Before we go anywhere else with this, we might as well say that a good alternate title for this article would be Everybody Loves Pizza. Seriously. Pizza these days is an incredibly international dish, and has spread to the proverbial four corners of the Earth. And it's been popular in pretty much every country that it arrived in; the United States was really just the start. It seems that the combination of cheese, bread, tomato sauce, and toppings is just appealing to human beings, even if none of these things are traditional in their culture (observe Japan). The sheer range of perception is also interesting: in the US it is a beloved, common, comfort food (and a major source of Misplaced Regionalism); in aforementioned Japan, it is considered more of a luxurious exotic item (a bit like how Americans saw getting sushi after people got over being squicked out by the "raw fish" thing and before it started appearing in convenience stores). The key to its success is the sheer variety it can come in: what constitutes as a "bread", "cheese" and especially "toppings" is really up to local tastes. The ease of preparing one also helps, as you only need an enclosed space and a heat source.
Kit-Kats are so popular in Japan that they've spawned a variety of Japan-exclusive flavors because of the similarity to the Japanese phrase "kitto katsu", which translates to "surely win". Naturally, sales skyrocket during exams.
Foie gras was originally an Ashkenazi Jewish delicacy, produced as a by-product of fattening ducks and geese for producing schmaltz.* rendered poultry fat, used to fry meats because lard isn't kosher, butter is a dairy product that can't be mixed with meat, and the vegetable oils (particularly olive oil and sesame oil) Jews had been accustomed to using for frying meat in the Middle East and Mediterranean were unavailable in Central/Eastern Europe The rules of kashrut meant the Jews couldn't do very much with the liver (for varying reasons), but their Gentile neighbors—especially the French—went crazy for it.
Potatoes. Indigenous to Peru, they're in almost every meal in most of Europe today, and at one point, Ireland (we all know how great that turned out). This is mostly because potatoes thrive almost anywhere, so they're basically a noxious weed. A delicious, noxious weed. Not to mention, Jewish people traditionally eat Potato pancakes fried in oil around Hanukkah.
While in Ličge (Belgium) they came up with frying strips of potato in oil (according to tradition originally as a cheap substitute for fried fish, or a way to cool down dangerously hot oil), a method that soon became very popular in France, other parts of Europe and of course America...and from these bases, "French fried potatoes" went on to conquer the world (or at least Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Asia).
Slavs in general are BIG on potato note it really thrives in the often cool and damp Eastern European summers, and is much more reliable than grain which was prone to bad harvests at times, but the Belorussians give the Irish a run for their money. They are so fond of potatoes that an entirely common and accepted nickname for a Belorussian is "Bulbash", that is, "Potatoman". This can even be seen among the WoT and WoWP fandom, where Wargaming.Net (a Belorussian company) is frequently referred to as "Kartoshka" ("Potato" in Russian).
Tomatoes were introduced to Europe from South America 500 years ago but are such an important part of so many cultures' cuisines you'd think they'd been there for thousands of years. A particularly extreme example is the Eastern Mediterranean, which only got tomatoes 200-250 years ago (via Europe, and highly delayed). Ask a Turk or Lebanese or Egyptian or Iraqi (and particularly an Egyptian, whose cuisine today stereotypically consists of drowning vegetables and meat in tomato sauce) to imagine their cuisine without tomatoes...they will have a very hard time indeed.
Speaking of Egyptians, the country has developed a peculiar taste for ketchup, even putting it on things that Americans won't (pizza?) as well as many things Americans have never even heard of (like fitir, a traditional Egyptian filled pastry, somewhat similar to pizza in that its savory forms include cheese and various other ingredients).note Egyptian fitir shops typically also do pizza, usually including traditional fitir fillings as pizza toppings. Ketchup-flavored potato chips (sometimes under the moniker "tomato") are also very popular.
Oy! Chilis! Most any hot & spicy in the world uses Chilis these days - a relatively recent import from the Americas (the Caribbean), Imagine all you hotheads without your spice fix via Chilis?
Sushi seems to be specially prone to this. Mexicans love it, for instance, and it's seen as a elegant-ish food there. The fun part comes when the new culture localizes the food. Guacamole California rolls and chipotle dressing for your onigiri hmm-hmmm.
Venezuelans also love their sushi, to the point that fast food-esque sushi restaurants are in every mall in the country, and some chef created a plantain roll. The neighborhood of Los Palos Grandes in Caracas is so infamous for its high number of sushi restaurants, satirical blog El Chiguire Bipolar went to parody it
In any sizable Russian city you can't walk more than a couple of blocks without encountering a sushi joint. Most of them leave much to be desired, though, but it's the intent that counts.
Roast Beef. While beef is certainly not unknown to Asians (for instance, Korea is noted for its barbecued-beef culture, and of course Japan has its famous Kobe beef), roast beef is mostly a western idea, and Asians appear to love this idea - especially at ordering a roast beef sandwich at a Subway.
Historical example: Peppercorns. It used to be an exotic spice and a sign of wealth, and Europeans loved it. While it's nowhere near as popular today, it's more or less part of western cuisine, although not quite as much as salt.
It was once so rare and so popular that peppercorns could be used in exchange. As they declined in value, some contracts measured in value of pepper became a legal byword.
Lutefisk seems to be more popular in the United States (particularly Minnesota) and Canada than the Nordic nations it originated in, where it is eaten mainly for special occasions during the holidays.
Filipinos love Spam. There are restaurants that serve nothing but different recipes heavily featuring Spam. (Spamgetti, Spamsteak, Spam soup, etc.)
Spam also has a major following in Hawaii, compared to the rest of the US. Spam "sushi" (actually Spam musubinote a type of onigiri, a plain steamed rice ball which is topped instead of stuffed like the normal onigiri, as the rice isn't sushi rice), in particular, is a popular state food (even Barack Obama, a Hawaii native, is a known connoisseur of the dish).
While not the brand Spam per se, Korea and China really really like the canned ham (so much that cans of Spam are sometimes given as a luxury gift in South Korea). Its virtues are a strong salty flavour and fries easily with all that oil in it, for instance in Hong Kong it's used as a condiment for breakfast macaroni in broth.
Cashews. The seed of this Northeast Brazilian tree is of course famous and popular everywhere as a delicious nut,note OK, botany nerds: not a true nut, but a seed. It's a culinary nut, though. but the places it is most widely grown and most creatively used are far, far away from the Amazon. The major ones are tropical Africa and South and Southeast Asia, which have an even better climate for growing cashews than Brazil—of the top ten producers of cashews today, Brazil comes in a rather distant sixth. Beyond that, the Indians and Southeast Asians have been particularly creative with the crop: adding it to curries, using it to thicken desserts, eating the sprouts of germinated nuts, putting interesting mixes of spices on roasted nuts, and—most peculiarly—even making liquor out of the "cashew apple" (the sweet, fragrant, but delicate accessory fruit out of which the cashew "nut" grows).
Kebab is quite popular in Austria and Germany, and you can buy it pretty much on every street corner. Kebab as it is sold there (mainly in a sandwich, with veggies, salad and sauce) was even invented in Germany, in order to adapt to the more hectic German culture.
A special variety of Kebab is very popular in Mexico and served in tacos, known as "Taco al Pastor"; main difference being that the kebab is made with pork meat. Its invention is mainly due to Lebanese immigrants who brought shawarma recipes back in the 60's and then adapted them to local cuisine, giving birth to the "Al Pastor".
Heinz Baked Beans are very popular in the United Kingdom. This is in direct contrast to the product's home country, the United States, where they haven't been sold since 1928 outside of stores specializing in British food and the occasional supermarket with a "British food" aisle catering to expatriates and the occasional anglophile (and even then, it's imported from Britain). The product's popularity has been immortalized in pop culture, most notably by The Who.
Ever since the early 1990s, Shaworma (midway between a true Arab Shawarma and a Turkish Döner Kebab) has been wildly popular in Romania, found on practically every street corner, sometimes in 3-4 shops clumped together door to door and all of them crowded at the same time, so popular that it became the butt of jokes as "the food which lowest classes can afford".
Due to the fact that more than half the Jewish population of Israel comes from Arab countries, in addition to a sizable Palestinian minority, Falafel and hummus have become de facto national dishes in Israel.
In addition, falafel and hummus are both quite popular in America. Falafel is a little more popular around New York (Especially New York City) and hummus is especially popular for its health benefits. Pretty much every grocery store you visit in the states will carry hummus in the deli.
Kosher food is popular with non-Jews, simply due to its perceived quality and wholesomeness.
One particular example: the stereotypical Irish dish in the United States is corned beef and cabbage; Irish immigrants to the U.S. modified bacon, cabbage, and potato dishes to use kosher corned beef because "bacon" is a very different thing in the U.S. as opposed to Europe (American cuts are fatty pork belly (which will pretty much disintegrate in boiled dishes), Irish bacon is meatier back bacon). The first wave of Irish immigrants first settled in Jewish areas, where pork was unavailable.
Baumkuchen may have Central European origins, but since it was brought into Japan by a German baker Karl Juchheim (who political views were unfortunately quite suspect; he was Driven to Suicide when Japan surrendered in August 1945), it became something more loved in Japan than in Germany.
Fettuccine Alfredo is much more popular in America than in Italy, where it was invented in early 20th century Rome by restaurateur Alfredo di Lelio. Also, the original dish contained butter but not cream.
Although Cincinnati-style chili (which usually includes cinnamon, allspice, etc., and is often served over hot dogs or spaghetti) is usually limited to, well, Cincinnati, the dish also has a small following in Kentucky and Indiana (which is no surprise, since Cincinnati is across the river from Kentucky and not far from Indiana) … and Florida, of all places.
Pasta, while originally italian, is popular everywhere in the world.
Maggi cubes, which are originally from Switzerland, are a staple ingredient of most West African dishes, to the extend where there are lots of different flavor cubes for the African market.
Burritos, and tortillas made from wheat flour in general, are not a popular or particularly traditional food item in many parts of Mexico (generally, wheat is only grown in the northern parts of the country such as Chihuahua). In los Estados Unidos, they're the most popular "Mexican" foodstuff, with "breakfast" or "Mission-style" burritos being offered by many "mainstream" American restaurants. (The fact that the wheat-growing northern regions of Mexico are the ones close to the US may have something to do with the popularity of burritos north of the border; for a long time, the Mexicans an American was likely to interact with were northerners.) Ironically, the popularity of the burrito in the US has increased its popularity in Mexico, as migrants returning home seem to miss them.
The McDonald'sMcRib is a popular sandwich with a cult following, but in most countries that serve it, it is only served periodically. In Germany, meanwhile, the McRib is so popular (and cheap, considering Germany's rate of pork production), it's the only country to serve the sandwich year round.
Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, while fairly popular and well-known in its native US, has been elevated to an iconic, nearly "national dish" status in Canada, where it is known as "Kraft Dinner" or "KD". In fact, Canadians make up nearly a quarter of Kraft's weekly global sales despite being only about 0.5% of the world's population. This phenomenon has been reflected in pop culture, such as with the Canadian characters Terrance and Phillip in South Park and Barenaked Ladies "If I Had $1000000".
Maize is native to North America, and it remains quite important in the North American diet—particularly in Mexico, where it was originally domesticated. However, the crop is today grown all over the world, mostly as animal feed. And more to the point of this trope, maize has completely taken over in Southern Africa as the primary grain, which is kind of a big deal; in Southern Africa, meals traditionally revolve around a grain mush, of which you take a ball, flatten in your hand, and fill with other dishes. Historically, the all-important mush was made from millet or sorghum; today, it's all maize.
Hot dogs were invented in Germany (hence the name frankfurters), but are more popular in America than they ever were back in Europe.
The baguette originated in Austria. However, following the Napoleonic Wars, it came to France, where it became so strongly associated with France that it was given the nickname "French bread".
The same is also true of the croissant, and its close relative, pain au chocolat. Both are called viennoiserie ("things from Vienna") in French, but both are (1) stereotypically French to outsiders and (2) Comfort Food to many actual French (especially pain au chocolat, a common childhood after-school snack).
Israeli Arabs love matzah, the cracker-like unleavened bread Jews eat on Passover, where most Israeli Jews only eat it during Passover.
Hong Kong as an export/import hub between Asian and European countries ends up developing fondness for certain European products such as Ribena blackcurrent drink and Kjeldsen's butter cookies (this spread to Chinatown shops in North America from immigrants out of Hong Kong).
Russians cannot get enough of Danish butter cookies as well, and they've became a stereotypical New Year and Christmas treat, with brightly painted tins overloading supermarkets every winter, but they prefer Royal Dansk brand, even if they're made by the same manufacturer as Kjeldsen.
Pringles potato chips are very popular in their native U.S., but are huge in Japan, with a whole line of Japan-exclusive flavors, just like Kit-Kats.
Pringles also has a sizable following in Israel thanks to Procter and Gamble's expansion, to the point that every can distributed in the West has descriptions written in Hebrew.
Chicken Maryland, the form of fried chicken native to Maryland (particularly the Eastern Shore), distinguished from the standard Southern version by being oven-fried and having a cream gravy made in the pan at the end. After its inclusion in Auguste Escoffier's 1934 cookbook Ma Cuisine, it became quite popular in continental Europe, Britain, Australia, and Latin America, but within the United States its popularity is more or less limited to Maryland.
Instant coffee is more popular in Europe than in the United States, where it was developed. Incidentally, instant coffee was invented by a Japanese scientist working in Chicago.
Israelis love Nescafé, specifically. It will be provided in every hotel and restaurant you go to. Americans under 60 hate it.
Currently, 77% of coffee consumed in the UK at home is instant. This probably is due to the tea-culture dominating, meaning that everyone has a kettle, (which can be used to make instant coffee) and people not owning coffee makers. This percentage is falling as more people are exposed to the cheaper coffee makers and the growth of continental-style espresso-based coffeehouse culture, or rather its reintroduction to Britain after its initial popularity in The Fifties and The Sixties. Instant coffee is also popular for coffee at home in East Asia, including Japan, for the same reason.
In Soviet times coffee imports were at times pretty unstable in Russia, especially in The Eighties, so the food industry had to make do with various substitutes (like burnt barley or dark malts and chicory), sometimes going as low as using them to stretch the dwindling supplies of the ground coffee without telling that on the package. This has lead to the peaking popularity of instant coffee in the Soviet Union — as most of the stuff was imported in the sealed tins, it was virtually impossible to put in adulterants without breaking the package. Home grinding also became all the rage, unlike the times of the more stable supply, when most coffee drinkers preferred the convenience of the pre-ground stuff.
Drip coffee was also invented in Europe and is naturally the dominant coffee-making method in North America.
Fosters is a brand of Australian lager that has declined in recent decades in its home country (Aussies sometimes claim that "Fosters is Austrailian for piss"), but it is popular in the UK, and enjoyed a bump in American sales in the 1990s (due primarily to a series of memetic commercials that affectionately parodied American perceptions of Australian stereotypes).
Corona is a fairly minor beer brand in Mexico (or was for a very long time, it's rather popular now); it is the top-selling imported beer in the US and the UK.
Clamato. It's a mixture of tomato and clam juice originally produced by the Mott's company in the United States. In Canada, it's the mixer of choice for the Caesar, a Bloody Mary variant that is the country's de facto national cocktail. In Mexico, it is mixed with beer, lime, and ice to form a michelada cocktail. In its country of origin, even mentioning it is likely to cause revulsion or references to the "RovCo Bass-O-Matic." That being said, it's popular enough among Mexican-American communities to where beer giant Anheuser-Busch nationally markets a premixed Budweiser/Clamato beverage.
The top-selling lager in the UK is Stella Artois, a Belgian beer. The Belgians themselves regard it as one of their worst beers (it's a pilsner in a country renowned for its ales; the other pale lager beers in Belgium, despite racking up a majority of beer sales, are similarly poorly regarded).
Bock is a kind of strong lager, of German origin, normally drunk in special ocasions like Christmas, Easter or Lent in the majority of the countries it's produced. But not in Portugal: one of our most popular brands of beer is Super Bock, especially north of the river Mondego, but also increasingly south of it.
A Bock is also one of the most popular brands of beer in Texas, where Shiner Bock is the drink of choice for everyone proud to call the Lone Star State home.
In a more general sense, hopped beer. Originated in Germany, and has since literally spread around the entire non-Muslim world.note And indeed the Muslim world: when the Turks and Lebanese—where Muslims have relatively loose attitudes towards alcohol—go in for a beer, it's usually a hopped pale lager, and in the majority of Muslim countries alcohol is legal and the local awful, terrible beer is a hopped pale lager that makes Pabst taste like Urquell. There's a reason that English, the language of a people with centuries of brewing tradition and vocabulary behind them, uses a German loanword to describe any malt beverage, and use the native term (ale) for a subcategory of it.
Scotch whisky is very big business in India and Japan, to the point where local distilleries in both countries attempt to market their own malt whiskies, often with Scottish imagery such as tartan on the label.
Japanese, being masters of Serious Business after all, have been quite able to make Scotch on par with Scotland; it helps that there are parts of Japan with a somewhat similar climate to Scotland. The Indians, having a poorer market and a different climate profile, have mostly turned to passing off barrel-aged rum as Scotch.
Similarly, Venezuela loves it some Scotch. Even if the country makes one of the best rum in the Caribbeans, whisky was first a luxury good, but now it's very popular specially for Christmas and New Year parties.
Four Roses Kentucky bourbon. It's one of the top brands in Europe and Asia. It wasn't even sold in the US for a fifty-year period.
Inversely, back in the 18th century, Catherine the Great, trying to wean her troops off vodka,note Though note that vodka in Catherinian times was wholly unlike the modern one, and was essentially an unaged rye whisky. had the military order beer from English brewers, who responded by inventing a new style of dark, malty stout with a high alcohol content (8-9% abv) to suit Russian tastes and preserve it for the long trip across the North Sea and the Baltic. The Russians didn't really go for it that much—not that they disliked it, but it didn't really replace vodka—but the style has proven extremely popular in the United States, where craft breweries usually market their high-gravity dark ales as "Russian Imperial Stout."
Another bunch who liked the new English beer for Russians more than the English or the Russians are the peoples of the Baltic, who at first in imitation began making "Baltic porter"—a dark lager that still manages to be remarkably stout-like.
A number of French wines, although popular in present-day France, owe their entire existence to the British export market; Bordeaux wine was originally made for export in English-held areas of France,note Which is where we get the term "claret" for a certain type of Bordeaux; clairet was a type of darkish rosé from Bordeaux the English liked, but eventually tastes changed to red wine, but the name of the wine remained the same and British brokers were the ones to popularize the sparkling variety of Champagne (before, the carbonation was seen as a wine fault, and no wonder—if you shook the bottle wrong, it could explode!).
The same is true of Sauternes, the great botrytised (i.e., affected by noble rot) sweet white wine of Bordeaux, which was originally created in response to Dutch demand. That said, the French have since acquired a taste for it, particularly when paired with foie gras.
The Irish (or Europeans in general?) seem to really love Mountain Dew for some reason.
Another Chinese peculiarity: Pabst Blue Ribbon lager is considered, at best, horse piss in its native United States, drunk out of habit by old Midwesterners, out of irony by young hipsters, and out of comedy or poverty (frequently both) by everyone else. In China? It's a premium brand sold for a fairly high price. Seriously!
Countless regional brands of soft drinks have fanbases far beyond their market. Examples include:
Cheerwine, a black cherry flavored soft drink mostly sold around North Carolina. However, most of the eastern U.S. can find it easily at Cracker Barrel, which also stocks bottles of several other localized soft drinks.
Vernors ginger ale. A favorite of Michigan natives, with origins in Detroit; while it is sold in other states, it's usually very hard to find.
Sprecher. A Wisconsin brewery that also makes soft drinks. The root beer in particular is a fan favorite, and was voted the best in the U.S. by The New York Times in 2008.
Nehi. Found mainly in the South.
Moxie. Found mainly in Massachusetts, has spread to other parts of the New England area, but found almost nowhere else on the planet.
Big Red. Texas.
Ski. Tennessee and bordering states; name-dropped by The Kentucky Headhunters in "Dumas Walker".
Fanta is quite popular in Europe.
But then it was created by the German branch of Coca Cola during World War 2, when war shortages and the Allied blockade made it impossible to produce Coke in continental Europe.
The versions of Coca-Cola, Sprite, and Fanta bottled in Mexico are popular in the U.S., most likely because they are made with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, and sold in glass bottles. These can sometimes be found at the likes of Family Dollar and Dollar General even in the smallest of towns.
In southern parts of the U.S., major soft drink bottlers will release "throwback" editions, made with sucrose, in order to get a piece of this market.
RC Cola was invented in Minnesota, but it enjoys the most popularity in the southeast US due to a borderline inexplicable association with the trailer park lifestyle.
Tea. The British love it, even though it's a Chinese invention and they only got it in the Stuart era (i.e. the 1600s). However, given how prevalent the Spot of Tea trope is, you'd think they had tea for millennia.
The British did hit on the bright idea that you could also produce tea from the Indian Camellia assamica and not just the Chinese Camellia sinensis.
Russia is a close third after Brits among the Europeans (both are actually beaten by Ireland), but even the Irish cannot hope to catch up with Turkey as the most tea-drinking country on the planet.
Coffee is yet another one of those things that's popular everywhere, though it was discovered in the Middle East. Espresso coffee, originating in Italy, has also pretty much conquered the world. The whole world Must Have Caffeine.
The world's most keen coffee drinkers are the Scandinavians, despite the Nordic countries being far from the Middle East. Coffee means the world to them to the point that most will have a very hard time (or be literally unable to) getting through the day without a cup of coffee in the morning and preferably several more during the day. If you don't drink coffee, you are either considered rather immature (because children tend to not like the taste) or really weird, and even if you would never drink coffee yourself, you have to buy it anyway as people are required by unwritten rules to offer coffee to any guests they have.
Before the fall of the Wall, people in East Germany were so desperate for coffee that the Eastern economic organisation (Comecon) decided to start growing coffee in a big way in Vietnam. As a result, Vietnam is one of the world's largest exporters of coffee to this day.
The diversity among Han Chinese allows the following example. Cantonese invented the lȅungchȁ herbal teas as a folk therapy for mild infections, and still consider it a medicinenote versions of it are in fact registered as traditional medicines in China, despite it has been canned and Tetra-packed, sold throughout China, and became the best-selling non-alcoholic drink in China—mainly by the other people who treat it a drink.
Across Britain, Indian food is popular for people who desire spicy cooking; it helps that many Asians (as in, from the Subcontinent) live in Britain, and have for generations. Indeed, they've been there so long that British "Indian" food is its own category right now (as with American "Chinese" food below, much British "Indian" food has been heavily altered to cater to British tastes for less spice and more sauces).
The British faiblesse for Indian cooking is even Older Than They Think. The first Indian restaurant in London opened in 1810, several decades before the first fish-and-chip shop.
Similar to Indian food in England, Mexican food is the go-to spicy cuisine in the U.S. Like the Indian food example, it helps that there's a large Mexican-American population in the U.S., especially in the Southwest.
Chinese food is very popular in the U.S. Major cities have lots of Chinese restaurants, and even the smallest, most provincial town usually has one as well.
In Germany, Chinese restaurants can even be considered one of the three pillars of generic lunchtime fast food (the other two being traditional German butcheries and the aforementioned kebab).
For the U.S., it's by and large subverted in that the main "Chinese" dishes have very little origin in Chinese cuisine, being more meat-based and often including cheese, which isn't really present in authentic Chinese cuisine; many Chinese restaurants will have a different menu for Chinese customers. In areas with large Chinese-American populations, such as San Francisco, the food will be more authentic.
In general, this is true of any American restaurant chain with limited regional distribution. Many people will go out of their way to pursue a location of a "cult" chain while passing up its more mainstream competitors, even to the point of making a whole road trip out of it. Examples include:
Arctic Circle. Popular in Utah.
Bojangles' Chicken. Popular mostly in the Carolinas.
Braum's. Popular in the Southwest, with locations only found within a 300-mile radius of their Oklahoma home base to keep their milk fresh. And that's imperative, as they're well-known for their ice cream.
Culver's, a primarily burger-based fast food chain also renowned for its in-store root beer and frozen custard. Although based in Wisconsin and strongest in the Midwest, it has a few locations as far away as Arizona and North Carolina.
Del Taco. Mostly found on the West Coast, but has had a few on and off franchises east of the Mississippi.
Fatburger is another popular California burger chain that gets harder to find the further east you go.
Krystal and White Castle, two very similar chains that are equally known for their "slider" burgers. The former is in the Southeast, and the latter in the Northeast/Midwest, and neither is in the West.
In-N-Out, on the West Coast (California mostly), is renowned for its burgers and its "secret menu" items. There was even an April Fools' Day joke about In-N-Out opening a location in New York City. The popularity is such that people even camped out at the first location in Texas when it opened in 2011.
Nathan's Famous. A hot dog brand found mainly in New York.
Skyline Chili from Cincinnati. See "Cincinnati Chili" under the Food section.
Sonic Drive-In. A popular one among Southerners, who can often find them in even the smallest of towns. They're not as popular north of the Mason-Dixon line, however, though they do have locations throughout Great Plains and even as far northeast as Grand Rapids, Michigan
Whataburger. So beloved in its native Texas that towns as large as Temple (population 60,000+) are completely devoid of Burger King.
Wawa: a beloved dairy/sandwich shop/convenience store found mainly in the Delaware Valley (around Philadelphia/South Jersey) and Florida (for the transplants).
Popeyes Chicken and Biscuits is extremely popular in Asia, Korea especially.
There's also the curious example of award-winning local barbecue joints. To tourists, they're like the Mecca of smoked meat. To locals, they're a relatively inexpensive place to pick up lunch. This disparity can be seen in places like Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City, with natives snacking on a $10 combo plate beneath pictures of former U.S. Presidents.
China apparently loves KFC; it's the largest global fast-food chain in the country. A Chinese-American KFC executive who spent some time at the Asian unit has attributed this to three things: first, KFC was one of the first Western fast-food chains to break into the Chinese market; second, fried chicken is, generally speaking, a familiar dish to the Chinese (although the American recipe is obviously different), while hamburgers and such are entirely alien; and third, KFC has put hard work into tailoring its products to suit Chinese tastes, including adding uniquely Chinese ingredients like tree fungus and duck sauce to its sandwiches and by emphasizing its spicy-chicken dishes (apparently, Chinese consumers prefer their fried chicken spicy).
An interesting note is that many Chinese consider KFC a "healthier" alternative to local fast food. Not because they think greasy fried chicken is healthy, but due to the numerous health violations local fast food chains have been involved in over the years, particularly the use of gutter oil note oil that has been 'recycled' from fryers, grease traps and even slaughterhouse remnants by many of KFC's local competitors to cut operating costs.
KFC is popular in some parts of India as well- likely because it doesn't serve beef or pork.
In the 1980s, Kenny Rogers Roasters had a brief fling in the U.S. The chain came crashing down in the late 1990s, but continued to sporadically operate in the U.S. until the mid-2000s (the last one to close was in a mall food court in California). However, the chain was bought by a Malaysian company and has remained extremely popular in South East Asia.
The restaurant chain Big Boy, once nation-wide, is still fairly popular in California, Michigan, and of all places, Japan. Former Big Boy franchises Eat 'n' Park (Pittsburgh), Shoney's (South), Frisch's (Cincinnati), and JB's (Mountain states and California) also continue to exist in various capacities, although they have severed their ties to Big Boy.
White Spot, a popular burger-eatery in British Columbia, have only exceeded in expanding to Alberta. On the other-hand, the fast-food version, Triple O's, has successfully opened up three resturants in Hong Kong, where they sell twice as much as an average location back in Canada each. More locations will also open up in Seoul, South Korea.
McDonald's and KFC in general in China, where there the stores are run as medium class restaurants rather than just a fast food chain (probably because Chinese-style fast food is much cheaper than a Big Mac). Menus in China generally were much more diverse and exceptionally longer than in America where you can literally find things like fried rice or burgers with cabbage in them, and plenty else besides. At least one McDonald's in Hong Kong delivers pizzas. That has led to at least some of the international students' complaint that McDonald's in America sucks.
Tim Hortons is primarily a Canadian fast food doughnut/coffee/bakery chain (basically their answer to Dunkin' Donuts with a little bit of Panera thrown in). But it has a couple of extremely successful U.S. markets, mostly around the eastern Great Lakes area (western New York, northern Ohio, and Michigan in particular—no surprise, since these are the parts of the country closest to Canada).
Gloria Jean's Coffees has about 110 coffee houses in its native USA, and over four times that in Australia. Eventually, the holders of the Australian (and international) licensing rights bought the North American rights as well.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters (based in Portland, OR) has gotten fairly popular in New York City
The Baskin-Robbins ice cream chain is fairly popular in the US. But in Japan, where it's called Thirty-One after the "31 flavors" in the logo, it's absolutely massive (as one would expect from the "ice cream" example above), with local flavors including green tea and the Pop Rock-infused "Popping Shower," sundaes served on crepes, and successful cross-promotions with many anime and video game series, most notably Puzzle And Dragons.
In Italy and the rest of continental Europe, the cappuccino is typically only consumed at breakfast. In the English-speaking world, lacking the continental taboo of "no milk in your coffee past noon", people at Starbucks and other places order cappuccinos and lattes all day.