There’s an implicit irony that goes into a beautiful fast-food restaurant. While calorie-heavy and problematic, fast food remains a culinary mainstay around the world as a cheaper and often more convenient option than any other. To facilitate both affordability and speed, fast-food restaurants are generally plain. For many people, the interior of their own car is a preferable dining room to one that features hard plastic benches and swooping digital advertisements on every flat surface.
But beautiful fast-food restaurants exist. Many set up shop in historical buildings after locals refuse to see them bulldozed. Other times, their beauty is on the outside, as with California’s Linda Mar Taco Bell, which offers a life-affirming ocean view. And surely Colonel Sanders never imagined that, one day, there would be a KFC covered in Tang-dynasty Chinese poetry.
For those outraged when massive multinationals seek out glorious surroundings to sling burgers and chicken, don’t fret too much. Only a few years ago, the world’s largest KFC left its haunt, a 1926 train station in Azerbaijan styled as a Moorish palace. It will become a train museum. In Argentina, a Burger King has departed an actual palace, a Venetian-style, neo-Gothic building in Buenos Aires, and the space is now a bookstore. So, enjoy the high-low beauty of these elegant fast-food restaurants, while supplies last.
Editor’s note: This piece originally ran on January 31, 2020. It was updated, with the addition of more restaurants, on January 10, 2022.