For us, fast food is neither the devil nor something we particularly support—it’s just a thing that exists in every part of the country where you don’t necessarily want to be but inevitably end up—strip malls, airports, bus stations, near your parents’ house, etc.
Previously, we showed you how to navigate the world of chain eating, finding the least offensive dishes at ubiquitous spots like Cracker Barrel and P.F. Chang’s. We also taught you how to survive in the mall. But when it comes to fast-food joints, timing is everything. To help you make the right choice your options are limited, here is an hour-by-hour breakdown of the best fast-food restaurants, from breakfast to the after-after party.
6am: Krispy Kreme
This is your best shot at finding the red light on at Krispy Kreme, which means that fresh glazed doughnuts are rolling off the conveyor belt. Buy a dozen, eat them all, and forget about achieving anything else for the rest of the day. You’ve already won.
7am: Burger King
It’s Croissan’wich time. Before Dominque Ansel’s Dr. Moreau-style conversion of the croissant, Burger King gave an American twist to a French staple by loading it with sausage, egg, and cheese. It remains one of the nation’s best drive-thru breakfast items.
8am: Dunkin’ Donuts
Skip the doughnuts, but grab a 24-ounce coffee and commence slaying the day.
Until Mickey D’s goes full steam ahead with its plans to offer breakfast all day, the 9-10am slot represents the best part of the Venn Diagram featuring both “sleeping in” and “eating Sausage McMuffins.” If you try to sneak in right before the menu shuts down at 10:30am, you’re playing with fire.
If you’re eating breakfast at 10am, you’ve already lost the day…and you are probably in an airport. You might as well throw caution to the wind and eat something that you know will make you feel horrible for at least four hours.
11am: Tim Horton’s
If you’re looking for Elevenses, you’re probably not the type who’s down to mainline a Crunchwrap Supreme. Tim Horton’s will hit you off with Canadian doughnuts and decent coffee—exactly what a normal human wants at 11am.
Complex social media manager Nick Restivo is our chain-eating guru, and he says that Chik-Fil-A is the spot at midday. Why? “You order a size meal, ask for 7 extra chick fil-a sauces and you fall into a food coma for the rest of the day.” Also, as we learned from our incredibly scientific analysis of Chik-Fil-A and Bojangles’, CFA operates a super-efficient drive-thru operation, so you won’t waste any unnecessary time during the lunchtime rush.
1pm: Five Guys
#Lifehack: Eat a Five Guys burger for lunch—handily one of the best fast-food burgers in the game—then tell your boss that the free peanuts strewn throughout the restaurant made you have an allergic reaction. Boom—the rest of the day is yours.
Fact: A Cajun Filet Biscuit and a Cheerwine is the king of lunches.
With its focus on improved sourcing and ethical business practices and stuff, Chipotle has convinced a lot of people who normally scoff at fast food to believe that it’s totally reasonable to eat a baby-size burrito for lunch. And you know what that means? Lines so long they essentially negate the fast in fast food. The pro move is to wait until 3pm, when Chipotle gets all calm and quiet—at this hour, you might even be able to convince someone behind the counter to make you the mythical quesarito.
4pm: Taco Bell
In this no-man’s land of eating (really, who eats an afternoon snack besides middle-schoolers and people who shouldn’t be eating afternoon snacks?), you can cash in on the final hour of “Happier Hour,” when Taco Bell will sell you a Beefy Nacho Loaded Griller for just $1.
5pm: Auntie Anne’s
5pm is a more acceptable snack time, and snack time calls for incredibly buttery pretzels while cruising the mall/bus depot and wondering what the hell you are doing with your life.
6pm: Taco Bell (Again)
Anyone who spends less than $10 at Taco Bell is not a respectable eater. A Crunchwrap Supreme, Doritos Tacos Locos, and a XXL Grilled Stuft are just a warmup.
This is the optimal to spend some time “outside of Popeye’s, eating chicken and fries.” When darkness falls, it’s time to hit the bar.
If you’re in the unenviable position of having to eat fast food for your actual dinner, you should at least be able to drink. Smashburger has local craft beers, as well as thin, nicely caramelized patties that are actually pretty excellent.
9pm: Jack in the Box
Start your engines: You are now in the first hour of the Late Night Munchies Meal, when $6 gets you a disgustingly huge meal featuring a burger that has grilled cheese sandwiches for buns, two tacos, Halfsie fries (half seasoned curly fries and half regular fries), and a 20-ounce soda.
Still hungry after dinner? Four words: Fry Seasoned Monsterella Stix.
11pm: Dairy Queen
Dairy Queen is the ultimate dessert spot, whether you just went to Roy Rogers or Per Se.
People who eat at midnight love to party. Just like a decathlete snagging a Powerbar, they are looking for fuel as they move from one event (the bar) to the next (the club). Wendy’s comes through with a the ridiculous Moonlight Meal Deal, which gets you a Double Stack burger, chili cheese fries, and large drink (more than 1,000 calories of stuff) for $5.
1am: White Castle
Word to Harold and Kumar.
2am: Taco Bell (Again)
3am: Waffle House
You are allowed to cheat and go “fast casual” because Waffle House at 3am is the best club in America.
4am: Jack in the Box (round 2)
Jack in the Box owns late night. Don’t fight it. Just give in to its powers. (This time, get loaded chicken nuggets instead of a burger.)
After the club, it’s the after-party. And after the party, it’s Denny’s All Nighter time. Whatever demons have got you up at this hour will be chased away by the joys of an Original Grand Slam®, featuring two scrambled eggs, two sausage links, two strips of bacon, and two pancakes.