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DALLAS — Wherever you go in the world, a familiar restaurant is likely to be nearby.

McDonald's is ubiquitous — 30,496 restaurants in 119 countries.

So, too, are Yum Brands' KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Long John Silver's — 34,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries and territories.

Your friends might accuse you of culinary cowardice if you head to one of these restaurants rather than some exotic Shanghai noodle shop. But you'll be in step with the locals, who like the child-friendly ambiance, the smoke-free, air-conditioned space and "the revolutionary innovation of clean toilets," as Harvard anthropologist James L. Watson put it.

There are more than 700 McDonald's restaurants in China, and the chain opened its first drive-through restaurant there in December. McDonald's and KFC have more restaurants abroad (and sell more abroad) than they do in the United States, according to the Chicago restaurant research company Technomic.

"There are a few street corners left in the U.S., but obviously this is going to be the area for major expansion. Some have been there quite a few years already," said Lisa Kennon, associate professor of hospitality at the University of North Texas.

Casual-dining chains are also big globally. Carlson Restaurants Worldwide has 927 TGI Friday's in 55 countries. Brinker International ("where the world comes to eat") last year had 1,074 Chili's restaurants in 24 countries and is preparing a major move in the British market.

The American brand presence of these restaurants across the world is sometimes derided as economic or cultural imperialism, a homogenizing, character-robbing force. Whatever you think, there's no doubting their success — and what it says about globalization.

Typically, these are not U.S.-owned or U.S.-staffed restaurants. The chains rely on their franchise or licensing models, where they can take advantage of local knowledge and experience.

If U.S. companies see opportunities abroad, international operators see the same in the U.S. market.

"Obviously, it's going the other way as well," said Paul. "Look at the Brazilian steak houses in Dallas. … There's a rash of players from Korea. Most are into casual dining — maybe the Brazilians are upscale casual — but it's across the board."

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