When you bought McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) 12 months ago you thought the future was all apple pie and Big Macs. Turns out, the pie burned you and the Big Mac had gone cold. Over the last year, McDonald's shares have dropped 2% while the S&P 500 has risen 12%. It might be time to ditch the big yellow bomb and move on to tastier treats.

If you want solid fundamentals and growth potential, check out Jack in the Box (NASDAQ:JACK). The company owns the Jack in the Box and Qdoba restaurant brands, and its continued transformation has helped push shares up 75% over the last 12 months. Earlier this year the restaurant chain also introduced a small dividend, giving investors even more to get excited about. Say goodbye to the clown and hello to, well -- I think it might also be a clown.

Source: Jack in the Box.

Fundamental comparisons are revealing
Over the first nine months, McDonald's has been suffering. Total revenue is down 1%, with earnings per share dropping 28%. The company has blamed that decline on decreased traffic and an increase in competition. McDonald's has made moves to try and adjust to the new market, but so far its investments have fallen flat. Management cited a failure to translate investment into growth as one of the main reasons behind the company's 10% drop in operating revenue.

Looking over on the sunny side, Jack in the Box has had earnings from continuing operations per share rise 40% in the first nine months. Total revenue has dropped, but that's due to the company having shuttered underperforming locations. Comparable restaurant sales increased 1.7% at Jack in the Box and 5.4% at Qdoba.

Jack in the Box's year to date performance puts McDonald's to shame, and not just because Jack in the Box is growing while McDonald's is in the later years of its life. McDonald's hasn't even been able to hold steady over the last 12 months, while Jack in the Box has well outpaced competitors. With a brand that Interbrand has valued at $42 billion, McDonald's has all the tools it needs to keep customers coming in -- it simply hasn't used those tools effectively.

Growth potential at Jack and the Box
In addition to its solid performance so far this year, Jack in the Box is also lined up for an impressive rise over the next few years. The Qdoba brand has been refocused, and the new store footprint has trimmed much of the company's fat. In addition, Qdoba is still making the transition from company owned locations to franchise stores, which has helped push up store level operating margin.

Jack in the Box has been refranchising many of its existing company owned locations, and the brand is now 80% franchised, compared with 77% 12 months ago. The increase in earnings per share and growing margins have given Jack in the Box the leeway to start issuing a dividend, which currently stands at $0.20 per quarter -- a yield of 1.1%.

Jack in the Box is managing its cash well, with free cash flow of $70 million year to date. That gives the company plenty of room to make purchases and pay out dividends. It's also actively buying back stock, having spent $284 million on repurchases so far this year .

Final thoughts on McDonald's versus Jack in the Box
The appeal of Jack in the Box is threefold. First, it has a solid operational system in place, which generates cash, pays a dividend, and gives the business a solid buffer. Second, Qdoba's growth potential is still not tapped out. The business operates 2,884 locations, but it's going to add another 60 next year and has room to grow beyond.

Finally, Jack in the Box doesn't have a $42 billion brand, like McDonald's. That means that the company can make changes, make mistakes, and try new things without compromising its dyed-in-the-wool image. In a way, McDonald's is limited by its success in a way that Jack in the Box isn't. That gives Jack in the Box a lot of opportunity. Look for more new ideas, more locations, and more good news from Jack in the Box over the next year.

Andrew Marder has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends McDonald's. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.