While fast food was a well-established concept by the time the 1980s rolled around, it was during this vibrant and transformative decade that our country’s relationship with fast food took on a whole new dimension.
This was around the time that the habit of grabbing a quick and inexpensive bite from one of the many, many fast food chains turned into an integral aspect of our cultural fabric.
So today we are going to go on a mouthwatering journey back in time to the enticing world of 80s fast food!
Together, we’ll reminisce about those iconic restaurants that etched themselves into the collective memory of our entire generation. From their vibrant atmospheres to their diverse and tantalizing mouthwatering menus, these fast-food restaurants enraptured our hearts.
And we are not going to discriminate. Whether they have become successful giants in the industry or filed for bankruptcy, we are remembering them all.
My selection criteria are simple. To be on this list, the fast food restaurants must have been popular in the 80s, and the chain must have offered tasty food, innovation, and menu variety. Here are the
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15 Best Fast-Food Restaurants From The 80s
At the top of the list is Burger Chef. Burger Chef is known for their world-famous flame-broiled burger and the highly innovative “Works Bar”. At Burger Chef customers could customize their hamburgers with a wide range of toppings, making each visit a unique and highly personalized treat.
Unfortunately, in 1982 Burger Chef was sold and most locations turned to Hardee’s.
Nevertheless, Burger Chef was an iconic burger joint through the very early 80s.
The next 80s fast food restaurant worthy of the list is Roy Rogers, a beloved fast-food chain from the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern US, known for their juicy roast beef sandwiches and golden-brown fried chicken.
Thanks to its Western-themed decor and country music vibe, and the fact that many of its locations served their food cafeteria style, Roy Rogers grew to become one of the most popular fast food spots in the 80s.
Rax Roast Beef was a fan-favorite fast food spot for its delicious roast beef sandwiches, baked potatoes, and all-you-can-eat salad bars. They also served pizza, pasta, Chinese-style food dishes, tacos, and a variety of sauces, toppings, and desserts.
At its peak in the mid-80s, Rax could be found in 38 states, with some locations overseas.
Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips
Next on the list is Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips.
Named after the affable actor who played Jeeves in many a Shirley Temple movie, Arthur Treacher’s was a favorite fast food go-to spot for American seafood lovers in the 70s and 80s
The restaurant, which still operates at a couple of locations, specialized in crispy fish filets and golden fries, delivering a taste reminiscent of the iconic British meal.
Customers were also head over heels for their fried shrimp, fried chicken, and a surprisingly delicious sweet coleslaw.
ShowBiz Pizza Place
Often shortened to ShowBiz Pizza or simply ShowBiz, ShowBiz Pizza Place captured the hearts of both children and adults for its combination of delicious pizza and family entertainment.
At ShowBiz Pizza customers were treated to one of the most unique dining experiences of the time, with a large selection of arcade games, animatronic stage shows, and even some coin-operated rides in addition to the menu fare.
A single visit to ShowBiz Pizza meant hours upon hours of fun.
Orange Julius gained popularity in the 80s for its thick and highly refreshing fruit smoothies. The star of their menu was the orange Julius, a tangy and highly-energizing treat made from fresh orange juice, milk, and vanilla that became an 80s fan favorite.
They also sold hot dogs, sandwiches, and popular snacks like pretzels and nachos.
With its unique offerings and distinct flavors, Orange Julius stood out amongst the fast food competition and for that, it deserves recognition on any list of the best fast food restaurants from the 80s.
Howard Jonhson’s is a massive, worldwide hotel chain with a long history of top-notch customer service, but for a brief stint during the 80s, the company branched out of the hospitality business and opened a string of fast food restaurants that offered a diverse menu that included classic burgers, seafood dishes, and scrumptious ice cream sundaes.
Jack in the Box
In the 80s, customers looked for good food at affordable prices, and many restaurants delivered it. But the restaurants that set themselves apart did so by offering innovative and unique experiences.
In this regard, Jack in the Box delivered in spades with its quirky mascot and its famous “two tacos for 99 cents” deal.
Its diverse menu featured everything from burgers to 24-hour breakfast items, ensuring there was something for everyone all the time.
Del Taco expertly combined the American fast food tradition with fan-favorite Mexican flavors.
The menu featured a wide variety of traditional hard or soft shell tacos, burritos, nachos, and quesadillas, as well as the standard burger joint fare.
Their use of fresh ingredients and bold flavors made it a favorite among fast food aficionados.
Hardee’s won over millions of fans in the 80s with their thick and juicy charbroiled burger combos.
The restaurant’s menu also featured delicious breakfast offerings that became a morning staple for 80s commuters.
Hardee’s staunch commitment to quality ingredients and truly delicious burgers, shakes, hand-breaded chicken tenders, and made-from-scratch biscuits earned it a spot on this list.
Dairy Queen needs no introduction. This long-standing favorite tempted 80s customers with its brand of delicious creamy soft-serve ice cream.
Those looking for a more hearty meal also found fresh hot dogs and tasty burgers, making Dairy Queen a one-stop-shop for everyone.
Pizza Hut is another titan of the fast food industry with little need for introduction.
Even though this multinational pizza chain was founded in the 50s, it wasn’t until the 80s that it truly became synonymous with American pizza.
Its deep-dish pies and stuffed crust innovations made sure that pizza lovers across the nation always had something exciting to look forward to.
Wendy’s is known for their unique square-shaped burgers and fresh, never frozen high-quality ingredients, as well as for its catchy and highly-successful “Where’s the Beef?”, 1984 ad campaign which quickly became part of American popular culture.
Thanks to the company’s single-minded focus on cleanliness, comfort, and a friendly atmosphere, Wendy’s has remained one of the top competitors in the fast food market in the world.
Taco Bell revolutionized the American fast food market by introducing Mexican-inspired cuisine to the masses. But in the 80s, its uniquely crave-able and affordable take on Mexican food with bold flavors created a devoted following that endures to this day.
Millions of us remember hitting Taco Bell late at night in the 80s and indulging in its timeless offering of tacos, burritos, and frijoles.
The final entry on this list is, of course, McDonald’s.
It’s impossible to discuss 80s fast food without mentioning good old Micky D’s. With its instantly recognizable golden arches and coveted Happy Meal kids meal toys, McDonald’s has become a global phenomenon over the years.
The Big Mac, Chicken McNuggets, and the introduction of the McRib in 1981, or the McPizza in the late 80s, solidified its fast food dominance.