10 popular international fast food chains that are growing in the US

Published 8:30 pm Thursday, April 25, 2024

10 popular international fast food chains that are growing in the US

When traveling outside the United States, it’s common for Americans to spot restaurants that they know from home. McDonald’s, Subway, and Starbucks are just three examples of American-founded restaurants that enjoy a large presence outside the country. However, several popular restaurant chains experienced the opposite trajectory, having expanded into the U.S. after originating in another part of the world.

Not every expansion into the U.S. market is a success story. For example, Pie Face opened several locations in New York City in 2011. But the chain and its Australian savory meat pies didn’t last. By 2014, nearly all the New York franchises had shut down. Pie Face enthusiasts now have to go to the restaurant’s home country to taste their smiley-faced pastries.

Restaurant chains appear to have a higher success rate when it comes to expanding into the U.S. market and beyond when they sell one menu item in particular: chicken. The love of fried chicken endures beyond borders, with restaurant-goers seeking out international takes on the classic dish. Or, at least in the case of one Guatemalan chain, a nostalgic taste of home.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

New Yorkers and Californians are closest to the foreign food chains that made this list. However, there are several international restaurants located throughout the United States. Stacker compiled a list of 10 restaurant chains that started abroad and expanded into the U.S. market. See how many you’re able to try in a neighborhood near you.

A Jollibee mascot statue, which is a smiling bee wearing a red suit, a chef's hat, a bow tie, and white gloves. The figure resembles Mickey Mouse.

S3studio // Getty Images


The Philippines’ largest fast-food chain has been growing outside its home market for decades. And recently, the fast-food giant ramped up its expansion across North America. Jollibee first expanded into the U.S. market in 1998 with a restaurant in Daly City, California.

Now, the chain has 72 locations across the country, with plans to open 500 more stores in North America before the end of the decade. The Manila-based restaurant chain is best known for its bright red, anthropomorphic bee mascot and signature fried chicken. Aside from its “Chickenjoy” fried chicken, the chain brings a taste of its home country with menu items such as adobo rice, palabok fiesta noodles, and ube pie.

A view from the sidewalk of patrons at Pret A Manger, which has seating out front.

Robert Alexander // Getty Images

Pret A Manger

With a name like “Pret A Manger,” you’d be forgiven for assuming that the fast-casual restaurant’s roots are French. But, believe it or not, Pret originates from London. New Yorkers are probably the most familiar with the restaurant’s sandwiches, wraps, and organic coffee; the first location to open outside of London was in New York City on Broad Street in 2000.

Today, the company manages 58 stores throughout the U.S. East Coast, with a handful of other locations in Los Angeles and Chicago. The chain plans to expand to more than 300 locations across the U.S. by 2029.

The interior of a Le Pain Quotidien bakery with a customer waiting to be served while other customers sit in.

Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group // Getty Images

Le Pain Quotidien

Another French-titled restaurant with franchised restaurants in New York City is Le Pain Quotidien, which translates to “the daily bread.” A young chef named Alan Coumont founded the first restaurant in 1990 in Brussels. Coumount wasn’t satisfied with the quality of bread he could buy locally, so he started making and selling his own.

There are more than 50 locations in the United States, with over half of them in New York City. If you’re not in the Big Apple, you can also sample the bakery’s fresh loaves, sandwiches, and pastries in the metro areas of Washington D.C., Miami, and Los Angeles.

A slightly blurred woman walks out of a Tim Hortons carrying a to-go cup.

Lance McMillan/Toronto Star // Getty Images

Tim Hortons

The Canadian coffee and donut chain Tim Hortons shares its name with its professional hockey-playing founder. The company started in 1964 in Hamilton, Ontario. But Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital purchased the chain in 2014.

You can find Tim Hortons across the East Coast and the Midwest, with most stores located in Ohio, Michigan, and New York. Try a “Double Double” coffee—named for its two creams and two sugars—and an order of its bite-sized Timbits donuts to get the quintessential taste of this chain restaurant. As of February 2024, there are about 630 Tim Hortons in the U.S., but the plan is to grow that number to 1,000 by 2028.

Close up of a Pollo Campero sign on a building; the logo includes a smiling cartoon chicken wearing a sombrero with his arms raised.

Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket // Getty Images

Pollo Campero

Since 2002, Americans have enjoyed a little taste of Central American cooking at Pollo Campero. The first Pollo Campero restaurant opened in Guatemala in 1971, but the company has since expanded to countries like El Salvador and Mexico. California has the most locations in the United States, but the chain restaurant can be found across both coasts.

The restaurant says the U.S. stores use the same recipe for its famous fried chicken as its Guatemalan locations. But Pollo Campero purists swear the chicken in its home country tastes better. Soon, more Americans will be able to try Pollo Campero, as the chain plans to grow from 80 locations to 250 stateside by 2026.

Chefs making cream puffs at Beard Papa's.

Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times // Getty Images

Beard Papa’s

In 1999, a small bakery in Osaka, Japan, began baking cream puff pastries that mimicked the fluffy, white beard of the store’s owner. That recipe would soon spread to 15 countries and territories outside Japan, including Australia, China, and the United States. It first came to the U.S. in 2004.

Pastry lovers can find Beard Papa’s offerings at bakeries in New York, California, Texas, Colorado, and several other states. Customers can build their own customized puff pastry by choosing a shell and desired filling. As of April 2024, five new Beard Papa’s locations have arrived in the U.S.

A hand picking up a fried chicken leg off a plate of more fried chicken.

Mallika Home Studio // Shutterstock

TKK Fried Chicken

TKK Fried Chicken hails from Taipei, Taiwan, with the first restaurant opening in the city’s Wanhua district in 1974. TKK Fried Chicken describes its menu as a blend of Eastern flavors and Western cooking techniques. For example, the chefs fry their chicken in soybean oil, rather than the vegetable or peanut oil favored by Americans.

In 2018, TKK joined forces with American company Kung Fu Tea to open a joint restaurant in New York City. From there, the partnership spread to more locations including Texas, Michigan, and Washington D.C. According to the company’s website, there are at least five more locations in the works.

El Pollo Loco with a pickup truck parked in the lot.

Manuela Durson // Shutterstock

El Pollo Loco

In 1975, Juan Francisco Ochoa launched the first El Pollo Loco in Guasave, Sinaloa, Mexico. Ochoa used the citrus marinade recipe that his family had cooked for generations. That recipe was a hit, and five years later, he brought his formula for success to his first American restaurant on Alvarado Street in Los Angeles. In 1983, Ochoa sold the American-based restaurants to Denny’s.

Today, the U.S. company has 475 locations, with U.S. outposts in California, Texas, and Louisiana. The company’s most famous former employee is almost certainly Brad Pitt, who dressed up as the restaurant’s chicken mascot before his acting career took off in the late 1980s.

A beef and rice bowl with chopsticks next to it.

Koichi Kamoshida // Getty Images


Yashinova is by far the oldest restaurant chain on this list. It got its start in the Nihonbashi Fish Market in Tokyo in 1899. Over 70 years later, the chain launched its first American franchise in Denver before expanding into Los Angeles in 1979.

Today, there are more than 100 franchised Yashinova restaurants across California selling the chain’s signature beef bowls with rice. More Americans may soon get the chance to try the fast-casual food inspired by Japanese flavors—the chain intends to franchise new U.S. locations outside of California as of 2025.

A view of a Nando's from the street, with people dining in near the window.

Nigel Kirby/Loop Images/Universal Images Group // Getty Images


The beloved South African restaurant, known for its spicy, marinated chicken, originated in Johannesburg in 1987. The signature taste of Nando’s comes from its use of the piri piri pepper, which is much hotter than a jalapeño, but not as hot as a habanero.

In 2008, Nando’s opened its first U.S. location in Washington D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood. Many more restaurants have opened up since, and now there are Nando’s locations from Georgia to Maryland. Order the PERi-PERi Chicken for the most popular taste of Nando’s.

Story editing by Chris Compendio. Copy editing by Meg Shields. Photo selection by Lacy Kerrick.