12 International Chain Restaurants in the United States

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12 International Chain Restaurants in the United States
There’s nothing wrong with bringing home a souvenir. It’s always nice to glance at the knickknack on your shelf or magnet on your fridge and reflect on the amazing week you spent in London or Tokyo or Amsterdam. But wouldn’t it be so much nicer if you could just jet off for the day, eat some local fare, and truly relive your experience? While we can’t quite offer that, what we can offer is this list of international chain restaurants that have touched down in the United States. Yes, the word “chain” can have an icky connotation. But these spots, with their focus on quality ingredients and bold flavors, are worth a visit—whether you’ve been to their countries of origin or not.
By Alina Polishuk, AFAR Contributor
Courtesy of @nandosusa
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    1. Nando’s (South Africa)
    Nando’s started as a small, much-loved peri peri chicken shack in Johannesburg in 1987. In the 30 years since its opening, that shack has turned into a massively successful franchise with over 3,000 locations worldwide. The chain prides itself on its global influences (peri peri, the zingy, chili-based marinade that makes Nando’s famous, was invented in Mozambique by Portuguese settlers long ago), as well as its focus on fresh, nutritious ingredients. Its U.S. locations are concentrated in Maryland, Virginia, and D.C., but we doubt it will be long before the feverish following for Nando’s spreads to the rest of the country.
    Courtesy of @nandosusa
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    2. Paris Baguette (South Korea)
    Paris Baguette was not, in fact, started in Paris. Rather, this popular bakery chain opened its first doors in Seoul, Korea, in 1988, promising locals a taste of the divine. Fast forward to today, and those doors have opened 3,000 more times all around the world. But new customers expecting a traditional Parisian experience might be in for a surprise. While each store bakes buttery croissants and eclairs aplenty, many of PB’s self-serve pastries have a Korean twist— think green-tea chiffon cake, red bean–filled pastries, and, one of the chain’s most popular items, hot dogs baked into cheesy, corn-covered buns.
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    3. Gong Cha (Taiwan)
    Amid the dozens of boba shops that have made their way from Hong Kong or Taiwan over to the States, Gong Cha is a standout. The Taiwanese franchise’s most popular menu items include milky teas with a number of toppings, from the standard tapioca pearls to the more unusual milk foam.
    Courtesy of @gongchausaca
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    4. Wagamama (Great Britain)
    Diners head to this popular London-based franchise for a dose of Japanese-inspired comfort. The seasonally updated menu is long and boasts a wide selection of ramen, teppanyaki, and curry, though Wagamama diehards generally have their orders down pat. There are only four U.S. locations (in New York and Boston), but Wagamama is scattered at over 140 spots worldwide.
    Courtesy of Wagamama/Facebook
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    5. Ippudo (Japan)
    Despite the fact that it’s technically a chain, the ramen broth at Ippudo is taken rather seriously. They call it a “microcosmos in a bowl.” Scoff if you will, but the complexity of Ippudo’s signature tonkotsu broth is what made the restaurant such a hot spot in Japan in the first place. Its two New York locations are often lauded as some of the best ramen spots in the city, but the rest of the menu is not to be overlooked: The steamed buns with pork belly and chicken tatutsa-age are also two of Ippudo’s famously craveable dishes.
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    6. Maoz Vegetarian (The Netherlands)
    When it comes to quick and easy food, the herbivores among us are often overlooked. While meat-eaters can easily dive into roasted chickens and juicy burgers, vegetarians are often left with fries and little else. That’s where Maoz Vegetarian steps in. This chain from Amsterdam serves up pita, salads, and rice bowls filled to the brim with its famously crispy falafel and an unlimited array of healthy toppings. To accompany the falafel (or vegan shawarma, if you so choose), diners can choose among freshly pressed juice, vegan rice pudding, or, of course, fries. Veg-seekers can currently find Maoz in Boca Raton, Chicago, and New York.
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    7. Din Tai Fung (Taiwan)
    Din Tai Fung started as a small operation in Taiwan in the early 1970s. Decades later, that single Taipei restaurant has expanded into a global empire, primarily for one delicious reason: soup dumplings (otherwise called xiaolongbao). Sure, there are other tasty things on the menu—the pork and shrimp siu mai and vinegar-marinated cucumbers, for example—but Din Tai Fung’s primary draw is these delicate pouches filled with mouth-burning broth and perfectly seasoned filling. Although there are dozens of locations throughout Asia and Australia, the United States has just six, all in California and Seattle.
    Courtesy of @dintaifungusa
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    8. Ben’s Cookies (Great Britain)
    There’s only one U.S. location of this British cookie emporium at present (in New York, naturally). But it’s almost guaranteed that a New York Ben’s cookie will taste the same as a London one—all of the company’s cookie dough is made in Oxford, then shipped out to store locations worldwide to be baked. The company prides itself on using chocolate chunks (never chips!) to provide optimal decadence in every bite.
    Photo by @natevelyn
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    9. Juan Valdez Café (Colombia)
    Despite its name, Juan Valdez Café is not owned by a man named Juan Valdez. The brand is actually owned by nearly 500,000 coffee farmers in Colombia who challenged the Colombian National Federation of Coffee Growers to establish a brand that benefited them directly. Now, 15 years later, Juan Valdez has more than 300 locations throughout the Americas, including nine in the United States, that serve only 100 percent Colombian coffee. The café invites its North American customers to enjoy not only Colombian coffee, but also the Colombian way. Most locations offer actual cups (rather than to-go), encouraging visitors to relax, sip, and savor the moment.
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    10. Little Sheep Mongolian Hotpot (Inner Mongolia)
    At Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot, the kitchen doesn’t do the cooking—that’s a task that’s reserved for customers. Each table is given a family-sized pot of bubbling, aromatic broth (kept simmering by a built-in electric burner) and a selection of raw meats, fresh veggies, tofu, and noodles that they can cook at leisure. Hot pot restaurants are a dime a dozen throughout Mongolia and China, but, thanks to its famously punchy broth, Little Sheep has expanded its empire to some 300 restaurants throughout Asia and North America.
    Photo by @wussupyz
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    11. Smoke’s Poutinerie (Canada)
    With its tartan print boxes and rock-and-roll vibe, Smoke’s Poutinerie is the rebel of restaurant chains. Its namesake dish is an embarrassingly messy thing to eat, and its deep-fried, cheese-covered menu offers no redeemable health benefits. And yet, Smoke’s thrives. Probably because the poutine is wildly good and the menu is wildly creative. Each location offers up the classic (French fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds), but the rest of the selection is essentially saucy food on top of fries: Think butter chicken, Korean beef barbecue, and a chicken-bacon-ranch combo. Smoke’s opened its first U.S. location in Berkeley in 2014.
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    12. Beard Papa’s
    Beard Papa’s claims that its cream puffs are the best in the world. While we can’t judge that definitively, the worldwide success of this friendly yellow shop indicates that it just might be right. The Japanese chain opened in Osaka in the 90’s and quickly became famous for its ever-crisp puff shells and light, creamy fillings. These days, Beard Papa’s has over 500 stores and counting. Most of its U.S. locations are concentrated on the West Coast, but shops have recently started popping up in D.C., New York, and Massachusetts.
    Photo by RenT./Flickr
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