Why White Castle Is the Quintessential American Fast Food Restaurant
There’s a lively conversation running on Reddit right now, where a user, Calm_Most1799, asks subreddit r/fastfood one question in a thread titled “Going to USA.” And that question is simply: “What are MUST-TRY restaurants?”
Don’t forget, Calm_Most1799 is asking about fast food, specifically (remember the subreddit). That might seem like a pretty simple question on the surface, but when I thought about it a little more, I realized this was harder to answer than I thought. I dug around in the responses a little and found that Calm_Most1799 is from the United Kingdom (and their family is from Saudi Arabia), and that they’re going to visit both The Takeout’s home base of Chicago (hooray!) along with Dallas.
My first instinct was to suggest a favorite of mine, Portillo’s, for its solid versions of Italian beef and Chicago-style hot dogs, but that felt almost too specific. Like, if I were coming from the U.K., and I returned home and told my friends, “I had these hot dogs from Chicago with a bunch of stuff on them,” I feel like that would almost be specifically about Chicago and less of a broader U.S. experience.
So I asked myself, “What’s a restaurant chain exists in the U.S. that doesn’t exist overseas?” There are, of course, plenty to choose from. But the one that stuck out the most, above all of them, is White Castle.
Before you put your arguing pants on, hear me out. First off, which foods are more American than fast-food hamburgers? White Castle, which was founded in 1921, was America’s first fast food hamburger chain, according to the chain’s website.
Then think, a whole movie was created about a long absurd journey of two characters to one location of the chain, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. That’s a ridiculous movie, but… let’s face it, so’s America.
And of course, there’s the food. I don’t know what it is about those diminutive, yet somehow adorable burgers that feels so American. Maybe it’s because when you’re done, you can say, “Fuck, did I just really eat five cheeseburgers in a row?” Plus, there’s nothing like them. Personally, I love a White Castle slider now and then, because they’re soft, pillowy, and oniony. And later you can brag that you ate at a castle. Sort of.
With all those things in mind, I’m not entirely sure I can think of another fast food chain that captures the wide American experience like White Castle. McDonald’s may have encapsulated that feeling globally, but that tiny puffy slider just feels kind of like home. I’m sure plenty of you think otherwise, so let me know what you’d pick in the comments.