25 Fast-Food Chains We Wish Would Come to Greater Cincinnati Already
Cincinnati has no shortage of great places to eat, but at CityBeat, we believe there's no such thing as too many food options. Maybe you heard about how delicious Whataburger is from friends or family out West or maybe you tried Bojangles on a road trip and now you're craving their biscuits and chicken, but there are none around.
We get it. That's why we compiled a list of fast-food chain restaurants we wish would open here, like, now-ish. But the good news is a lot of these places are expanding all the time, as is Cincinnati, so you just never know what may open next.
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Opened in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1950 during the “golden age of drive-ins and American automobiles,” Whataburger grew from a burger stand to over 900 stores across the western and southern parts of the United States. Unfortunately, none of the 900-plus restaurants are in the Tri-State area. What are we missing out on? The classic Whataburger comes with a large beef patty on a large bun with tomato, lettuce, pickles, diced onions and mustard. You can also swap the bun for a brioche bun or Texas toast or add American or Monterey cheese, jalapeños, bacon or avocado. Sauce lovers can also ask for their spicy ketchup or famous honey butter, both of which go great with fries. Other all-time favorites include the Sweet & Spicy Bacon Burger, the Whataburger Patty Melt and a Honey BBQ Chicken Strip Sandwich. If none of those are hitting you, the menu, which varies based on location, also lists chicken strips and sandwiches, breakfast options, fries, onion rings and a selection of delicious shakes and malts – including a limited-time Dr. Pepper shake that looks divine, if only because we can’t get our hands on one.
UPDATE: Cincinnati is slated to get seven Dave's Hot Chicken locations within the next few years
Dave’s Hot Chicken’s story starts out in an East Hollywood parking lot. The chain’s founders say they scrounged up $900 to set up a stand and begin selling their hot chicken, which soon became a star of the L.A. food scene. Soon, lines stretched around the block to get a taste of the juicy chicken topped with Chef Dave Kopushyan’s signature mix of spices. Now, the chain is expanding rapidly, but it stays true to its roots with a simple menu. The hot chicken is the star, offered as tenders or sliders with varying levels of heat from no spice at all to “Reaper.” The sides include fries – cheesy or plain, mac & cheese, kale slaw or a single tender or slider. And to take the heat off, you can order a chocolate, strawberry or vanilla milkshake. And with restaurants popping up so quickly, we think it’s only a matter of time before Cincinnati hits the hot chicken jackpot.
The fastest-growing Asian restaurant company in the world, according to their website, Jollibee serves up Filipino-inspired fast food. The chain offers its famous crispy, juicy Chickenjoy fried chicken, Jolly Spaghetti – spaghetti topped with a sweet-style sauce and loaded with slices of ham, hot dogs and ground meat and the Palabok Fiesta, their take on a traditional Filipino noodle dish covered with garlic sauce, sauteed pork, shrimp and egg. Jollibee’s menu also has chicken tenders, chicken sandwiches topped with umami or sriracha mayo and burgers.
Zaxby’s prides itself on its “indescribably good chicken” and Zax sauce, which is seemingly a mix of ketchup, mayo, garlic powder, white vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper. Their menu contains all the traditional chicken offerings like tenders, wings and sandwiches, as well as salads, sides – like fried white cheddar bites and egg rolls – and chocolate chip cookies for dessert. And while none of Zaxby’s’ 900-plus stores are in the Greater Cincinnati area, you can nab some of their chicken with a quick trip down I-75 to Georgetown, Kentucky, or the Lexington area.
Founded in Greensboro, in 1989, Cook Out was a chain that operated only in North Carolina until 2010 when it expanded into South Carolina. And in the last 12 years, it’s grown considerably and now has locations throughout the southern United States, including in nearby Lexington. Cook Out prides itself on its char-grilled hamburgers and chicken sandwiches, which you can get in a range of “styles,” like the Cook Out Style burger, which comes with homemade chili, slaw, mustard and onion or the Cajun Style chicken sandwich, which comes with Cajun seasoning, Texas Pete hot sauce, lettuce tomato and mayo. Cook Out’s menu also includes hot dogs, hush puppies, BBQ sandwiches and plates and more. You can also do a Tray, or a combo, and get an entree, two sides and a drink. And we need to take a second to talk about their shake menu: Their list comes with nearly 40 flavors with everything from your classic vanilla or banana to five different kinds of cheesecake flavors, red cherry and pineapple.
“IT’S BO TIME!” is something we could shout if we had a Bojangles nearby. Offering a fast-food take on traditional southern comfort food, Bojangles is best known for its chicken ‘n biscuits. In addition to regular chicken sandwiches, the chain also offers biscuit sandwiches, like the Cajun Chicken Filet Biscuit Sandwich, an “all white meat chicken breast marinated with a bold blend of seasonings and served on a made-from-scratch buttermilk biscuit,” or the Southern Gravy Biscuit, which is a “hot, open-faced, made-from-scratch buttermilk biscuit topped with delicious, country style sausage gravy.” Their menu also features bone-in fried chicken, salads and “fixin’s,” which includes “Bo-Tato Rounds,” macaroni & cheese, green beans and other traditional southern sides. Luckily, you don’t have to go too far to find a Bojangles – Georgetown, Kentucky, is home to one.
UPDATE: Shake Shack will soon be opening in Liberty Township.
A little bit of good news: In early 2022, Liberty Township approved a proposal to build the legendary Shake Shack near the Liberty Center, and we’re super excited. Not only does their menu feature a burger, chicken sandwich and fries served with their signature Hot-Ones Spicy ShackSauce for those who need a little punch in the mouth with their meal, but they also offer a variety of delicious shakes and floats to cool off with afterward. The Tiramisu Shake features hand-spun tiramisu frozen custard that has notes of coffee and mascarpone that’s topped with whipped cream, cocoa and a ladyfinger cookie, while the Dreamsicle Shake delivers vanilla and blood orange frozen custard topped with whipped cream and crushed orange candies. They also have more traditional flavors like vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, and you can even upgrade your shakes to a malt.
If you want phenomenal fried chicken, look no further than this Memphis tradition. Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken started as a family restaurant, Maggie’s Short Orders, in Memphis in 1973 and was owned by Napoleon “Na” Vanderbilt and his wife Maggie. In the ‘80s, Vanderbilt’s only son, Veron “Gus” Bonner inherited his father’s famous chicken recipe and the restaurant. He reopened it as Gus’s World Famous Hot and Spicy Fried Chicken and not only continued his father’s legacy, but expanded it. There are now 35 Gus’s locations throughout the country, including in nearby Lexington. Gus’s says what makes their chicken so good starts with the skin, which they deep-fry to the color of bourbon and until it has the cruch of an eggshell. Beneath the skin, the chicken is tender and juicy, and the overall flavor is described as bold with a pleasant spice to it. Each location has its own menu, but the bone-in chicken pieces are a constant. At the Lexington restaurant, you can order starters like fried okra, fried pickles with ranch or fried green tomatoes. You can also get baked beans, coleslaw, potato salad and more on the side.
Torchy’s Tacos is home to “damn good food that breaks the mold.” Torchy’s ingredients are high quality and the tacos are cooked to order just the way you want it. Their menu features the Damn Good Tacos, which come in 14 types with names like the Mofaux (Beyond Beef, green chiles, grilled corn, peppadew peppers, avocado, cilantro and diablo sauce) or Brushfire (Jamaican jerk chicken, grilled jalapeños, mango, sour cream, cilantro and diablo sauce). They also have a variety of breakfast tacos topped with eggs, meats, cheese and sauce. If you’re looking for something other than tacos, try the Airstream Salad, Grande Burrito or the chips and queso. On the side, enjoy the street corn, refried beans or Mexican rice. And for dessert, don’t skip the churros or Lil’ Nookies, fried chocolate chip cookie dough topped with powdered sugar and cherries. And while we can’t get Torchy’s just yet, like Shake Shack, Liberty Township approved a proposal to build one near Liberty Center.
Portillo’s is home to everything we love about Windy City street food with menu items like Italian beef and pepper sandwiches, Chicago-style hot dogs, Polish sausages, crispy onion rings and fries that come with cheese sauce for dipping. Portillo’s also carries an array of pasta dishes, chicken sandwiches and tenders, burgers, bowls and salads. And if you’re not too full after, you can also try the Chocolate Cake Shake or Strawberry Shortcake that’s made fresh every morning for dessert. But if you’re really craving some Portillo’s, they do have a shop on their website where they sell kits that allow you to make your own hot dogs or Italian beef sandwiches.