Winners and losers

Last reviewed: August 2011

Are some of the biggest and best-known chains low-rated because of the Walmart syndrome, in which the public enjoys taking potshots at the 800-pound gorilla? Not according to Tristano. "The large chains are consistent and they're everywhere, but they do get lower scores for their overall experience," he says. "It's not high quality that's driving traffic, it's good value, drive-thru, and convenience."

Fortunately, if you like fast food of any type, there are plenty of good choices.

For burger fans, the best restaurants include In-N-Out Burger, rated highest of all 53 chains, Burgerville (39 in Oregon and Washington), Five Guys Burgers and Fries (750 nationwide and in Canada), Culver's (428 mainly in the Midwest), and Back Yard Burgers (120 mostly in the South and East).

For Mexican food, Chipotle, Rubio's Fresh (180 in the West), Qdoba (500 nationally), and Baja Fresh (255 in 24 states and Dubai) earned high marks for food and service.

One chicken chain topped the rest: Chick-fil-A. (It has come under criticism, but not for its food: A franchisee ruffled feathers earlier this year by donating food for events by a group reportedly opposing gay marriage, prompting company president and chief operating officer Dan Cathy to respond in a video. "Providing food to these events," he said in part, "is not an endorsement.")

Crave a top-notch wedge, hero, hoagie, or sub served quickly with a smile on the side? Try Jason's Deli (200 in 28 states), Firehouse Subs (426 in 24 states), Jersey Mike's Sub (500 nationwide), Potbelly Sandwich Shop (200 in 11 states and Washington, D.C.), Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches (1,000 nationwide), or Schlotzsky's (327 nationwide).

The single standout for pizza: Papa Murphy's Take 'N' Bake Pizza, which has an unconventional concept: Patrons order a pizza to bake at home.