One of the strangest things about the modern world, to those who have lived long enough, must be the unbelievable prominence of so-called "fast food," giant chains that oftentimes didn't exist fifty years ago, and yet now own more real-estate than some small country's. Indeed, if anything about America is ubiquitous, it would have to be the golden arches of McDonalds or the red-headed young woman of Wendy's, signs of commerce, civilization, and to a certain extent, the materialism that has dominated the last half-century of American modernity.

In honor of those institutions, we have compiled a list of 5 "origin cities" for modern fast food giants, places that you might not immediately associate with quick eating, and yet are, in some way, responsible for our modern American fascination with the fast-food industry.  

5. Chipotle - Denver, Colorado

When you think fast-food, you probably don't think about the mile-high city. Indeed, with its emphasis on clean and healthy living, big fatty burgers seem to be the very opposite of everything Denver, and the larger Colorado community, are all about.   

And yet, despite all that, the city is home to relative upstart Chipotle, a make-your-own burrito store that is one of the fastest growing companies in the world. In fact, since its 1993 founding in an old ice-cream store, Chipotle has bought and operated over 1600 individual franchises, showing just how serious it is.

But the store's not all about growth and money. The emphasis on naturally raised beef, pork, and chicken reflects the slightly more socially conscious roots of its origin city, a different, and probably much-needed take on the fast-food restaurant.

4. Burger King - Miami, Florida

While Miami is known for a lot of things, the burger isn't really one of them. Which makes the fact that it's home to the second-largest burger chain in the world all the stranger.

As it happened, however, Burger King was never intended to be a huge chain. Started in 1954, it was best known locally for its "whopper" sandwich, leading to the marketing slogan (which still exists today), "Burger King: Home of the Whopper." It was not until 1961 that the franchise started expanding, moving into other cities in Florida and, eventually, Puerto Rico. 

Today, Burger King stands as the third-largest fast-food chain in the world, a success story that its original founders could have scarcely dreamed of. And yet, unfortunately, in that growth, it has lost a lot of its Floridian roots, moving towards a homogenous lack of character that forsakes tradition for an emphasis on profit and expansion.

3. Taco Bell - Downey, California

One of the most remarkable fast-food origins stories has to go to Taco Bell, a company that started its auspicious career as the hot-dog and burger stand of creator Glenn Bell. At the time Bell, the innovator of the "drive-thru" window, was competing with the local McDonald brothers in the burger business. But, as that market became saturated, he saw a new possibility in fast-food tacos.

Consequently, the first Taco Bell proper was created in 1962 in the LA suburb of Downey, California, a place where desire for quality, quick Mexican food was high. But, as the restaurant became more popular and started expanding throughout California and eventually the rest of the United States, the corporation never lost its traditional flavor, keeping its uniquely SoCal attitude even in the face of modernization and the world of big business.

2. Subway - Bridgeport, Connecticut

The only New England-based chain on the list, Subway has a very different genesis than many of the other brands mentioned so far. That is, where most others were local restaurants that simply achieved success by outstanding quality or circumstance, Subway creator Pete Buck created the first store in 1965 with the goal that 32 new stores would be opened around New England within ten years. 

Ultimately, however, it would be the failure to reach that goal that would make up Buck's saving grace. With only 16 stores to his name in 1974, he decided to start franchising; the process that inevitably led to what has since become the second largest fast-food chain in the world. Indeed, with 37,000 stores to its name, the history of Subway has been one of constant growth and movement, a legacy that it has more than lived up to in the last decade and will almost certainly live up to in decades to come.

1. McDonalds - San Bernardino, California

And, in the number one spot, the elder statesman of fast-food restaurants, McDonalds, one of the largest, most important, and most controversial corporations in American history. And yet, it wasn't always like that. 

On the contrary, when McDonalds was started in 1940 it was mostly a local teen hang-out, a profitable but largely unexceptional drive-in with only about 20 employees. It was not until 1952, when the brothers began franchising the restaurant, that it became what it is today: a giant, megalithic corporation, serving almost 70 million people everyday.

In that growth, the corporation has largely lost sight of its original character. And yet, a visit to the very first McDonalds in the heart of San Bernardino can show you what it used to be, a testament to the growth and modernizing impulse that make up everything that is the story of fast-food, and the story of contemporary America as a whole.