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The 25 best fast-food chains in America

Business Insider Logo By Emmie Martin of Business Insider | Slide 1 of 26: Fast food took root in the US the 1950s and has flourished into a $255 billion industry. These restaurants — globally associated with American culture — evoke surprising passion, with many developing a cult-like loyalty from customers. But which chain is the best?<p>Business Insider teamed up with <a href="http://www.restaurantbusinessonline.com/operations/sales-finance/25-top-limited-service-chains#page=0">Restaurant Business</a>, a food-service industry expert and media outlet, to compile a definitive ranking of the best fast-food restaurants in America. Using proprietary data collected by Restaurant Business and its sister research firm <a href="https://www.technomic.com/">Technomic</a>, we looked at nearly 100 of the largest US chains and rated them on three criteria that we considered the most telling for all-around fast-food excellence: financial performance, customer satisfaction, and overall value. Our calculations accounted for sales growth, average sales at each location, consumer-sentiment ratings, and the average cost of a meal, among other metrics. Read more about the methodology <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/best-fast-food-chains-methodology-2016-5?utm_source=msn&utm_medium=referral">here</a>.</p><p>Towering sales figures alone weren't enough to make the cut, as a number of fast-food heavyweights — such as McDonald's and Taco Bell — didn't crack the top 25 in our ranking. Rather, customers tend to gravitate toward more specialized and regional brands that offer a higher-quality experience, including fresh, sustainable ingredients, at an affordable price, according to Restaurant Business.</p><p>Keep reading to see the 25 best fast-food chains in America in 2016.</p>

Specialized and regional brands dominate the list

Fast food took root in the U.S. the 1950s and has flourished into a $255 billion industry. These restaurants — globally associated with American culture — evoke surprising passion, with many developing a cult-like loyalty from customers. But which chain is the best?

Business Insider teamed up with Restaurant Business, a food-service industry expert and media outlet, to compile a definitive ranking of the best fast-food restaurants in America. Using proprietary data collected by Restaurant Business and its sister research firm Technomic, we looked at nearly 100 of the largest U.S. chains and rated them on three criteria that we considered the most telling for all-around fast-food excellence: financial performance, customer satisfaction, and overall value.

Our calculations accounted for sales growth, average sales at each location, consumer-sentiment ratings and the average cost of a meal, among other metrics. Read more about the methodology here.

Towering sales figures alone weren't enough to make the cut, as a number of fast-food heavyweights — such as McDonald's and Taco Bell — didn't crack the top 25 in our ranking. Rather, customers tend to gravitate toward more specialized and regional brands that offer a higher-quality experience, including fresh, sustainable ingredients, at an affordable price, according to Restaurant Business.

Click ahead to see the 25 best fast-food chains in America in 2016.

© Business Insider / Samantha Lee
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