five Guys. But while the regional chain edged out national players in the hamburger category, Dairy Queen rules the Best Milkshakes category, while the best fries still come from McDonald’s.

The results of the survey were revealed live on TODAY Monday. The survey covered 136 fast-food and full-service chains nationwide. Voting on zagat.com, 6,518 voters weighed in on everything from chicken and cheeseburgers to smoothies and seafood. Full survey results are available at zagat.com/fastfood.

“I think the headline is Five Guys,” Zagat Survey CEO Tim Zagat told TODAY’s Ann Curry. “It’s a chain that has 500 outlets, but that’s small. But it’s growing.”

Zagat admitted that Five Guys’ victory “was a big surprise to me, because I’ve never yet eaten a Five Guys burger.” But McDonald’s taking the french fries honors came as no surprise, he said: “It’s almost expected every year — McDonald’s, McDonald’s, McDonald’s. Our surveyers voted for them overwhelmingly. I personally like them better.”

The survey divided fast-food venues into four categories: Large Chains (up to 5,000 U.S. outlets), Mega-Chains (more than 5,000), Full-Service Chains (with table service) and Quick-Refreshment Chains (focusing on beverages, frozen treats and the like). Wendy’s is this year’s Top Food champion, dominating the Mega-Chain category.

Yuri Gripas / X00866
A cheeseburger and large fries, priced at $6, are seen at a Five Guys restaurant in Washington May 26, 2010. The weak U.S. economy is no match for fast-growing Five Guys Burgers and Fries, where the standard hamburger has two patties and French fries are served in a cup with an extra scoop on the side for good measure. Picture taken May 26, 2010. To match Analysis RESTAURANTS/ REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS FOOD)

“People think of Wendy’s as the square burger, but actually they do just about everything else right [too],” Zagat said.

Also holding onto its title is West Coast burger chain In-N-Out Burger, which again took Top Food among Large Chains. New to the survey is regional seafood chain Bonefish Grill, which took top honors in the Full-Service category, while Ben & Jerry’s prevailed in the Quick-Refreshment category.The year’s winners for Top Healthy Options are Subway (Mega-Chain), Jason’s Deli (Large Chains), Jamba Juice (Quick-Refreshment) and Bonefish Grill (Full-Service). “They’re quick, they’re convenient, they’re reasonably priced,” Zagat said of Subway. But their most important quality, he added, was their “combination of fresh ingredients and a healthy end product.”

Taking home the prize for Best Value among fast-food establishments is McDonald’s, which also got top honors for Best Value Menu, Most Child Friendly and Best Drive-Thru. “At the end of the day, they do it for a very low price,” Zagat said of McDonald’s. “Their Dollar Menu speaks for itself.”

The remaining top-ranked values among fast-food chains are (in order) Panera Bread, Chipotle, Taco Bell and Chick-fil-A. The top three full-service winners for Best Value are Olive Garden, Cracker Barrel and The Cheesecake Factory.

For coffee lovers, it’s still all about Starbucks, which won the Best Coffee category for the second year in a row, beating out (in order) Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, Peet’s Coffee & Tea and Caribou Coffee. “Starbucks: The name says great coffee,” Zagat told Curry. “Peet’s is an excellent coffee chain, but so far they’re not everywhere, and Starbucks is.”

Here are other highlights of the survey:

Best Burger

  1. Five Guys
  2. In-N-Out Burger
  3. Wendy’s
  4. Burger King
  5. McDonald's

Best French Fries

  1. McDonald's
  2. Five Guys
  3. In-N-Out Burger
  4. Wendy's
  5. Burger King

Best Milkshakes

  1. Dairy Queen
  2. Cold Stone
  3. Sonic Drive-In
  4. Chick-fil-A
  5. Ben & Jerry's

Fast-Food Chains

Best Fried Chicken: Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)Best Grilled Chicken: Chick-fil-ABest Fish: Long John Silver’sBest Salads: Panera Bread Co.Most Child-Friendly: McDonald’s

Full-Service Chains
Best Steak: Outback SteakhouseBest Pasta: Maggiano’sBest Breakfast: Cracker BarrelBest Seafood: Bonefish GrillBest Desserts: The Cheesecake FactoryMost Child-Friendly: Chuck E. Cheese’s

Full results can be found at zagat.com/fastfood.

Zagat Survey rates and reviews restaurants, airlines, hotels, resorts, movies and other fields.

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