Travel Tip: 8 Great Alternatives to Fast Food Chain Restaurants

We know from movies, television shows, and books that fast food restaurants are not good us.

Yet many of us still visit fast food places—occasionally if not regularly.


Convenience. Well, it is called fast food for a reason. Quick to order, quick to receive. Eat and run. On to the next item on the mental checklist of our harried lives.

Price. That almighty dollar menu is easy on the wallet.

Familiarity. We know that chicken nuggets and fries will taste the same in Iowa and Hawaii as they do at home.

Brainwashing. Fast food advertising is everywhere. Kid’s brains are wired to respond to the golden arches and other symbols.

I know that it is not easy to kick the fast food habit. Once upon a time, I ate at fast food chains while traveling. I visited Mickey D’s in Holland and Wendy’s in Geneva (Switzerland, that is). Mostly for convenience.

Oh, but that was 20 years ago.

Thankfully I came to my senses and realized that visiting fast food restaurants is bad for my health and prevents me from experiencing local delights. See also Road Trip Diet.

local Mississippi mushrooms at White Pillars in Biloxi MS
local Mississippi mushrooms at White Pillars in Biloxi Mississippi

Here are eight great healthy alternatives to fast food restaurants. Don’t wait until your next trip. Try these at home, today!

  1. diners. Traditional diners remain one of my favorite finds when traveling. I love finding a place serving a basic grilled cheese sandwich for under $2 and thick shakes. Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives on Food Channel uncovers some great local eating jewels around the USA.
  2. food trucks. I remember old school food trucks from childhood; we called them roach coaches. They came around with a grill and fryer, offering basically sandwiches and fries/rings, along with packaged goods and drinks. Food trucks today prepare all kinds of gourmet and ethnic foods. The Great Food Truck Race is another fun show.
  3. food stands. There are different flavors of food stands. There are food stands that are like stationary food trucks. There are collections of food stands—like in Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas. I love (absolutely LOVE) impromptu BBQ stands (usually set up in church parking lots). Fortunately there are food stands all over the world. Follow Anthony Bourdain’s advice and visit food stands with a lot of customers.
  4. grocery stores. When I travel without a car, I visit grocery stores for immediate consumables and smaller items for later. Grocery store delis (sandwiches and prepared items) and salad bars are usually superior and less expensive than chains. If I only have a backpack, I buy a bag of mini carrots, a banana or apple; I feel better when I visit the aforementioned diner or food stand. When I travel by car, I stock up at grocery stores. I usually buy a gallon of water every day (and refill smaller bottles), produce, and snacks. BONUS TIP: grocery stores often have the lowest prices on souvenirs.
  5. farmer’s markets and fruit stands. It is hard to beat the fresh quality of produce at weekly farmer’s markets or fruit stands on the country roads. Many farmer’s markets also have breads and baked goods, meats and cheeses, ice cream, and prepared foods.
  6. picnics. In Europe it is customary to buy items from the local bakery, butcher, and produce stands–and then have a picnic in a park, village square, or on the train. Some of my most memorable meals were do it myself creations. Carry out rotisserie chicken, roasted peppers, a loaf of bread, and a bottle of wine go a long way when shared on your balcony with a view of Florence’s Duomo or Mont Blanc.
  7. office delis. Small delis that serve office buildings are wonderful. All are different. They may have fresh soups, daily prepared specials (like kung pao chicken), grilled or cold sandwiches, and much more.
  8. festivals. Ethnic festivals are simply excuses to have great food, whether on the road or at home. Whether it is Caribbean, Greek, or Asian, a festival brings out authentic culture and food. Other events with great food include wine or beer festivals, “Taste of” food sample events, and organization fund raisers (like fire station pancake breakfasts or VFW spaghetti dinners).

But, wait, there are so many other options. I did not even mention mom and pop restaurants, pizzerias, food carts (like hot dog or pizza carts in New York City), carnivals, cafeteria, pubs, universities, or good ole home cooked meals (from family or friends).

A fresh caught feast at Peace River Seafood in Punta Gorda FL
A fresh caught feast at Peace River Seafood in Punta Gorda Florida

Which is your favorite? or favorites? Any other non-fast food place you like to eat?

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