Commentary

How Phoenix Ranked Third in Fast Food Excellence

Phoenix, home to excellent misters and lots of fast food.
Phoenix, home to excellent misters and lots of fast food. Robrt Pela

Today is National Fast Food Day. Unclear on how I should celebrate, I call Jeff Herman, the “editor-in-beef” at LawnStarter, a lawn-care company based in Austin, Texas. LawnStarter has just published an exhaustive study of the best cities in America for eating drive-through hamburgers and chicken wings out of paper bags. Phoenix came in third place, right after Orlando, Florida and Houston, Texas.

I know all about diversification in the 21st century, so I don’t ask Jeff why a lawn care company is ranking fast-food restaurants or why it employs an editor, let alone one with a “fun” title. Instead, I ask him who decided that November 16 is National Fast Food Day.

“That’s a good question,” he replies. “It wasn’t me. And, yeah, it’s not a holiday like Arbor Day, which has always been around. But nowadays, if you look at a calendar, you’ll notice that there’s a holiday for just about everything. We figured this was a great excuse to come up with a study—”

“To promote your lawncare business?” I interrupt.


“To celebrate fast food,” he replies.

I confide in Jeff that I’m woefully unprepared for this holiday. Distracted by real holidays like Thanksgiving and Chanukah and Christmas, I haven’t given a thought to National Fast Food Day. How, I ask him, should I celebrate?

“Well, what I'd do is eat at a place that’s more healthy,” he says. “Like maybe get a big green salad from Salad To Go. Do you have those in Phoenix?”

Hey, I want to say. You’re the expert on fast-food chains around here. But that seems rude, so instead I tell him that eating healthy on Fast Food Day seems disrespectful.


“Well, I know Wendy’s used to have a triple stack hamburger, if you’re looking for a heart attack on a bun.”

I don’t know how to respond to that, so I ask how Jeff’s lawn care company went about ranking next year’s best cities for fast food lovers. It turns out they compared nearly 200 of the biggest U.S. cities based on their access to fast food restaurants and food delivery services, then considered the quality of the food based on consumer ratings and something called the Thrillist Fasties Awards, a prize grab that ranks the best burgers and tastiest fries in America.

Jeff can tell I’m unnerved by the revelation that Phoenix has more national fast food chains than almost any other city in the nation, a fact made plain in his LawnStarter study. “You could look at it this way,” he tries to reassure me. “Maybe you live in a place that’s especially adventurous about trying out new restaurant concepts, to see if they fly.”

You mean like the seven new fried chicken places that opened here last week? I want to ask, but don’t.

“Do I understand that Phoenix has the most food delivery services in the country?” I ask instead.

We do, Jeff tells me. “All the big players in food delivery are represented in your city. Maybe because it’s so hot there, people don’t want to leave the house to go eat. But I’ve been to Phoenix, and you guys have those outdoor patio things in all the restaurants that spray you with water.”

“Misters,” I reply.

“Those,” he says. “I love your misters.”

Not all the fast-food news from Phoenix is good, Jeff tells me. “Your social media reviews aren’t great. The median consumer rating for a fast food meal by people who comment online was 80. That could be a higher number. But then you’re not going to a fast food place for four-star food, so I’m not sure what people are complaining about.”

I ask Jeff if he thinks there are people who eat nothing but fast food, and he admits he does. “I think the former president ate a lot of it,” he says. “I used to, myself, but it’s just not a good diet. I say, ‘Savor your favorites, but in moderation.’”

I know Jeff has lawns to mow and I don’t want to keep him. I ask him if it’s possible we could have something called National Slow Food Day, and how Phoenix might rank on such a list.

“I don’t know,” he admits. “But I’m sure there’s already a Slow Food Day on the calendar somewhere. You just have to look.”

How, I ask Jeff, would Slow Food Day be best honored?

“With a crockpot,” he replies.
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela