Fast food rivalries have been around as long as fast food itself. We mean that literally, as there’s even a rivalry regarding who came first. According to Smithsonian magazine, White Castle is commonly accepted as the first fast food restaurant, making its debut in 1921. However, the restaurant chain and soft drink company A&W — which started the practice of franchising in 1925, per their website — began life as a roadside stand in 1919, giving them an argument as the first-ever fast joint to appear on the American landscape.

It’s no surprise that countless quick-service food rivalries have sprung up since. Some of the best fast food rivalries have been close affairs, while others were one-sided from the get-go. Some companies have taken public aim at each other — for instance, how Burger King and McDonald’s have traded barbs through their respective advertising campaigns — while other rivalries have been more subtle (via Forbes).

Either way, to say that eateries have battled for first place when it comes to both the hearts and stomachs of consumers ultimately rings true. Some rivalries can even be mentioned in the same breath as Coke versus Pepsi, Microsoft versus Apple, Ford versus Chevrolet, and other legendary brand clashes. Let’s look at the 12 biggest fast food rivalries in history and see where they stand.

12. Zaxby’s vs. Bojangles

The feather-flicking battle between Zaxby’s and Bojangles is a study in Southeast chicken. Both almost exclusively serve chicken-based entrees on their menu, making how it’s served the crux of this rivalry. Bojangles is most known for its homestyle fried chicken, while Zaxby’s focuses on chicken fingers, wings, and sauces. Both also serve chicken sandwiches and salads in addition to other fare — though notably, Bojangles has gained wide notoriety for their biscuits. (As Inc. magazine noted in their obituary for co-founder Jack Fulk in 2011, sales increased by 60% after Bojangles first introduced biscuits to their menu.)

The rivalry between Zaxby’s and Bojangles is practically neck-and-neck in terms of geographic locations and numbers, and it seems it’s been that way from the very beginning. The franchises were even founded less than four hours away from each other, though more than a decade apart. According to Zippia, Bojangles was born in 1977 in Charlotte, North Carolina, while the first Zaxby’s opened in 1990 in Statesboro, Georgia, per the company’s website.

Both restaurants are also pushing outward from their Southeast roots. Bojangles now stretches as far north as Pennsylvania, and in 2021, they announced plans to open 15 stores in the Columbus, Ohio area, as local affiliate ABC6 News reported at the time. In 2020, Goldman Sachs purchased a stake in Zaxby’s, which included plans for further expansion (via the Statesboro Herald). It seems there isn’t an end in sight to the feud between these two fried chicken chains.

11. Subway vs. Jimmy John’s

It might seem like Subway, the franchise known for its footlongs, doesn’t have a true rival — but their main competitor, Jimmy John’s, would beg to differ. After all, both tout menus that feature submarine sandwiches and wraps, and both also stress the freshness of their ingredients in their marketing. Subway has used the ubiquitous "Eat Fresh" slogan since 2000 (via MarTech). In a kindred vein, Jimmy’s Johns ads, such as their (sometimes cheeky) "Freaky Fast, Freaky Fresh" ad campaign, communicates more or less the same. The most significant difference has long been that every Subway meal is customizable, while the Jimmy John’s menu is fixed. Subway, however, introduced a series of sandwiches in 2022 that customers could order as-is, according to Business Insider.

Although Subway is one of the world’s largest fast food franchises, its lead over Jimmy John’s is shrinking. According to Statista, the number of Subway locations in the U.S. fell from 27,103 to 21,147 between 2015 to 2021 — a staggering 22% drop. This decline aided in dubbing Jimmy John’s the sandwich king’s closest challenger with more than 2,700 locations in 45 U.S. states (via ScrapeHero). It also paved the way for Inspire Brands, an umbrella company owner of chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and Arby’s, to purchase Jimmy John’s in 2018, per QSR magazine.

Despite this, Subway’s reign has remained solid. A 2019 YouGov survey found that Subway is still America’s favorite sandwich shop. Jimmy John’s has work to do as they ranked a distant fourth, trailing fellow competitors Jersey Mike’s and Schlotzsky’s.