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Elite meat: In-N-Out Burger is best, survey says

According to a new Zagat survey of fast-food lovers, the best hamburger in the nation comes out of In-N-Out Burger. Wendy’s followed at No. 2 in the Battle of the Burgers, trailed by Burger King, McDonald’s and Whataburger.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

According to a new survey of fast-food lovers, the best hamburger in the nation comes out of In-N-Out Burger, the West Coast chain boasting “quality you can taste.” Wendy’s followed at No. 2 in the Battle of the Burgers, trailed by Burger King, McDonald’s and Whataburger.

Zagat, the restaurant review service, polled more than 6,100 hungry diners about their preferences in fast-food outlets.

“These chains offer a lot of value to diners, and in the current economic times that’s more important than ever,” explained Tim Zagat, CEO of Zagat Survey. “Given the large number of such chains, even the most avid fast-food aficionado may need help in figuring out what’s best.”

McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Olive Garden, Long John Silver’s and Outback Steakhouse all did well in the survey. But the top honors went to In-N-Out Burger, which has stands in California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. The chain touts “100% pure beef” burgers, with no additives, fillers or preservatives.

According to the company’s Web site, “Our lettuce is hand-leafed. Our American cheese is the real thing. And we use the plumpest, juiciest tomatoes we can find. All of our ingredients are delivered fresh to our stores. In fact, we don’t even own a microwave, heat lamp, or freezer.”

Other fast-food faves
The poll also asked participants to name the tastiest fries, shakes, burritos and pizza and other fast-food favorites.

Big winners include Panera Bread, named most popular among smaller (less than 5,000 outlets) chains, and Subway, the most popular sandwich shop among mega (more than 5,000 outlets) chains.

Ben & Jerry’s took top honors in the Best Ice Cream category, followed by Rita’s.

P.F. Chang’s, an Asian-themed restaurant, was voted the top full-service chain, followed by Carrabba’s Italian Grill and the Cheesecake Factory.

And in the never-ending battle over who makes the best cup of coffee in the fast-food world, Starbucks edged Dunkin’ Donuts among chains that specialize in the brew. McDonald’s scored highest among fast-food chains where food, not hot beverages, was the main concern of the customers.

McDonald’s did well in several categories. The world’s largest chain (31,967 outlets) came in first in the Best French Fries, Best Breakfast, Most Child-Friendly Restaurant, Best Drive-Thru and Best Value among mega chains.

Best service? The voters chose In-N-Out Burger, Subway, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Carrabba’s Italian Grill.

Best healthy options? Panera Bread, Subway, Jamba Juice and California Pizza Kitchen all earned high marks.

The survey participants were not afraid to point out the downside of restaurant chains. Among the nastier comments released by Zagat, without mentioning to which restaurant they apply: “Their cheese never met a cow,” “They might as well fry the drinks, too,” and “If mayonnaise were currency, these guys could fund the bailout.”

Among the survey results:                                     

Best Fried Chicken

  1. KFC
  2. Popeye’s
  3. Bojangles
  4. Church’s
  5. Culver’s

Best Grilled Chicken

  1. Chick-fil-a
  2. Panera Bread
  3. Wendy’s
  4. Chipotle
  5. El Pollo Loco

Best French Fries

  1. McDonald’s
  2. Burger King
  3. In-N-Out Burger
  4. Wendy’s
  5. Chick-fil-a

Best Salads

  1. Panera Bread
  2. Wendy’s
  3. McDonald’s
  4. Au Bon Pain
  5. Corner Bakery Café

Best Milk Shakes

  1. Ben & Jerry’s
  2. Dairy Queen
  3. McDonald’s
  4. Cold Stone Creamery
  5. Wendy’s

Best Coffee

  1. Starbucks Coffee
  2. Dunkin’ Donuts
  3. Peet’s Coffee & Tea
  4. McDonald’s
  5. Caribou Coffee

Best Breakfast Sandwiches

  1. McDonald’s
  2. Panera Bread
  3. Burger King
  4. Dunkin’ Donuts
  5. Chick-fil-a

Best Smoothies/Frozen Yogurt

  1. Smoothie King
  2. Jamba Juice
  3. Pinkberry
  4. TCBY
  5. Orange Julius

Best Fish

  1. Long John Silver’s
  2. McDonald’s
  3. Captain D’s Seafood
  4. Burger King
  5. Wendy’s

Best Value

  1. McDonald’s
  2. Wendy’s
  3. In-N-Out Burger
  4. Subway
  5. Chipotle/Taco Bell (tied)

Best Value Menu

  1. McDonald’s
  2. Wendy’s
  3. Taco Bell
  4. Burger King
  5. Arby’s

Most Child-Friendly

  1. McDonald’s
  2. Chick-fil-a
  3. Burger King
  4. CiCi’s Pizza
  5. Wendy’s

Best Drive-Thru

  1. McDonald’s
  2. Sonic Drive-In
  3. Wendy’s
  4. In-N-Out Burger
  5. Chick-fil-a

Full results can be found at

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