The thread about American fast food restaurants in the UK got me musing about the inverse – how many foreign restaurant chains have managed to make inroads in the US?
There is of course the Canadian chain Tim Horton’s which has many stores in the US now.
The other one that comes to mind is El Pollo Loco. The chain started in Mexico and expanded north of the border. From what I understand the company sold off their US operations decades ago, so the US restaurants are no longer affiliated with the Mexican ones, but I’ll still count it for purposes of this thread.
How many other examples are there? I kind of suspect the US had so many of its own homegrown fast food chains it would be hard for a foreign entrant to compete unless they have something unique to offer.
Two off the top of my head:
Nando’s, the South African chicken chain (although I think it’s even more popular in the UK), has quite a few in the Chicago area.
Jolibee, the Filipino chain which I also know has one in the Chicago burbs.
I’ve seen both Nando’s and Pret a Manger in downtown Chicago. There was one of the latter in the lobby of the office building where I worked from 2015-2019, while there was a Nando’s a half-block away from that office.
Apparently there’s now a Jollibee a couple of blocks from my current office in the Loop, though I was unaware of this until now (and I’ve rarely been in the office in the past 3 years).
In looking at various articles about foreign restaurant chains that have come to the U.S., I saw mention of Freshii, which I did not know, until now, is a Canadian fast-casual chain. There are a few of those in downtown Chicago, too.
Their website shows a number of U.S. locations, though the Wikipedia page for the company indicates that they had financial issues last year, and were sold in late 2022 for a surprisingly small amount (CDN$74.4 million), so one wonders how long they’ll still be around in the U.S.
I was just checking out Jolibee’s locations on their website and it turns out they actually have a location in Sacramento. I had no idea. Actually they’re down in south Sacramento, which kind of makes sense; that is where a lot of the Asian-American population is.
It looks like there’s one Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips left in the US. It probably doesn’t count, since it started in the US, but the concept is certainly British. At least the namesake is British.
Jollibee has a restaurant at the Southcenter Mall not far from where I live (south of Seattle). I haven’t had a chance to eat there yet.
When I was a teenager living on Guam, we had El Pollo Loco there and I absolutely loved it. The simplicity of a piece of chicken (on the bone), some salsa, and small fresh tortillas that you use to construct your own little tacos might sound boring but it was delicious and I still remember it to this day. I used to love peeling the chicken off the bone, rolling it up into the tortilla like a cigar, and dipping it in the salsa. Mmm, just thinking about it makes my mouth water.
Sounds like it is authentic but not actually a chain in South Korea.
Taiwan’s Din Tai Fung, one of the few or only chains restaurants to get a Michelin star, has west coast locations in the U.S.
I only went to the Malaysian chain PappaRich once, in Edison NJ before it closed there, but it was one of my best dining experiences ever. They are still in Queens.
On the fast food side, I love Japanese sort-of–cook-your-own chain Pepper Lunch, and hoped to go to the one in Manhattan, but COVID must have killed it. There are a few west of the Mississippi locations.
As for so good it might as well be one of the greatest international chains, but isn’t, on the basis of one visit I vote for Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao with locations in NYC and New Jersey. This was the best Chinese food I ever had in the U.S.
I have mixed feelings about Paris Baguette. I have never been to Korea, but I’ve been to Taiwan, and there are bakeries in shopping malls there that are similar but better. Also, the interiors of some of U.S. Paris Baguette locations are, well, too American. However, when I walk into the one in Elkins Park PA, I have what is, to me, the comforting feeling of having returned to Asia.
Perhaps better, with hundreds of locations in Taiwan and a few in the western U.S., is the 85°C Bakery Cafe.
Can someone please open a Pepper Lunch in Philadelphia?
Oh!!! I’ve been there! They have one in Seattle. I got some ridiculous pastry of some kind, and probably the best milk tea I’ve ever had. I didn’t realize they were based out of Taiwan, I thought it was a local place. I loved that place.
I used to work in an office in the International District of Seattle for years so I would walk around getting lunch from here and there, and that was one place I tried out one time based on a recommendation from a coworker. It was really, really good.
I’d not heard of it, so I looked it up – it turns out that they have a location in Naperville, IL, about 30 minutes west of me. It’s in the same plaza as an H Mart, a Paris Baguette, and several other Asian restaurants.