Quarterly sales at restaurants open at least 13 months were up 7.3 percent, more than the 6.7 percent increase expected by analysts polled by Consensus Metrix. Comparable sales rose 8.9 percent in the United States and 5 percent in Europe.
Companywide, the restaurant chain expects the momentum to continue in April, forecasting comparable sales will be up 4 percent for the month.
A difficult economy in Europe, the company's biggest market, had raised concerns that McDonald's patrons might pull back.
People have been most concerned about Europe and it looks like it's OK, said Sara Senatore, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.
In Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa, comparable sales were up 5.5 percent.
Shares of McDonald's rose 1.7 percent to $96.95 in premarket trading on Friday.
Net income at the world's biggest fast-food chain rose to $1.27 billion, or $1.23 per share, during the first quarter, up from $1.21 billion, or $1.15 per share, a year earlier. That was in line with analysts' average forecast, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Revenue rose 7 percent to $6.55 billion. Analysts on average had forecast $6.54 billion.
The results, boosted by new menu items, restaurant makeovers and longer operating hours, helped McDonald's continue to outpace rivals like Wendy's Co
(Reporting By Brad Dorfman in Chicago and Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles and Phil Wahba in New York; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and John Wallace)