Admit it... There's Some Dishes at Chain Restaurants You Like
Yes, chain restaurants can hurt the character of neighborhoods and the ability of smaller restaurants to gain a foothold. But sometimes you have a craving... and that craving can only be satiated at a chain restaurant.
Admit your deepest darkest secret and tell what dishes at chain restaurants you like (and please don't forever ban me from the boards ;)
Here are mine:
--chips (not very greasy or salty) and salsa (slightly brown the way it should be)
--fresh tortillas of El Machino
--beans a la charra (pinto beans with pork)
--spaghetti and meatballs
--creamy pesto salad dressing
--hamburgers (you order it medium and it comes out really flavorful and not dried to a crisp) & fries
California Pizza Kitchen (and even cheaper - CPK ASAP)
--chicken sesame dumplings
--roasted garlic chicken pizza
--honey lime salad dressing
--firecracker pork fusilli
--chicken sausage penne
Boston Market (a.k.a. BoMart)
--chicken is quite good and moist (believe it or not my friends and I went here for Thanksgiving last year - it was a very White Trash Thanksgiving(tm) and fun)
In San Diego, I like Pick Up Stix, and in Texas I enjoy Rudy's BBQ & Chuy's.
Being a Canadian, I can only say that I am envious that I cannot even try most of these suggestions. However, that being said, here is my list of occasional must-haves:
KFC - fried chicken and fries with gravy. No one else in my family will touch the gravy, so it's all mine.
Arby's - Beef'n Cheddar sandwich with curly fries. The Arby's sauce is so good! Given that Arby's are few and far between in these parts (South-Western and Eastern Ontario), I eat one maybe once every 3, 4 years, if that.
Mr.Sub - Assorted cold cut sub. Subway has taken the sub world by storm, but I still prefer Mr.Sub. Again, they are hard to find nowadays.
Wendy's - Frosty.
When I was a teen, I was seriously addicted to McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese. I don't eat at McDonald's anymore.
We have a really good relatively local hamburger chain up here called Lick's.Their burgers and onion rings are amazingly good. I actually switched to their veggie burgers years ago, and I still prefer them to any meat patty that I try, occasionally, now.
I just have to share this quick tale. This goes back to the debate about whether or not independent restaurants are always a better choice, or not.
A few years back I was traveling with my older sister and her son. He was 14 at the time and a pretty fussy eater. He survived on a steady diet of bread and butter, plain noodles with parmesan cheese on top, white chicken meat, burgers with nothing but ketchup on them, cheese pizza, hot dogs, fries, salami, cooked ham and caesar salad.
So, one day on our travels, we stopped in a small community on the west coast. It was lunchtime, and we were all hungry. My nephew immediately spotted a Dairy Queen Brazier and started whining for chicken fingers and ice cream.
Because I was on vacation, this really irked me. Trying local food is a big part of the pleasure of travel. Thankfully, my sister is like-minded, so we asked a local to steer us to a good mom and pop lunch spot.
Being that we were on the west coast, they recommended a seafood joint. The nephew wasn't too thrilled, but fries and chicken fingers were on the menu, so he didn't put up too much of a fight.
Well, let me just say that it turned out to be the worst meal I've ever eaten in my life! The lettuce in the salad was brown and soggy. The bread rolls were moldy. There was hair in the half-melted butter. There was a burned out matchstick in my sister's drink. The fries had burned bits of other deep fried unidentifiables mixed in. It was totally gross.
And the worst part was that night I didn't get sleep a wink because I was felled with severe gastrointestinal distress.
Lesson in all of this? Sometimes, in an unfamiliar place, a chain restaurant can save one's behind. Literally and figuratively.
<hanging head in shame...> anything at Crackel Barrel. When we do a cross-country road trip, eating at C.B. for all 3 meals is heaven to me. Closest one to us is a 3 hour drive each way, and we gladly go several times a year. For me it's always for country ham, which I can't get here. Not gourmet, but being born in the Land of Biscuits and Gravy, I miss southern cooking. (Get nostaligic about pot likker!)
re: pine time
I adore their steak salad and their buttermilk dressing. And their biscuits. The steal salad was perfect when I lived in florida and had a hankering for red meat, but it was too hot to actually have a whole steak. I used to wonder who bought the stuff in the gift shop, and then I met my MIL. ;)
re: pine time
Chili's Quesadilla Explosion salad and Ruby Tuesday's Blue Ribbon Boston Burger.
Also...soup, salad and breadsticks at the Garden. Can't help it.
Everything Chick-Fil-A...sorry if that is controversial these days...but best chicken nuggets and chicken biscuits ever. Fries. Polynesian Sauce.
And Whataburger. I have a constant craving for a Junior Whataburger with cheese, but I sadly (or fortunately) can rarely indulge, as there are no Whataburgers where I live.
The Chicken Francese at Maggiano's was really incredibly good, and paired with the crispy red potatoes and a small tossed salad, it was addictive. Unfortunately, with the recent menu remodeling, the dish is gone! I can't believe it wasn't popular enough to last. My friends and I would make the trip to eat there just for that entree.
Taco Bell- cheesy gordia crunch and soft potato tacos and of course, cinnamon twists
Sonic- any of the slushies are pretty good usually
Mcdonalds- mcnuggets are a secret obession and fries, sometimes i get a happy meal just..because!
Panera- baked potato soup
TGIF- the vanilla cheesecake dessert
I mostly go to taco bell when I want fast food.
This may just be me, but I never understood people who boycott Olive Garden cos it's a chain. For chrissake, it's red sauce and noodles. Rule#1 NEVER eat meatballs made at a privately owned family restaurant.. I would only eat machine made ie Olive garden or homemade.
carrabba's grilled bone-in pork chops are fabulous! two huge chops that are thick, juicy, and perfectly cooked -- with a terrific marsala and mushroom sauce. i choose the garlic mashed potato side; it's very fresh and garlicky.
bonefish grill's bang bang shrimp is addictive. crunchy, saucy, a little spicy and -- again -- generous. to see if it is a super bargain here in dc metro, i have to check the prices, as i've been in florida where the dish was a very good value.
Texas only chain: Babe's Chicken House - everything. It's a chain, it's kind of goofy, but I will defend that place with my last breath. (Dear Lord, please don't let it come to that.)
Texas Roadhouse: Their catfish is honestly some of the BEST anywhere, and I'm picky. Also, whatever the sauce is they serve with it: delicious. (All I can tell you is it's mayo-based, w/whole grain mustard.)
OK, this is troubled-waters, because I know how a lot of 'hounds feel about this place, but... I will happily order whatever the Red Robin burger w/fried egg is called (don't judge, that thing is delicious) and... a mai tai. Thinking of that cheerful little basket of hot, salty "steak fries" and a boozy fruity beverage makes me sad (happy?) I'm low-carbing right now.
Also, if there's a more perfect Get Your Roadtrip Started food than the Sausage McMuffin w/egg, I don't know what it could be.
The Spaghetti Warehouse always had perfect calamari, I was sad to see that chain go - one of my favorite things was to order the (appetizer) calamari as my meal. (Why do some chains serve that wretched calamari that looks like Burger King "onion rings" when that delicious, light, crispy, curly GOOD calamari is clearly available frozen?)
I love chains now and then, but not too often. I grew up with parents that were really fussy about food, so going to a chain was not something we did very often.
Nowadays, I do eat in a chain almost every week, but that is because they are very convenient and cheap.
McDonald´s: Fish burger and fries (fries must be fresh, not otherwise...)
Burger King: Love the Cheese whopper, and generally think this chain is quite good because you can add o take away some ingredients.
Wendy´s: Used to love their burgers, but now haven´t had one in ages as there is no Wendy´s here where I live..(seufz!)
Here in Spain there are some fast-food chains, like Rodilla or Mallorca, but the first only does sandwiches (nothing baked) and the second is quite high-end...
Oh, forgot to mention Pizza Hut! Used to love it also, but mostly because of the salad bars! Sometimes the Deep Pan pizza would also be quite good...
I'm glad I'm not the only one who loves Boston Market chicken. Most of the sides are pretty good, too.
Also agree about Taco Bell -- the original Hard Taco Supreme is about as far from Mexican as you can get, but it rules. Also the 7-Layer Burrito. To me, Taco Bell is the taste of adolescence. One bite and I've got a skateboard and Agent Orange on my walkman. So, I'm not sure I can really be objective. But I do love it.
In a different way, Chipotle rules, too.
For burger chains, 5 Guys on the East Coast and In-n-Out on the West Coast. And I've always loved Wendy's chicken sandwiches -- but you need to ask for the chili seasoning in the gold packet.
And Krispy Kreme. Oh, Krispy Kreme. Better donuts certainly exist, but KK is close to the top.
I am glad I have a spot to confess my sins. I really like some of Buca de Beppo's offerings. The other night I was in need of some comfort food and ordered the stuffed shells and a side of broccoli. Both were really good and I had meals for about three nights. I always expect their food to be bland, but they always surprise with very well seasoned food. There aren't a whole lot of moderate Italian restaurants in my neighborhood, so Buca de Beppo fills the need.
I'm so ashamed... but first and foremost, I LOVE the hot cheese biscuits at the Dead Lobster. When I lived near one, I would get the cheapest menu item I could that would allow me to get those biscuits.
I also like:
McDonalds: Egg McMuffin
Cheesecake Factory: plain cheesecake
Five Guys: Cheeseburger (loaded)
Z-Burger: Cheeseburger and double chocolate shake
Some of mine
Jersey Mike's Subs - Their Original Italian Sometimes called the #13, and their roast beef subs.
Outback - The Bloomin Onion, I love they have outbacks at airports now, we'll just stop in for a bloomin onion and a beer while waiting for our flight.
Boston Market / KFC - Mac and Cheese
Azeteca (small chain) - Queso Dip, Ramos Margaritas
B.J.'s Brew Pub - Fish Tacos, Piranaha Pale Ale, Potato skins, and the Pizookie
Sonic - those jalopeno tator tot things - totchos? My mom loves them and she introduced me to them.
Olive Garden - the portabella mushroom ravioli
Millers Ale house (small chain) - Chicken nachos
Donatos Pizza - Loaded Edge to Edge Pepperoni Pizza
Padrinos - Cuban Sandwich
Mickey D's fries with S&S sauce & Apple Pies
Olive Gardens salad dressing, zuppa toscana, bread sticks with alfredo sauce, chicken scampi, and lemon cake (thats a meal!)
BK's italian chicken sandwich, but their fries are HORRIBLE
The Cheesecake factory's spicy asian beef, fried mac & cheese
On the Borders carne asada flatbread tacos
Dominos bbq chicken wings (cooked well done and with extra bbq sauce)
KFC's popcorn chicken
Chevy's corn stuff and fajitas (sadly they moved out of my area a few years ago)
Texas Roadhouse's rolls, filet medallions, texas rice
Boston Market's macaroni and cheese & cornbread
Applebee's bbq sauce
i think i love almost everything i've ever eaten at ARBY's.
off the top of my head:
- italian sub. this was absolutely sopping wet with italian dressing and all the better for it. i'm talking about the OLD version from over ten years ago that has since been discontinued and replaced with an upscale version. a version that is, unfortunately, not nearly so good.
- regular roast beef with arby sauce. classic from my childhood. is it even a close facsimile of a homemade "ROAST BEEF" sandwich? of course not. it's a totally different thing, but with that sweet, peppery arby sauce, it's sublime.
- arby melt. my brother and i would get the 5 for $5 deal on arby melts every wednesday after high school and chow down. incredibly decadent, rich, and satisfying.
- before mcdonalds transitioned to the whole white meat chicken strips, arby's was already doing a much better job at serving premium chicken tenders. the honey mustard was also a revelation for me at that age.
- the market fresh sandwiches, despite being both [a] not from the market, [b] not fresh, and really [c] not that healthy, are really uniformly tasty and reliable. sometimes when i'm traveling and there's almost nothing to choose from, just the thought of that honey nut bread with the pieces of walnuts makes me gravitate toward that big stupid hat.
long story short: ARBY's rocks.
Eating at a chain doesn't mean you'll get fat vs. eating at a non-chain where you'll stay skinny. Non-chains use just as much butter/oil as chains. That's what makes restaurant food so good. they might even get away with using more since they don't have to post their nutritional content.
If you want to stay thin, make your food at home.
I love that this antique blog has been brought back to life (look, it's Frankenblog!) Still, I gotta say to all who are hounding the junk food hounds the same thing we say to my niece who likes to eat absolutely nothing but fruit, broccoli, cold hot dogs and turkey lunchmeat:
"don't yuck on my yum."
For my own junk food favorite - try the Casa Ole' Pescado Mexicana - oh my goodness the cilantro cream sauce! Well just bring me a bowl of that with a side of tilapia and I can call it dinner.
I can't really say I like chain restaurants. It's more of a "i'm not disgusted by some of them". There are certain chains I will not step into anymore - Denny's, Applebee's, McDonald's, Burger King(oh the horror the horror), Taco Hell(don't get me started), Crack in the Box, Subway, Quizno's, hell any sandwich place where they don't know the definition of proper hygiene. At least I can give some credit to my local Olive Garden, it's consistently decent and the noise level is acceptable. However when I want to go out, I choose to patronize indies.
I can't believe no one said Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich (minus mayo.) That, with a baked potato (instead of fries) topped with Italian salad dressing, and a frosty? Pretty much my idea of the perfect chain meal.
I also really like the Olive Garden's salad and breadsticks. Although I need to go to the States to have that, so that's a very rare treat.
I wish there was a Wendy's closer...
Let's see there are many..........................
Flo's Filet, medium rare, at Long Horn
Jack Daniel's Sampler at TGI Fridays
Everything, especially their Fish Tacos, at The Tin Fish
Chipotle Chicken Crispers at Chili's
Cheese Coneys from Skyline and GoldStar, UDF Chocolate Shake, Cheese Burgers at White Castle........these are special treats when we travel home to Cincinnati. There are also cheese coneys at Skyline in Fort Lauderdale, FL, too!
Hawaiin Pizza at Dominoes
Burgers at Applebee's.
I know Taco Bell has had quite a bit of mention on here and I was.....should I say lived on Taco Bell for a long time.(It was up the street from my condo and came in handy at 2 in the morning after the bar closed) That unfortunately is not the case anymore, our Taco Bells on the Treasure Coast in Florida have all taken a downhill turn in the past few years. Portions are almost non-existent and god forbid you want more than 6 shreds of cheese on anything, they charge you for your first unborn. I really wish they would change for the better but I have basically given up on them.
I never eat at fast food type places but I get this unnatural craving for Panda Express about once a month almost like it is a drug..I know it isn't real Chinese food but I love to get half chow mein/half fried rice and then pick my three entrees...I take it home and eat it all. I know it is full of fat and sodium but then I am happy again for a month....mmmmmm
You know, out of desperation I ate at Taco Bell the other day. Had a "double-meat-cheesy burrito" or something similar to that name- it was great! Lot's of meat, rice, that nasty nacho cheese sauce, all wrapped up in a flour tortilla. I know it sounds horrible, but it was really good- or else I was just really hungry...
Studies have shown there's actually a human genome that predisposes certain people to enjoy Taco Bell food products. Now, the gene won't be activated unless the carrier is exposed to Taco Bell food, thus all the people in Iands without Taco Bell are doomed to spend their lives struggling under a vague sense of disappointment and deprivation.
This sense of loss often manifests itself in politics, thus those unfortunates without the Taco Bell gene are prone to foment civil war, or maintain oppressive governments, or work for the fashion or modern music recording industries..
Thus, the best way to bring about world peace is to build as many Taco Bell stores as possible across the globe. Can you imagine? Peace in Afghanistan, truce in Iraq, laying down of arms in Darfur, brotherhood among Jews and Arabs in the Middle East!
Eating a Crunchwrap Supreme leaves no emotional or intellectual resources for hostility, mistrust or negative emotions as the diner is transported into realms sublime!
Mahatma Ghandi said it best: "Screw the brown rice! Let's go out for tacos!"
That's not true, Ken, your studies are flawed. The Taco Bell gene is a sex-linked recessive trait. Males that do not carry this gene are perfectly normal. It's the recessive carriers that don't display the actual trait that are fomenting civil war and oppressing their constituents.
Eating a crunchwrap supreme makes you mellow because an enormous gutbomb has just gone off in your stomach, leaving no resources for energetic pursuits.
I fear your conclusions are flawed, EWSF. No doubt you've been misinformed.
The Taco Bell gene has been found in X chromosomes (Limeswiller and Rhoadkyll, 2006) so it can hardly be sex-linked.
Relaxing after eating a Crucnhwrap Supreme cannot be genetically-based behavior. Otherwise, people who appreciate waterfalls would have to have a special gene for that.
Lack of a normal gene doesn't confer normalcy on any organism. Given that the Taco Bell gene has been linked to the genes for trombone-playing, piloting aircraft and developing anti-cancer drugs (Pushme, Pullyou 1997) and those genetic sports that lack this gene develop into tabloid reporters, tv psychics and members of Congress, the evidence speaks for itself.
Ah, my dear Ken- surely you're aware that Pushme & Pullyou are now a hissing and a byword in the research community, having been caught red-handed (so to speak) altering Taco Bell research results while devouring food from Taco Bell after smoking large amounts of marijuana.
The original results of that study, you see, had shown that the Taco Bell gene predisposed its male carriers to farting like trombones, to the extent that they often actually took off into the air, hence the piloting embellishment. They added the development of anticancer drugs in a moment of stoner mirth.
I'm sorry to be the one to have to tell you all this, but I wouldn't have you be made fun of behind your back, not knowing the truth of it.
There is exciting news on this front: New developments in gene therapy suggest cellular DNA transplanted into a woolly llama, which is then exposed to high frequency tacobell-ion impact via being dragged through the Taco Bell drive thru, and then reinserted into the human source host, might be modified in such as way as to activate the Taco Bell gene. This development, if true, is (no other word for it) life-changing! Millions of people, now doomed and living without hope, could embrace the opportunity to revel in Taco Bell as do those fortunate others!
BTW: The allegations against Pushme, Pullyou? BBC aired a report proving said allegations were fabricated by disgruntled McDonald's managers and leaked to the press.
You are correct on the "genetic short straw." Gene therapy however, is providing hope for these people, as I stated above.
BBC had originally funded the study, for reasons of their own (trombone-noise-and-flying abilities, perhaps? We may never find out the whole truth) and was subsequently discovered to have fabricated the entire McDonald's angle due to embarrassment over the terrible direction the study ended up taking. I'm sorry you didn't catch the expose' but it was featured in several news magazines internationally.
Gene therapy, while promising, is still being refined. In order to view some of the Alien-Resurrection-type genetic mishaps I suggest you take a scroll through
There is still much work to be done. These poor desperate souls jumped the gun in an attempt to be on the leading edge of Taco Bell gene therapy..
The evidence below contradicts your claim, thus I suggest in all humility and bon homie your information to be incorrect. A review of your source(s) may be in order. "Weasels in the henhouse means no rubber in the gazpacho," as my grandmother used to say.
In 2004 the Beeb were cleared of all indictments by British House of Common Lords and their expose of the McDonalds anti-Taco Bell misprisionments upheld. Unfortunately, the news organs you refer to had already repeated the spurious claims and thus the story gained momentum despite being disproved.
McDonals was then rightly accused or being hate speech in and of itself and fined 75p and a piece of cotton string.
The Taco Bell gene therapy has exciting ramifictions. Ig gene therapy can provide the blessings of Taco Bell, why not gene therapy for humanely-raised foie gras, chicken-fried steak or Burger King's Whopper Junior with extra grilled onions?
Well I'm all in favor of humanely-raised foie gras, although I may never try it,
Humanely-raised chicken fried steak and Whoppers, now that would be worth shooting for. But I stand my ground on the whole Taco bell thing. Some things should be allowed to go extinct. That's my story and I'm stickin' with it!
Arbys- original roast beef (the bigger the better) with a little each of the arby sauce and Horsey sauce and othing else besides salt and pepper.
La Salsa- baja fish tacos. Actually, everything they make is really awesome for a chain.
McD's sausage egg mcmuffin, and that's all
BK's Whopper, and their cheeseburgers
Chuy's- their cabbage salad
Adding to my expanding list....
Red Robin- Fish and Chips, Blueberry Vanilla Shake, Oreo Shake, Strawberry Shake, Peach Shake, Raspberry Shake, Royal Red Robin Burger, Fries, Onion Rings
Cheesecake Factory- Monte Cristo, Frozen Iced Mango, I pretty much love everything there.
Bonefish Grill- Lobster Tails, Chilean Sea Bass, Potatoes au gratin, Brownie dessert
Grand Lux Cafe- Strawberry Shortcake, Candy Bar Pie, Beignets
Cheeseburger in Paradise- Root Beer Float, Swiss Mushroom Burger with Bacon
I like Big Mac and fries at Mcd's, the maple scones at Starbucks, all the cookies at Panera Bread, stuffed spinach and garlic pizza at Giordano's, the thin crust Lou at Malnati's, the beef ribs at Texas de Brazil, the flour tortillas at Taco Cabana, the calamari and rigatoni D at Maggiano's, the Bang Bang Chicken at Cheesecake Factory...I am sure there's more.
Pumpkin taquitos at Taco Time
Double Whopper with cheese (guess where?)
Anybody's CRINKLE CUT FRIES - if I wanted "homemade" style fries I'd stay home.
A&Ws cheese curds
Jack in the Box ultimate cheeseburger
Carl's Jr breakfast burger (a burger with a fried egg, yay!)
McDonald's steak, egg, and cheese bagel
KFC extra crispy (I've got a hollow leg, but I can only eat 2 pieces of that)
All of the above taste good (argue if you want) and none have given me the screaming, uh, dysentery. More than I can say about 2 of the high-end places I ate at recently.
Yep, given my druthers I'd eat fresh food, freshly cooked, not a pre-portioned frozen nugget. But then I've worked as a line cook at a couple of fancy restaurants - neither impressed me with their hygienic conditions.
Applebees: Fiesta Lime chicken, chicken tenders
Chilis: Southwest egg rolls, the triple play combo platter
PF Changs: pork fried rice
Popeye's: 2 piece combo with fries
I don't eat out at these places too much, but sometimes I get hit with a craving and I'm there everyday for a week!!!!
Mongolian Beef- P F Changs
Roast beef w/ Arby's Sauce-Arbys
Blackened Chicken Alfredo- Wingers
Potato Oles w/ cheese sauce and sour cream- Taco Johns
Mushroom Ravioli, Rigatoni D, Mozzerella Marinara, Spumoni- Maggianos
Philly Cheesteak w/ mushrooms and onions- Pats (not the one in Philly-small chain in Denver)
Fresh hot fries w/ sweet and sour sauce-McD's
Gyros-from the place in the mall
Beef Enchirito-Taco Bell
I have friends that are totally pretentious about food, and I don't understand it, it seems that they are more concerned about how people perceive their culinary tastes than the actual food that they are eating.
I love food from all sources, but if your area has an ethnic cuisine well represented I don't see the appeal of a chain, where I live it is Mexican food, wayyyy better than any chain, but in this area chains do better Itailan for the most part.
Panera-bacon turkey bravo, cinnamon crunch bagels
Olive garden Zuppa Tuscana
Bojangles chicken supremes, biscuits and sweet tea
Cheesecake factory- thai lettuce wraps, and avacado egg rolls
Pizza Hut: Thin crust barbecue pizza. (i think its a regional thing, some places carry it, some don't.)
Arby's: French Dip sub
Quizno's: Black angus sub
McDonald's: Sausage McMuffin with no egg, and if you can get the french fries when they are fresh, hot and perfectly salted they are truly a good thing.
Panera: Cinnamon Crunch bagels
Sonic: Cherry limeade slush (or most any of their slushies. And now slushes are available at breakfast........
Im from flyover country, Indiana the burbs where the vast vast majority of places to eat are chains. There are some red-sauce Italian places that arent chains and a few Chinese places that arent chains. A handful of Mama's Restaurant generic type nonchain places. Also one or two nonchain Mexican places.
For "fastfood" if you want independent you have two choices: pizza or subs. There are a zillion pizza and subs places. And none of them very good either.
And you know what? The food aint any better at the independent places for the most part. The Chinese from the chains is consistently better than what you can get from the independents, even though they all source their stuff from more or less the same places. The red-sauce Italian places are fine but nothing special. And you can get better and more consistent tuna melts, burgers, and eggs and bacon at Dennys. At the mom-and-pops around here its a crapshoot food quality wise.
Im dead serious when I say PF Changs is almost always better than the independent Chinese you can get in town.
Sometimes I think a lot of chowhounders forget that most normal people are not from the Bay Area or NYC or Chicago or California or whathaveyou. Were from Indiana, Nebraska, Arkansas, Michigan, upstate New York, Maine, Idaho, Illinois, Wisconsin, Georgia... a lot of us are from suburbs or are raising kids in exurbs, and if you want to eat only independent when you go out, you have to make a special effort to seek out the few independent places, and then be prepared to resign yourself to only eating mediocre red-sauce Italian or Chinese that hasnt been updated in 20 years.
The cold fact is that the chains are the source of culinary innovation in a lot of midsize towns in flyover country. Its not our little mom-and-pops that are serving chipotle mashed sweet potatoes, or california rolls, or korean bbq ribs. These things were new at independents 15 years ago, maybe even 20. They are trickling down to middle America now but they are still exotic. One of my fathers friends dared offer (cooked) california-style sushi rolls as an hors doeuvre at his wedding and 90% of it went untouched. Too strange.
The little mom-and-pops are doing the same eggplant parm with red sauce from a can that they were doing 20 years ago. Or the same chow mein and sweet and sour pork. They put out soft white bread at the table. Their concession to modernity is offering balsamic vinaigrette as a salad dressing instead of French or Ranch, or using mozzarella that they have to slice off a ball they bought from the restaurant supple chain instead of the preshredded stuff in plastic bags.
Im not pretending that chain food smacks it out of the ballpark. It is what it is: predictable, consistent, not fantastic but not terrible. People like predictability. They like knowing that once every two weeks when they drive the 15 miles to the nicer side of the county where all the chains are, they can get their same chicken chipotle quesadilla and molten chocolate cake from RubyMaxTGIF. It tastes pretty good, depending on what you get, and the restaurant has something that everyone in the group will eat. Nonthreatening.
FWIW I like Boston Market and I like CPK and Steak n Shake.Also Popeyes.
Interesting take, but not true for everyone who may live a distance away from a food mecca. It just takes some extra effort, and the desire not to settle.
We live 70 miles sw of Chicago, and we could settle for chain options but I refuse to. I pack up our 2 year old daughter, and my wife, and we make almost weekly trips into Chicago to avoid chains & eat Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, bbq, middle eastern, greek, etc from non chain establishments. I owe it to my daughter, my wife and myself to put in the extra effort to expose ourselves to better food options.
We also go out to local supper clubs that are nothing like the places you painted most mom & pop places to be. Excellent food, & excellent service from folks who appreciate you coming in, vs. the surly teens, and "managers" chains employ.
Liking places because they are "predictable" "safe, and nonthreatening" isnt what being a food lover is about. I would rather starve than live in a rut like that.
With the above said the only use I have for chains is for roadtrips, to be able to grab a quick bite on a interstate exit. I somehow am able to force down some Taco Bell, and Waffle House under that circumstance.
I like Fillet O'Fish, egg n' cheese biscuits (hold the sausage), hash browns, and chocolate milkshakes at McD's, the Big Fish sandwich and onion rings at Burger King, the baked Ziti and pizza from Sbarro, the salmon salad, sourdough bread and bagels at Panera, the Wendy's chocolate Frosty, the grilled fish sandwiches at Houstons (and their glorious key lime pie), the brownies from Corner Bakery and the salads at California Pizza Kitchen (but not the pizza).
But I never go out of my way to get any of these things, I just get these dishes in a pinch. Except Panera bagels, which I buy every weekend.
Never really ate in chains before I had kids, now they are our go to places.
Red Robin: blue cheese and bacon burgers
Olive Garden: deep fried ravioli starter, smoked provolone ravioli entree
Chili's: mushroom bacon jack fajitas (it is a salt extravaganza)
Burger King: whopper with cheese
Red Lobster: coconut shrimp with the silly name, cheese biscuits
McDonald's: BLT bagel
I live in New Orleans, so I don't make it to chains too often (except fast food...yum) but when I do, I try to find things to enjoy.
McDonalds - chicken nuggets, double cheeseburgers, filet o' fish, hashbrown (which my friends and I call a "grease sponge"...SO GOOD)
Taco Bell - Soft tacos supreme
Chick Fil A - chicken nuggets
Popeyes - Chicken, mashed potatoes, dirty rice
Wendy's - burgers & nuggets
Houston's - cheeseburger & shoestring fries
Bonefish grill - lobster tails
Houston's - the meat loaf and the spinach-artichoke dip
Chili's - the awesome blossom and the queso dip
Outback - bloomin onion, Alice Springs Chicken and that blue cheese chopped salad thing, the brown bread
Krystal - cheeseburgers
Wendy's - Chicken BLT Salad
Burger King - double cheeseburger
Olive Garden - the breadsticks before they removed the transfats (they're dull now)
Fazoli's - still the breadsticks!
Chick Fil-A - waffle fries
McDonald's - the fries
Checkers - the fries
Sonny's - the garlic toast and the cole slaw, good mild sauce too
Right now I live in a country that has ONE Pizza Hut and ONE KFC; that's it. No MickyD's, no BK, no Taco Bell. I've been here since August and I've been to the KFC once; it was just like home, and strangely comforting considering that I've eaten in one maybe twice in my life.
I miss fast food, even though it was never more than an occasional thing for me in the States. I would kill for a Starbucks Mocha with Whip, a sack of White Castles, or anything from Taco Bell.
I love the Baja beef chalupa at Taco Bell. The fish fillet sandwich (tastes great and soft buns) and chicken nuggets at McDonalds. Burger King has a great spicy chicken sandwich...simple but delicious and if I take it home I add a big piece of fresh lettuce on it. I like Wendy's BLT salad with low fat ranch dressing and the value menu bacon/cheeseburger. And I know Jack-in-the-box gets no love but I have to indulge once in a while in their fried tacos (ask for extra lettuce). Those are my fast-food drive-through weaknesses. I love Red Lobster..Tilapia fish in a bag! I have never went to Chiles but I am trying it this weekend. Good tips here on what to order! THX!
McDonalds - Hash browns, Biscuit with Egg & Cheese, Filet-O-Fish
Carl's, Jr. - Western Bacon Cheeseburger (though I haven't had one in over 15 years I still crave it sometimes...)
Red Lobster - Cheese Biscuits
Koo Koo Roo - Macaroni & Cheese
Rubios - Shrimp burrito
However, I've never found anything even remotely edible at Chili's...
I can't tell you how many times I've been out to a great meal at a fine restaurant, one that is well respected with an undisputably terrific chef, and still went threw the drive through on the way home for a couple Krystal burgers. Drives my wife and friends crazy.
Krystal burgers are nasty, I know, but still there is something about them that sometimes satisfies in an odd way. I don't think this craving, or those that others have for chain food, necessarily needs to call into question the good taste of those who have posted on this subject.
Oh yeah, and Bubble Gum ice cream at Baskin Robbins rocks too. Makes me feel like I'm eight years old again.
My spouse and I ate at P.F. Chang's last night for the second time last night- I wish I could say that it was awful, but it really was pretty good. We had a shrimp dish that also contained melon balls, and I really liked it!
But while the dish was really good, there is just something not right about going to a chain Chinese place- practically every town in the country has a Chinese place that might not be great, but at least is passable. You can usually get out with only spending $20-25.00 for two people, and have plenty of leftover food to eat the next day.
At P.F. Chang's, our bill was $80 including tip, with no leftovers!
It was good enough that I will go back, but it still just makes me angry a little...
Just an FYI- I have not been able to stomach eating at KFC- not that I did it often- since I learned that their "chicken" is actually something called "animal number 13". I had a student find it on an ingredients list and find pictures of it off the internet- really gross defofmities that I will not go ito detail about. Sad! I did like their random little snackers though.
I am not a 'big' as in large burger fan. Too much meat, too much greasyness, too much stuff. But sliders are perfect little replicas of the big burger - a little bit of condiment, a little bit of bread, a little bit of good meat. Just a couple of perfect bites. And none of the sick too-full feeling after eating a couple.
I think being a Chowhound is being able to appreciate good food ANYWHERE, from a greasy spoon that turns out outstanding pancakes to a lunch cart that makes amazing kabobs to a little Indian lunch counter where you're the only Anglophone in the place to a three-star white tablecloth place in Napa to, yes, a national chain restaurant. The key is to let down your guard and get over your prejudices.
So, without shame or false modesty, I cop to a fondness for the following chain things:
Kung Pao anything at P.F. Chang's
Cheesy Gordita Crunch from Taco Bell
Blue cheese chopped salad at Outback Steakhouse
Baked potato soup at Houlihan's
Barbeque chicken salad from California Pizza Kitchen
Gingerbread loaf from Starbucks
Cheddar garlic biscuits from Red Lobster
The thing at Coldstone Creamery with the coffee ice cream, Heath Bar, roasted almonds and caramel
The Awesome PBJ sundae from Friendly's
Mai Tais from Chart House restaurants
I've read most of this long thread, and I'm still at a loss to figure why any Chowhound would willingly go in a Chain. Yes, I know it's the Chains board - which raises its own little set of questions - but in everything I've read here, I have seen not a single item which I could ever actually crave or enjoy. Early in the thread, someone talked about growing up in northern New Jersey where there was "nothing but chains" - absolute nonsense! I also grew up in northern NJ, and there was great Chow all over the place - terrific diners, wonderful ethnic stuff, great red-sauce Italian-American - no good reason to ever darken the door of a chain. Yes, when desperate, I've done it, and I've hated it. I don't know, but to me chains are the ultimate anti-Chow.
re: sophie fox
For the same reason that some people crave Pringles potato chips instead of artisnal kettle-fried potato chips -- we all have different tastes. Some people gotta have junk sometimes. It doesn't mean we don't appreciate good Chow, but sometimes you got to feed the junk food beast.
I quit posting over in the Beer section because the snobs over there kept telling people what beer they should like and insulting people who don't agree with their subjective tastes. Eventually opinion becomes criticism and then people no longer feel comfortable posting their likes and dislikes.
Amen, Podunkboy. On that note, here are some of the embarrassing chain cravings that have been known to keep me up at night:
Taco Bell: cheesy gordita crunch
Red Lobster: shrimp scampi (*swimming* in butter!)
White Castle: cheeseburgers and jalapeno cheeseburgers
Arby's: giant roast beef with swiss (there's nothing "roast beef" or "swiss" about it, really...)
Pizza Hut: deep dish pizza
Wendy's: Big Bacon Classic
Perkin's: Granny's Country Omelette (with pancakes), and the Country Club Melt (with extra thousand island to dip the fries in!)
Old Spaghetti Factory: 50/50 with Mizithra Cheese and Meat Sauce
Noodles & Co: Wisconsin Mac' and Cheese (with broccoli)
Quizno's: Italian sub
Glad this topic was revived. We have monthly lunch meetings at work with restaurant selection rotated thru 8 people, 6 of whom will only choose chain restaurants, so now I can check here for something to order.
Favorite chain food:
Carvel - soft serve chocolate, sugar cone, chocolate sprinkles
Corner Bakery - ham on pretzel bread, but they recently changed it to a Bavarian
Oh my! I had forgotten the country club melt from my college small town days- so good- a guilty craving for sure!
And not to be a negative nancy- again- but a friend of mine works at a testing lab and has tested Arby's, Tostino's frozen pizza, and Taco Bell meat lately. Let's just say that you don't want to eat Arby's or Tostino's becasue of diseases and outbreaks and Taco Bell beef becasue it is somewhere around F grade. I did love my Taco Bell stuffed beef burritto before I learned this but now if I go I put chicken on everything instead- It has go to be better, right? :)
I'm not telling anyone what they should or shouldn't like. I simply don't get it. Perhaps it's about how each of us defines "Chow" and that's fine, too. Still, to say "sometimes you got to feed the junk food beast" - I'll buy "you want to feed the junk food beast" - but you "have to"? It's a choice, isn't it?
I guess that I'm also curious - is it really a craving? or is it settling for what's available at the moment?
If preferring food made by human beings according to their own understanding of decent food to mass-produced food-like substances is being a snob, I suppose that I'm a snob. Bourdain has properly noted that around the world there's an abundance of good food, fast, vs American-style fast food made for the convenience and profit of the purveyor. We could have good food fast, and do in sme places, if we demanded it. I just think that's preferable. Just my opinion.
re: sophie fox
Slang - a person who eats large quantities of food or is fond of eating; glutton or gourmand". (Only dictionary I had access to is online...)
At least according to this, gluttony or gourmandy is covered. Some of us probably walk the thin line between both of them. I read a blog entry linked up top in the Grinder about a young lady and her husband who dined at El Bulli. Some would say it's the best restaurant on the planet. Ultimately, she disagreed because some of what she was served didn't taste good, which is her main criteria for judging a restaurant. That being said, her description of the dozens of items served would seem to define "gluttony" to me, especially eating every bite of items that didn't even taste good.
So, to my way of thinking, if I like the taste of something, it shouldn't matter if it's served on a china platter with a 14K gold spoon, or handed out a window in a paper bag. I'm not even saying that a paper-wrapped burger is better or even comparable, but I'm not apologizing for my individual tastes or desires, and neither would most of the people posting in this topic.
And yes, in most cases it's a craving, not convenience. I've driven past well-respected and acceptable food options for some greasy onion rings or an overstuffed burrito. And other times I put on nice clothes and play nice and eat food with funny foreign names. It's all chow.
I'm so with you, PoDunk,...sometimes I like a good Miller Lite and, if I'm feelin' classy, I'll drink it in a frosty mug...but otherwise it's outta the bottle for me. I don't love chains but I don't feel like I will burn in the fiery pits of hell if I step foot in one, either.
White Castle: By far, my favorite chain. I love those little burgers!
Taco Bell: Used to really like Meximelts when I was a little kid. My tastes have changed, but still like them.
Taco John's: Potato oles aren't half-bad.
Perkin's: This isn't a bad restaurant. I'd prefer a family-owned joint, but still, not too bad food-wise overall.
Red Lobster: Their pasta dishes are pretty good. I like that cajun chicken one. The only full-service chain resto I have lots of experience with.
Starbucks: I love the Frappuccinos. Also the new pretzels they have with the jalapeño / cheese filling. Yummm....
I moved to the Dallas area from El Paso two years ago, only to find that there is a huge variance in chain restaruants and fast food places from area to area. My two year quest for a decent chili relleno has been a string of disappointments. Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side, but when you get there, it's just green paint.
MC DONALD'S: For hamburgers, my very favorite is the cheapie little hamburger that usually lives in the Kid's Meals at McDonald's. You cant get those fine diced onions in any other hamburger in the world, and they make my day! Used to love their fish sandwiches, but had one last week for the first time in ages, and the fish was about a quarter the size it used to be and the tarter sauce had too much mayonnaise and ran down my wrist. blech! And there is a McDonald's in my local WalMart that has really good cheese broccolli soup!
PIZZAZ HUT: My favorite pizza for years was Pizza Hut's deep dish pizza. But in this area, they recently changed their dough recipe, and now it's as inviting as a deep dish pizza before it's baked! If it ain't broke, don't fix it! Looking for a new pizza place.
SOUTHERN MAID DONUTS: Their yeast donut holes are the best! I just can't understand why the donuts don't taste as good though. Again, a regional difference: In El Paso, they have croissanwiches to die for! HUGE! Here they're half size and half flavor.
TACO CABANA; Texas chain, but not usually a massacre. "Usually" being the key word. Most places they have fantastic tortilla soup, with the crunchy crisp tortilla strips to soak in the broth. I've had it once here. It was served with FLOUR TORTILLAS! I don't think so....! They also had fantastic chile rellenos in El Paso, not on the menu in Dallas.
WENDY'S: For a "holier than thou" lunch, their 99¢ baked potato split and topped with their 99¢ cup of chili makes a good lunch. And I like their junior burger better than the kind that come on the gummy kaiser rolls, but you have to order them special and ask them not to mash the meat patty while they're cooking it. Who needs a beef jerky burger!
BOSTON MARKET: Pretty darn good chicken pot pies! Better than KFC, and that's going some.
THE GOD, I WISH I COULD REMEMBER THE NAME OF THE PLACE DRIVE-THROUGH: Was out with a friend a month or so ago and pulled into some fast food place for burgers. On a whim, we both ordered their cheesecake. It was to die for...!!! Absolutely the best I've had in *any* restaurant! And now I can't remember where it was for the life of me, and neither does she.... I think it's called "subliminal dieting." <sigh> Fortunately, taste and smell are our most accurate memories. God, that's good cheesecake.
"You cant get those fine diced onions in any other hamburger in the world, and they make my day!"
They're nothing but dried minced onions that have been rehydrated in big metal pans for 2 hours. I sometimes make them up when I'm cooking homemade "sliders" - they stick to the burgers better.
At California Pizza Kitchen yesterday, I had their new Roasted Vegetable Salad. I have to say, it was pretty darn tasty! The romaine lettuce was cold and crisp, the dressing was perfect (dijon vinaigrette) and the roasted veggies were still warm with a nice charred flavor - it had fresh diced avocado which I loved, but I would have really loved some CHEESE! When do I NOT want cheese?
Wow. I started this thread back when I used my actual name. I'm surprised to see so many replies!
Here are some additions for me:
Panera - Fuji apple salad
Sweet Tomatoes - LOVE their fruit bran muffins; I also recently fell in love with their Greek week offerings (Greek focaccia, couscous, lemon chicken soup)
PF Chang's - They took away my beloved Singapore Street Dumplings, but their Buddha's Feast and Spicy Orange Chicken are still yummers.
CPK - Mango Tandoori Chicken Pizza. Really good!
BJ's Pizzeria - Their pizza is quite good.
Gordon Biersch - Ahi tuna app.
Mr. Donut (Asia)- Their original donut covered in brown sugar is ridiculously melt in your mouth good, even when cold.
TGI Friday's - For some reason they're only good in Asia. The husband swears by their Taiwan locations. I found their fajitas at their Tokyo Ginza location to be really good.
@ Fine: If you consider yourself such an exclusive ChowHound, such that no ChowHound should ever step foot in a chain restaurant, what are you doing on the Chains board (which, by the way, ChowHound chose to include as a board). Take your complaints re chains elsewhere.
Now, here are my fave chain dishes:
best caesar salad on the planet
second best caesar salad
Grand Lux Cafe
chicken tenders with waffles and maple syrup - wow!
green tea latte
best chicken fingers on the planet (they are kind of lightly tempura fried), with cauliflower in curry sauce, and of course the spinach dip!
beef braised canneloni, spinach salad
petite filet, medium rare
shrimp & bacon club w/mashed potatoes
Texas de Brazil
the little cheese puff bread rolls that they bring to the table
Not my choice--colleagues and I ate at TGIFriday's yesterday for lunch, and I ordered fish and chips, as I knew we were having burgers for dinner. I was very pleasantly surprised. The fish came out piping hot in a batter that was almost like tempura. Very tasty, albeit a bit salty.
I love the chain Carabba's. I know there's a bunch on the East Coast, but not sure how far they've spread. The Chicken Bryan is soooo good. The also make pretty decent calamari----not easy to do. In most places they overcook them so much it's like chewing on little bicycle tires. They also serve booze, which is always a plus in my book! Order a nice house red.
My better 3/4 marvels at how I can do high concept cuisine (search for my reviews of West in Vancouver or the the dearly departed Globe Cafe By Moonlight in Salt Lake City) and also swoon over QSR fodder and the like. But I love this thread! :D
A few things come to mind immediately that I haven't seen mentioned...I'll edit in the rest later:
Chili's - I am a fool for their (kinda) new Firecracker Tilapia. The fish always comes out moist and nicely cooked and the topping has a nice kicky flavor.
Lone Star Steakhouse - The chopped steak (topped with sauteed mushrooms and onions) rules. This is a chain that knows how to cook chopped beef RARE, and will actually do it. Consistently good, beefy flavor, and along with the baked sweet potato (loaded with butter and cinnamon, natch) and their surprisingly good wedge salad, it's a great deal for $11. And speaking of wedge salads:
Tony Roma's - WOW. Their new take on the wedge has a tomato vinaigrette thing going on that totally kicks butt. Me and the missus comment about it regularly.
Mimi's Cafe - Huevos y Papas. Really tasty Southwestern-style potato cakes with 2 eggs (over easy for me on this dish) with a yummy tomatillo salsa poured over the top. A little sour cream and salsa fresca are the finishing touches on a breakfast that definitely wakes up the taste buds.
I got to thinking about this topic today. (Clearly I don't have enough to do.) Given my druthers, I'd eat at my favorite local fine dining resto over anywhere else. It's nice when you begin developing a friendship with the chef!
Yet occasionally I want something sloppy, cheesy, meaty, with good salsa or sauce, something I can eat out of waxed paper, foil or a foam box. Something that doesn't require me to dress more formally or shell out $30 for an entree. Something that I can eat there or take home and eat comfortably while sitting at the table in only my underwear and running shoes. (My favorite housecleaning outfit, BTW. Maximum exothermody, freedom of movement, comfort, and no worries about staining clothing with grease or cleaning agents.)
Obviously I'm talking about *really* low-brow food, taco truck or drive-thru window stuff. Remember that line from the movie "Demolition Man"?
"Now all restaurants are Taco Bell."
Sometimes I crave that fake cheese, bizarre ground beef, rice and beans, stamped-out tortillas. It doesn't have to be TB: A trip to In & Out might be the only satisfaction possible, or McD for a Filet-o-Fish with extra pickles and onions, or even KFC for some serious fried chicken and utterly synthetic brown gravy and mashed potatoes.
But no matter how much I might like *one* of the above meals, I'd be power-heaving if I had to make a steady diet of them, or eat more than one in a day.
I think low-brow food like what people've listed here is best used sparingly, like a seasoning, You don't shake paprika on everything you eat, or soon everything tastes like paprika, and that means it tastes like nothing at all.
Jeez Louise, too many food snobs! C'mon people, loosen the shorts, okay? Criticizing people for liking something you don't is about is pointless. Tastes differ, so get a grip!
That said, the best burger has to be a Tommy's double double chili burger served with chili cheese onion fries. ( http://www.originaltommys.com ) In-and-Out is a close second, but the lack of heart attack chili cost it the lead, IMO.
-Red Lobster's cheese biscuits
-McD's sausage McGriddle
-Taco Bell's Crunchwrap Supreme
-"Wet fries" at The Hat in LA. (Crispy seasoned fries served w/ brown gravy.) http://www.thehat.com
-Del Taco's Macho Burrito (sometimes quantity is a good thing.
)-7-11 Slurpees (my fave is 1/2 Coke and 1/2 cherry)
-PF Chang's Chengdu lamb
-CPK BBQ chicken and Thai chicken pizzas
-Sonic's chocolate malt, junior burger, and cranberry slush
-Taco Cabana's carne guisada (only seen TC in Texas) and their flour tortillas.
Since I'm on a "no added salt" diet, these faves are all things in my past (except the drinks and the In & Out--order it protein style without salt, pickles and sauce), but I remember them fondly.
I like chain restaurants because no matter what you always know what to expect.
Cheese Cake Factory - Thai Chicken Pasta
Claim Jumpers - Black Bean Steak Chili in the Bread Bowl with the Cheddar Toast!
Mimi's Cafe - Chicken Feta Penne with Marniara Sauce instead of cream sauce
Giordano's - Spinach Stuffed Pizza Deep Dish
Corner Bakery - Tomato Basil in a Bread Bowl
McD's - Egg Mcmuffin! I also agree Mc Rib kicks major butt.
Wendy's - Chili (Add 2 ketchup packets and 4 crackers!)
Outback Steakhouse - Pumpernickel Bread
Texas Road House - Sweet Bread
Cracker Barrel - Fried Apples, Corn Bread Muffins with gravy mmmmmm
KFC - Mashed Potatos and Gravy
Tacone - Sweet Potato Fries
Panda Express - Orange Chicken and Chow Mein
the funny thing is that yesterday i was talking with a friend of mine on how much we love the bread from outback steakhouse. we kept talking about it so much that we wanted it bad. so we drove around burbank and found an outback. as we sit down we ask the waiter to bring 4 loaves of that stuff! he laughed and was like sounds good. needless to say i ordered their chicken grill thing and subbed sweet potato for the rice. it was surprisingly a very very good meal!
anyhow another chain story that was actually good. outback has always been a place that i never have had bad luck at.
2 cups Bisquick
1 to 1 1/4 c. shredded sharp cheddar
2/3 c milk (any kind)
3/4 tsp garlic powder
(ingredients below for after baking)
2 tbsp melted butter
2 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp garlic powder
Preheat oven to 400. Lightly grease cookie sheet, or I just bake mine on a stone.
Combine Bisquick, cheese, and garlic powder. Stir in milk. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto cookie sheet.
Bake for 10 minutes.
While baking, put the 1 tsp garlic powder and parsley into melted butter. Stir until powder is dissolved. Brush biscuits with butter mixture, then bake for about 2-4 more minutes.
This usually makes about 8 biscuits.
Key lime cheese cake& Lettuce Wraps -Cheesecake Factory
Cheeseburgers & Fries-Mc D. (miss the special mayo from back home though...)
Whopper w cheese-Bk (eventhough i always regret it afterwards, it just sits there in ur stomach for the rest of the day, hahaha
Queso Dip & Sonora Chicken pasta (w/out the chicken, haha)-Ruby Tuesdays
Close Talker & Art Vandalay Streaker-Moe's
Singapore Noodles-PF Changs
Bangkok Noodles-Stir Crazy
That's all I can think of... haha, probably more stuf!!
McD's: Cheeseburger, Fries, McRib (I know, I know, I take lots of heckling from all I know for loving this. I almost never eat at McD's unless it is McRib-time)
Wendy's: Frosty and Fries (dip the salty fries in the sweet goodness of chocolate...reminds me of studying for finals).
Chili's: Southwestern Egg Rolls and Chicken Crispers
Panera: any salad, but especially the Fuji Apple Chicken Salad
Mr. Goodcent's: Roasted Chicken on Wheat w/ everything
Houlihan's: Stuffed Chicken Breast w/ Mashers
Nope... that's the only way I'll eat them. I get mad when my husband thinks honey mustard is the same.
My chain faves include the following:
1905 salad and bread from the Columbia Restaurant
Corned beef hash and the honey oat muffins from Mimi's
Onion rings from Smokey Bones
Many of the soups from Panera
Carnitas from Don Pablos
Checkers/Rally's french fries
Cornbread and fried okra from Cracker Barrel
good God man, fresh, hot salty fries with hot mustard and sometimes a schoch of that weirdly sweet bbq sauce!
I read some nonsense waaaayyyy up there about not considering yourself chow if you go to a chain? Seriously already. Not everyone has the time/money/resources to go to Prime every night of their lives. We both work 45-50 hours, have 2 dogs, a 9 year old niece that lives with us and about a bazillion of her friends here all the time. Realistically, chains have come a looonnnggg way, baby. While I would love to hit the high end "chowhound only" restaurants 3 nights a week, my bank account or my lifestyle does not love it. Some chains are a little shady...some are a little better. When you have an SUV of 9 and 10 year old girls that just came from 3 hours of gymnastics in 90 degree heat, there ain't a damn thing better than hitting a Wendy's with enough .99 chicken nuggets to fill up the whole rear of the truck. Get over it already. Sheeeessshhh.
Wow, Chevy's was the first thing I though of, funny it turned out so many other people like it too.
I like the mixed grill fajitas (no ribs please, more chicken instead), especially because it can easily feed two people, even though I could probably eat it myself if I didn't fill up on chips and salsa, which I also like very much.
Burger King double cheeseburger is a secret favorite of mine as well. MMM.
Oh almost forgot, Jack in the Box tacos, don't know why, we ate them a lot as teenagers when we were poor and there was nothing else open late.
Koo Koo Roo: Mac and cheese, Tangy Tomato Salad
CPK: Split Pea and Barley Soup, Singapore Shrimp Rolls
Rubios: Shrimp Burrito
Red Lobster: Cheddar Garlic Biscuits (though I haven't had these in over a decade I still think of them fondly...)
McD: Filet o' Fish (maybe once a year I crave it and MUST HAVE IT)
I don't eat much at chains but I mystery shopped them after I quit my job. There are a few things I recall fondly
McDs: The fries, of course, and McGriddles and those dang hashbrowns
Carls Jr: fried zucchini with ranch dressing
Red Lobster: Cheese biscuits
Pollo Loco: grilled chicken breasts with orange chili lime sauce
Baja Fresh: Chicken Baja Ensalada, their salsa bar. Actually, I'll pass up a lot of restaurants to go to Baja Fresh
BJ's Pizza: Pizookie
I also used to eat at Koo Koo Roo when I worked nearby. The rotisserie chicken, steamed italian veg, and green beans. And the mac n cheese was good too.
Cheesecake Factory: Chicken Picatta (xtra side of sauce)
Fudruckers: Hamburgers (lots of cheese goop)
Boston Market: Meatloaf (who wants to heat the oven in Phoenix?)
Texas Road House: Ribs
Black Angus: Fried Zucchini with cucumber dip
Red Lobster: Snow crab legs, crab stuffed mushrooms
Bahama Breeze: Cuban Bread
Arby's: Turkey Reuben without saurkraut, Potato Cakes, Jamocha shake. The classic combo.
Baja Fresh: Fish tacos, and lots of cilantro from the salsa bar.
CPK: Singapore Shrimp Rolls (I'm surprised nobody has mentioned them)
McDonald's: (generally after 12:00 a.m.) Cheeseburger Happy Meal eaten as quickly as possible, onions removed from cheeseburger
Noodles and Co: Mac and Cheese, flat bread, Rice Krispie Cookie
Potbelly Sandwiches: Turkey sandwich on whole wheat, shake or smoothie, mini chocolate chip cookies (available only by the bag and definitely worth getting over the larger ones)
Steak and Shake: almost anything, but love the kids' meal with grilled cheese and small shake (not on the drive-thru menu but they make it if you ask) Fries, meh
White Castle: Cheeseburgers without onions (upon request) fries and just water or a small shake
Charlie Brown's- Charlie' Cut Prime Rib, Cowboy Steak, Porterhouse, Sweet Potato Fries
Cheesecake Factory- Skirt Steak, Cajun Chicken Littles, Ranch House Burger, Chicken Madiera, Macaroni and Cheese, Mashed Potatoes, Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake, Chocolate Tuxedo, Banana Cream
Bonefish Grill- Fontina Chops
Famous Dave's- Ribs, Chicken, FRIES, CornBread, Bread Pudding
Taco Bell: cheesy gordita crunch (not often on the menu, but ask--typically they have it)
Olive Garden: minestrone, salad, and breadsticks = perfect lunch
Wendy's: chicken nuggets
KFC: mashed potatoes and gravy
Cheesecake Factory: spicy crispy chicken sandwich (with extra spicy buffalo sauce)
Applebees: french fries dipped in blue cheese dressing
Ok, and you might be able to see in my profile that I absolutely adore the Grand Lux Cafe. YUM! It is the upscale version of the Cheesecake Factory (same owners). I have to say I have tried almost every fish item, my husband is addicted to the Crispy Caramel Chicken (it is really wonderful) and for apps, the chicken rolls with buffalo hot sauce wow! I have had other items such as the Indochine chicken and shrimp, pretty amazing. I have also had all of the Salmon items, and lets see…the Chicken items as well. Do not lose my time on the salads since they are pretty similar to any other chain. The bread is house made and delicious. The desserts as a difference to the Cheesecake Factory, are made to order, meaning you wuill see a dessert menu in the middle of your main course/apps menu since they take more than 30 minutes to bake. Then appart from that they have your normal cheesecake desserts. If you have a Grand Lux Café please go, it is really good. We go for late lunch almost every Sunday here in Aventura FL, seeing we live right there from it.
Let's keep it going:
Almost anything at Red Lobster that is dripping in butter
Chopped salad at CPK
Enchilado style burrito at Baja Fresh
Hard shell tacos at Del Taco
Regular plain old hamburgers at McDs
Original boneless skinless chicken breast at Koo Koo Roo
Mizithra cheese at Spaghetti Factory
Original recipe breast at KFC (with slaw!)
Fresh peach pie in season at Marie Calendar's
That's enough for now - very nice to take inventory of my less bourgeois delights!
I guess the term "like" is subjective. For us, it's more like "will eat for sake of convenience over other chain options."
I'm OK with the meatloaf and mash at Boston Market or burgers at Outback. But "like" implies I'd actively seek those out as a primary choice. In our household, chains are almost always chosen for the simple reason than we got home late, don't want to cook, don't want to invest in going out to eat and we don't want to spend a lot of money. It's never the "Honey, where would you like to dine tonight?" "Oh, let's go to Outback" kind of "like".
It's more like, "I'm not cooking and I'm not getting cleaned up, what do you think of take out from Outback?". Not quite sure that falls into "like", although the burgers are fine (but not Tessaro's). I'll add that there is both an Outback and a Boston Market within 5 minutes of our house, along with about 15 other chains, but those are the only two we patronize. We drive 20 minutes each way to get pizza instead of using chain deliveries.
To date, in 51 years of eating, the only chain menu item I would actively look forward to enjoying is the guacamole at Rosa Mexicana (although Maya's is as good or better, IMO).
Even then, I can do a better job at home. It's just so rare to actually have proper guac anywhere in the East that I'll do it at Rosa, even at the steep price.
I don't think that's in any way snobbish. I happen to be a pretty decent cook and I like to know where my food is from and what steps it took to get into the kitchen. Thus we don't eat a lot of chain food except when it's necessary. Life is too short to dine on crap, y'know?
re: Panini Guy
Here's my two cents; oh, and some of these may be exclusive to the suotheast.
Steak and Shake: Frisco melt, double fries (hey, i'm 20)
Waffle House: Hashbrowns covered topped and peppered, pecan waffles
Chick-fil-a- nuggets and waffle fries
General Tso's chicken from any food court in America
Cheesecake Factory: buffalo blasts
Captain D's: fish and chicken with a chocolate cake- This one is particularly dissapointing to the family because we own a small chain of seafood restaurants.
Rubio's shrimp burrito
Houston's Thai beef salad and vegetable plate
La Salsa shrimp quesadilla
Baja Fresh nachos
Chipotle chips and guacamole
Starbuck's chai latte
Famima spicy tuna roll
Corner Bakery tomato soup in bread bowl and cheesecake brownie
El Pollo mac and cheese
Taco Bell 7 layer burrito and caramel apple empanada
re: Carrie 218
Chipotle one almost has to like for their attitude toward food sourcing alone. Check out their website and read about their efforts to buy naturally raised pork, chicken and beef and organic beans and other positive things. I just had a burrito from them yesterday and I was impressed...it wasn't an angels weeping sort of thing...but it was a good slab and having read about where the food comes from, I felt good about liking it.
Pasta w/ Four Cheese, extra ricotta, add broccoli
Vanilla Bean Chzcke
Linda's Fabu Fudge Cake
Jamaican Jerk Pizza (no bacon)
Crumble Coffee Cake
Koo Koo Roo
Naked Burrito or Burrito in a bowl
duh no nuts
Vanilla Breeze w/ mucho rainbow sprinkles
I hit a Loco Pollo (or is it the other way around?) in Vegas. I think their chicken is great.
Original Fried Chicken, mac and cheese and those weird pudding graham cracker combo bucket dessrets
Tokyo Fried Chicken with Curry Sauce over Rice
Pancakes of course
Bacon and Eggs
Those heavily faux buttered biscuits and all their rice dishes
Cheeseburgers and The Fries
Pizza and some pasta dishes
Joe's Crab Shack
Crawdaddy's: They always take it easy with salt on request.
Ham, creamed spinach and stuffing
Does Gray's Papaya count?
Chocolate Chocolate Chip
Thank you for reminding me about Spaghetti Factory; a dozen years ago (when I was quite impoverished), I enjoyed their 50/50 with Clams and Mizithra cheese.
Now, I admit to still occasionally craving Red Lobster's cheese muffins and Marie Calendar's cornbread. Once a year, I go to KFC for fried chicken.
I remember when CPK first opened -- I would go to the one in West Hollywood for their chopped salad and any of the pizzas. They were all fabulous, as was their tiramisu.
If I were stuck in a motel on the outskirts of Colorado Springs I suppose I'd go to Olive Garden. But if there were any other choice I wouldn't. Why? How did Corloado Springs get that way? McD came to town and within a year or so Mom's Diner shut down. Chains have driven low end food out of business. 35 years ago as a young teen I went to this little one-man hamburger hut in LA on Vermont where they produced a terrific burger on a hard Kaiser roll--It was so good I still think about it. The guy who worked there made a living, raised kids, and could afford to take them to the doctor when they needed to go. Can you say that of people who work in marginal fast-food chain jobs? Now those one man kind of places are all but gone. The only cheap food other than fast-food is ethnic.
If you're spending $8-15 for a meal at a chain every meal you eat is like a knife in the heart of a non-chain place. You can say that there are no places that do real cooking (not frozen crap)in that price range, but the truth is if there are none it is because you ate them alive by eating at Rubio's or Olive Garden. Talking about how great the breadsticks at Olive Garden are is a crime against nature.
The LIbrary of Congress has a recording of HL Mencken railing about chow wagons at workplaces being examples of "bad money drives out good." The wagons were ruining the little joints, he said, and basically the whole word is going to hell. So the argument is old but no less valid.
I have never seen anyone who knows a goddamn thing about Italian food doing any raves about Olive Garden. I'm not saying they don't treat you like family---it is just that someone does not treat his family very well
It's all well and good to have memories of glorious non-chain hamburgers, but my experience is that low-end non-chain food can be pretty bad.
This is less true in big cities, but once you get out of major metro areas, the food at a Mom and Pop diner is likely to be just as pre-packaged as a chain. Sure there are still some good ones, but there are many more bad ones where the veggies will be frozen, all the lettuce will be dry, browning iceberg, the hamburgers will have been frozen, the buns will taste like cardboard, and the sauces will all have come out of cans. The worst food I've had in the last few years has been at the locally owned bar/restaurant on my corner where the burgers are much worse than McD's and the rest of the food is several notches below Applebee's. It's a convenient place to drink, but I've always regretted the few times I've ordered anything to eat.
The other thing to remember is that at least in the west and southwest, a lot of these communities have experienced most of their growth in the post-chain era. There were very few local eateries to cannibalize in the first place.
I wrote this essay seven months ago and posted it here on SF Bay Area Chowhounds. I reprint now it in the hopes it'll complicate the question of what exactly constitutes a chain.
You'd drive a country mile for the rich, authentic, one-of-a-kind ice cream perfection that is Baskin & Robbins, right? Neither would we. But this B&R in a strip mall near the Sunnyvale/Mountain View border is perhaps unique: it's not a Denny's, it's not a Lyon's or Carrow's, but it's open LATE.
If you know Silicon Valley you know it locks up around 10:00pm every night. Even on a Saturday all you'll find open are liquor stores and Sevens Eleven, or the occasional teen-packed Friday's. We believe it's a result of intense labor costs: no one can afford even minimum wage workers to capture the unpredictable late-night market. Fast food is a casualty as well, with Taco Bell your only recourse (and Wells won't eat there for all the tea in China).
Last night, driving home from San Francisco past midnight after sushi, desperate for a milkshake, we were steering towards the supermarket for fixings, when an otherwise unremarkable B&R in Sunnyvale glowed under the light of its OPEN sign. "It must be a mistake," we thought, but no: inside were two folks sitting at a table enjoying ice cream. We were so astonished we forgot how little we liked Baskin & Robbins ice cream.
The owner started scooping Burke's sundae and explained the mystery behind his innacurate "Closes at 10:00pm" sign. A refugee from Vietnam years ago, he remembers having terrible hunger and almost no money. Once, three minutes before a place closed, they slammed the door on him. Standing beside the locked door, he vowed someday he'd own his own place, and he'd never turn away a customer just because it was closing time.
So here he is, the only ice cream parlor open past midnight north of San Jose and south of San Francisco International, spooning out calories to tireless engineers, bleary sysadmins and the rest of the computer world's nocturnal menagerie. "I've had a customer as late as 4:30am once," he says. "I do sometimes close at 10:00 like I should, but it's just my wife and me here, so 85% of the time we keep it open as long as we're awake. If the sign is lit, just bang on the door until we come out."
All we ask for in a restaurant is a bit of caring, that touch of thoughtfulness that reveals a deeper philosophy. In a chain like Baskin & Robbins you can't really control the quality. By marrying less-than-perfect ice cream to friendly, convenient service, by taking the extra step, this B&R becomes one of the brightest spots on El Camino Real, and a Burke & Wells recommendation.
A Burke and Wells Essay
As Rubio's was started by a San Diego gentleman who wanted to recreate the fish tacos he ate in Baja, and all the stores are owned by the family company, in that essence it is a family-run place. From what I understand the family that started In-n-Out also owns all their restaurants (not franchised or part of a large public company/conglomerate).
As a sidenote, I remember reading that Julia Childs likes a McD's burger from time to time (dont ask me how, I hate 'em). According to your diatribe, that would make her partly responsible for the degradation of American cuisine as we know it.
P.S. Please stop advertising on this site.
I just read through this entire thread and never found out how anyone who considers herself/himself a chowhound ever set foot in a chain to begin with.
Is it because one came late to chowhoundhood?
Or grew up in a culinarily deprived area?
Or succumbed to non-chowhound peer pressure?
The SFBA (and several other areas as well) offers such a plethora of food styles in all "speeds" and price ranges, it would take years to try every single spot, especially if one periodically returned to faves.
It seems to me that, aside from obvious 'hound-type reasons, most 'hounds would want to avoid chains (and no, a tiny local spot with 3 outlets is not comparable to a national or multi-national chain), for social, political, and health considerations (all those groovy trans fats).
Perhaps I was just very lucky: I graduated from a family of great from-scratch cooks who went to good, from-scratch restaurants directly to an adult life of from-scratch home cooking and similarly dedicated restaurants and never stopped at a fast food outlet along the way.
As I said elsewhere, my very few encounters with chains merely confirmed my worst suspicions.
It's an interesting question. Any of you folks shared my experiences growing up in my generation (born 1968, so a GenXer)? Perhaps I can make it clear why chains figure so prominently in my gastronomic life.
I'm reading Ruth Reichl's book about how she became a gourmet--I've discovered a soulmate. I came from a family obsessed with food, but Mom (bless her dear departed heart) was not a good cook. She wasn't the blythe homicide Reichl's mother was, she never served rotten food, but only a few dishes did she make truly well. Therefore I jumped at chances to eat out with my friends, once I became a teen.
And if you grew up in technoburbish northern New Jersey like I did, you have only chains. What few independent restaurants there were had prices far beyond what I could cover with my pocket change, and none of my friends was interested in anything more advanced than Bennigans.
The landscape of very-orbital New York City suburbs like Ramsey/Mahwah NJ, where I grew up, was littered with chains, but therein lay a kind of discretion, if you were willing to put your mind to it. I quickly discovered some franchises were better than others. I knew a MacDonald's that made great fries, but only Thursdays through Sundays after five. Go another time, you got soggy-salties. The Friendlies in my home town wasn't as generous with the sundae sauces as the one in Waldwick, ten minute's drive away.
We became experts, especially when I turned 16 and got to drive my mother's car. Just as I was getting money and freedom enough to try some good nothern NJ restaurants, it was off to college. I went to UCONN, in the hinterlands of eastern Connecticut, where we had almost nothing but cafeteria food. I was surprised how good cafeteria food could be when I started working at Cisco a decade later--corporate cafeterias at profile Silicon Valley places could do some things quite well. But the caf at UCONN was everything you expect, and worse.
So we'd pile into the car and go to the only restaurants that were around the college--chains. It was only when I got to graduate school, when I was 21, in New Brunswick, NJ, a train ride from NYC and in an older, more settled part of the state, and only when I was earning money as a teacher that I could afford to explore food.
So I guess the answer to your question is, whether chowhounds are born or made, many of us have had to find the good chow in even the most unlikely places, by force of history, upbringing and financial resources, and/or the lack of a skilled cook at home.
The French have yet another phrase for it, borrowed from wine: "Le gout de la terroir" (hope I spelled that right): The taste of the earth. Of course, in wine it means the particular flavor imparted to the grapes from that exact patch of earth in which it was grown. But metaphorically, it has come to mean the taste of things where you grew up. Perhaps a great gastronome would consider it a travesty that my "terroir" is a patchwork of big-chain franchises, that I'll always remember as home the perfection of a Burger King Whopper from that one BK near the high school, but...there it is.
And if food is memory, and food is life, then yes, I find myself even after all these years stopping into a chain (usually when forced, true, since I'm experimenting with new experiences now and don't really want to repeat old ones, but still) to experience a taste I know, to exercize the fine senses I built as a kid about what makes a really good Big Mac.
That's ultimately what I love about Chowhound.com and the people here. Here we celebrate the triumph of the Object (something perilously close to extinction in our Post-Modern, Derridian/Foucaltian world). We never really aim to name that certain something, that "it" which makes something chow-worthy, but at the same time, we reject the notion that a place--ANY place--is incapable of producing great chow. No hole too dimly lit and scary, but we'll see if it has good chow and tell the world. No fancy decor so off-putting that we won't look past the glitz and search out the best morsel.
It's why I come here, every day, to see what a thousand scouts have turned up. I hope it never ends.
re: Burke and Wells
First off, to me there are chains and chains. A small regional outfit like Fuzio is a very different thing from global McDonald's. Even within this category, there are differences--I like Fuzio a whole lot better than Pasta Pomodoro. But within a region there's some chance of maintaining quality control without rigid standardization, which can't be done on a national scale.
Even a fairly big regional chain like Kookooroo or Rubio's can be pretty good. I'm pleased to hear there are some Rubio's here--I was just puzzling over where to get fish tacos. San Francisco Centre is an especially useful location for them, given the dearth of good reasonably priced food in the core of Downtown San Francisco.
I never lived in deep suburbia, so I didn't have to develop the coping mechanism of figuring out which chain outlets are better at what. My South Jersey hometown had hoagie shops, steak sandwich places, and pizzerias. One of the ironies of this strategy is that what chains promise is uniformity, that you can be assured that a whopper will be the same in any Burger King. Apparently it's not.
I don't think avoiding chains in the central Bay Area is necessarily a snobbish decision. What do we need chains for here? I'm not aware of any kind of food that you can get in a national chain that you can't get in a local restaurant or local chain. Maybe way out on the fringes of the region that's not true, but you have to go a long way (Chowhounds have been busy identifying good choices in Livermore, for example). The burger/meat oriented chains also tend to serve food with horrendous amounts of fat and salt, which I want to avoid. Fat and salt are part of food, but McDonald's is way overloaded on them. If you like some kinds of food at the chains, as Chowhounds lined up to confess that they do, so be it.
Also,locally owned restaurants are part of the character of a place. They are key in making San Francisco San Francisco, Berkeley Berkeley etc. This isn't just an urban thing--noodle houses help make, for example, today's Milipitas what it is (and make it different from some otherwise similar suburbs around the country). National chains just import standard formulae.
So eat at chains if you wish, but please don't tell me that somehow it's a Chowhound's duty!
I'd have to disagree with you. Although a chain restaurant is not a first choice for me, it does happen from time to time. The resulting food is predictable at best.
But the true essence of being a Chowhound is not a disdain for chains, but the search for good food. Period. Snobbery has no place on this board - otherwise, we'd just be backslapping each other at The French Laundry, Masa's or Aqua. Pass the Petrus.
If we wanted just that, we'd all love Mssr. Bauer and the reason for this board would no longer exist.
EXACTLY!! Plus, many of us have people we love DEARLY who are not hounds and like to pick the restaurant every once in a while. I'd gladly eat a dinner at CPK to be in the company of my best friend (Who aside from that quirk, is one of the most WONDERFUL person you've ever meet...)
I second Peter's eloquent statement, and support the idea that dismissing chain restaurants simply because they are corporate is nothing but snobbishness (a reverse of the thinking that any restaurant with greasy tables and cockroaches can't make good food, but just as insidious.)
I need to raise another counter to the statement that there is no need to visit chain restaurants in the Bay Area.
My partner and I moved to SF 7 years ago from Chicago. We did not think much about food at the time since we didn't make much money in the midwest, but moving here opened our eyes to the possibilities of great food.
In Chicago, we had a list of favourite restaurants (none of them chains) where we were able to get inexpensive good quality food (mostly comfort/southern food.)
When we moved here we were excited to learn about the wonderful experiences that we could have with good food, but have always found it difficult to find a good meal in the middle ground - it's either a taqueria or Zuni, not much in between. (This is compounded by the fact that my partner does not like asian food, which seems to really be the only viable option.)
What we had in Chicago that is missing here: good independant fast food (I take exception to nasty steamed tortilla burritos), and honest independant restaurants that serve food for the same prices as the chains (entree's @ $10, etc...)
I hope someone can prove me wrong. Until then, I'm still going to enjoy chicken fried steak at Chili's now and then.
re: Paul C
Interesting discussion here. My 2 cents would note that simple American breakfast food is probably about one of my comfort faves. And who in the world tends to make the best, perfectly grilled hash browns and impecable buttermilk pancakes? Well, where I live it is an IHOP on Richmond Hwy in Alexandria VA. There is another IHOP a few miles away that is OK, but not up to the standards of the Richmand Hwy joint. So the idea is if the kind of food you are looking for is fairly generic (like American breakfast food), I'll take a chance on a specialty (meaning focus on breakfast fare) chain like IHOP on equal odds with some other non-chain that in all likelihood may not even have any sort of first rank cooks on their first shift in the AM.
As to why a chowhound would eat in such a place ...
I'm just old enough (turning 43 this month), and perhaps not suburban enough, that eating out and fast food weren't common in my childhood. Pizza was a big deal, not a ho-hum fall back. I don't remember eating at MacDonalds until I was in my teens, and that was with friends, not with my family.
I rarely eat at chains, but when I do I suppose the main reasons are the same as most people's: they are cheap and convenient, and fairly reliable for what they are. This is especially true if I'm on the road, and particularly if I'm with someone who is not a chowhound, or with my roommate and her son when he was younger (he's a good little sushi-eating chowpup now, though).
Since you never know when you're going to be in a situation where a chain is actually your best (or only) choice (for example I've spent four days on the outskirts of Colorado Springs without a car where the only choices within walking distance were Arby's, Subway, Denny's, Chili's and Outback Steakhouse), it's valuable to have some ideas about how to make the best of it.
Well, I read Fine's response and then had to go and read the WHOLE entire thread to make sure what I'd say had not been said before.
So, as been so well said already, what does eating at a chain have to do with being a chowhound. There are good chains, and in this whole post, I have not seen mention of the two BEST chains: popeyes and krispy kreme.
More important, what is a chain and what is "real food". In Chicago, as pointed out by another poster, we still are blessed with a range of independents. Yet these independents still buy from large companies. In other words is there any difference from a chain if every place buys from the same suppliers?
Also, what of Wolfgang Puck, Emeril, Alan Stillman, Lettuce Entertain You, Alain Ducase, etc., are these chains? Even Alice Waters has more than one operation.
Must we limit our intake to only the most pure?
re: Vital Information
Cannot help but note that Popeye's has suffered since Al Copeland was suckered by investment bankers and had to give the place up (but he kept the recipes and, I hear, is paid for their use). But even in teh old days the quality varied from shop to shop.
Great idea, though. Take stuff no one wants (like pumice for your buildings) and less than perfect birds and season the hell out of them. Just updating the whole reason for the Spice Trail--gotta love it.
I think that is why in general, Chain-hood is tragic... I went to school just as the above mentioned Rubios was starting to sell franchises. I've had and MISS greatly the food that was once lovingly prepared there (Which has suffered not only by being 'chained' but also when the franchise opperation was not going well and they had to change 'direction')
However, I will admit, when compared to Taco Bell and their ilk... they still are putting out a pretty good product....
And now, don't even get me started on EPL... That would drive me to tears...
re: Vital Information
If you have only eaten at a chain restaurant a few times, you can't really offer an truly informed opinion.
I too live in SF and there are very few chains here. But I have lived in quite a few areas where there where chain restaurants were the rule, not the exception. So you do end up eating in them. Trying to find a locally owned restaurant in say, Orlando, is difficult.
I do happen to love Chevy's chips and salsa, and their Fajitas. I also like Fuzio's fire cracker pork. Also, I like Macaroni Grill
I happen to like good food, and sometimes you can find it in a chain restaurant. I also know that there's a lot of fatty, salty crappy food in local SF restaurants.
Why would anyone who loves food (or him/herself) go to a chain restaurant in the first place?
The one or two times in my life I've been in one--on the road in the middle of nowhere trying to avoid cigarette smoke--I didn't understand anything. I felt like I was in a strange country or, more accurately, on a strange planet. Packaged, chemical milk substitute, various-colored white breads with names I was familiar with but no other resemblance to--say-- wholewheat or rye, tomatoes of a color previously unknown, and other items I had assumed had disappeared by the '60s! "No, we don't have any fat-free milk."
I once found myself visiting a friend in a small Calif. town and the only place to eat was Chevy's, which promised on a prominent sign to make things as you desired. There was also posted a list of the day's specials, not one of which the server had ever heard of. When I made requests from the regular menu with certain changes--omit this, add that, please--the empty place seemed to collapse into paralysis.
Likewise our one effort to try Left at Albuquerque (for neighborhood assoc. problems, not culinary reasons). It became quickly clear that there was no cook in the kitchen so no adjustments could be made to anything. First time in my life I had that experience. I was only able to conclude that everything was pre-prepared and no one on the premises could add a chile pepper or do anything else.
But those were anomalies over a lifetime of dining out. Only a need to escape cigarette smoke could conceivably force me back into a chain, and that, of course, would be if I had to travel out of state.
Oh, I just remembered: we also were taken to a chain steak house when visiting friends in Orlando. The meat looked great and tasted like rare sawdust.The potatoes tasted as if they'd been baked hours earlier, and the accompaniments were not even fresh and were sort of prepackaged! And, of course, no vintages listed for the wines.
When it comes to Cal/Mex style chains, I've always preferred El Torito to Chevy's -- the salsa, the pepito caeser dressing, the sweet corn cakes (which Chevy's later copied).
It's hard to count on dishes at fast food places because it depends so much on whether it's fresh or it's been sitting for a while.
McDonald's hotcakes and sausage are surprisingly good if you get them fresh made. So is the sausage biscuit (but they get dried out and chewy if they spend too long under the heat lamps).
I like Carl's Jr. Superstar with Cheese, and their fried zucchini, which I can fool myself is healthy 'cause it's got a green vegetable in it.
Jack-in-the-box chicken tenders.
Der Weinerschnitzel chili cheese dogs and mini corn dogs.
I don't eat often enough at the chain "family" restaurants to have found good dishes. Everything I've ever had at Lyon's has been terrible, for example, so I avoid it like the plague. TGIF and Applebee's are worse than mediocre. I don't hate Olive Garden but I can't remember anything I've ever eaten at one (except the salad, which isn't bad). Same with Chili's (love the baby-back ribs jingle and commercials, though).
Mostly it's not that those places are bad, just that they are trying so hard to please the lowest common denominator that they rarely produce anything that stands out. When you add to that the fact that they're usually using cheap and/or artificial and/or overly processed ingredients, you have a recipe for food that's not worth eating.
But now that I've trashed chain/fast food, I'll cop to my secret vice: nachos with artificial cheese glop on them -- the more neon orange the better (I don't like nachos with "real" cheese: too stringy and the cheese hardens). I excuse my cravings by claiming any American-born Baby Boomer or younger has been conditioned to require a minimum yearly amount of artificial cheese flavor. Or perhaps it's the combination of red and yellow dyes. Whatever, it must have been the water when we were growing up. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!
re: Ruth Lafler
re: Ruth Lafler
Lol, Ruth I understand what you say about that nacho cheese. Nachos with real cheese and beans are good, but the cheese does harden unpleasantly. And I am convinced that there is some secret ingredient in processed cheese that makes it addictive. Kind of like the not-so-secret sugar they sprinkle on McDonald's fries to make it more addictive. Now that I am aware of this blatant manipulation on the part of McDonald's to keep people hooked I avoid their food, along with most other fast food chains.
I admit that I like Rubio's Fish Tacos. Some locations make them better (San Diego seemed always better than the LA area ones). I know it's not in Nor Cal, but it's a chain.
Chevy's does have its good points as well. The good thing about them is you usually know exactly what youre getting and the food is not over processed.
Another chain that I used to like in LA was Koo-Koo-Roo. They have a branch up here, but I havent tried it yet, but it was always pretty damn good chicken and sides.
The Rubio's in the San Francisco Center is very good. From what I hear, this is one of their first ventures in the city, and they really want to make a good impression. It shows in the way the store is run, and the staff. To me, everything about it is authentic Rubio's a la Southern California.
I was reading through and if I had not found it would have posted it - Rubio's Fish Taco's are thebest - no one comes close!
I love Carrabba's Mussels " Cozze Bianco" they have changed to smaller mussels but the sauce is so good to sop up with the bread that accompanies it! - I also agree with Olive Garden Salad and dressing!
Amazing how the northen part of California is in synch with the southern part of California - the same discussion was going on on the L.A. board yesterday. Great minds think alike? If that statement is true, then would that make the statement "chowhounds are all great minds" also be true?
I never denied it.
I went to the Palo Alto location today (3990 El Camino Real). I often crave the baja barrito. I was thinking critically about it as I was chowing. I think one of the things that makes it so good is that they melt cheese all over the inside of the tortilla before they but the other stuff in. This prevents the tortilla from soaking up juice and preserves it's structural integrity. It also gives the melds with the tortilla to create a great chewy texture. The chicken is really nice as well. No rice or beans. I burp garlic for the rest of the day but it's worth it. I wish that they went a little heavier on the guacamole though.
I also love in-n-out burgers. Cheyenne won't let me go very often which is probably for the best.
Also, what exactly do you consider a chain. How many locations are required? 2? 5? Where do you draw the line? Or is it a corporate mentality?
I like McMenamins (pubs, hotels, winery, theatres) in Oregon and Washington. They're certainly a chain but each one is unique. They're a lot homier than the starbucks type brew pubs in SF. Don't get me wrong I like Gordon Biersch ok but I'd take a rubinator over a pansy marzen any day.
I think that the soups at Sweet Tomatoes are better than those at Fresh Choice. In fact, everything is better at Sweet Tomatoes than at Fresh Choice. Unfortunately, there are only five Sweet Tomatoes restaurants in the Bay Area, Sunnyvale, Pleasant Hill,
Pleasanton, Fremont and San Jose) and none of them in San Francisco or the Peninsula. By the way, they are known as Soup Plantation in the Los Angeles area.
I seem to be in the minority, but I don't like Chevys
salsa since they started putting chipotle peppers in
it. Sort of violates their everything is fresh policy too.
I also prefer corn tortillas for chips, but their
chips are nice for a change.
Good chain food :
Double Whopper no 'cheese'.
Red Robin onion burger with blue cheese dressing.
TGIF steak and cheddar wrap.
TGIF jalapeno/cilantro pesto pasta.
The colonels cole slaw.
Marie Callendars chili and cornbread.
Taco Bell: Tacos & Nachos Bellgrande
Outback: I also love the ribeye, their veggies and mushrooms. Oh yeah, and that Bloomin' Onion!
TGIFriday's: Cobb Salad with honey mustard dressing
I love CPK - it was a real treat during my college days!
Chevy's: I second the chips & salsa
Howard Johnson's: I used to love the clam chowder, chicken strips and clam strips, but haven't had any since about 1990.
In New Jersey: Cluck U's Atomic chicken wings
Jersey Mike's Subs (esp. the chicken salad)
Chevy's: Like everyone else, their chips and salsa.
Olive Garden: I love the all you can eat breadsticks and salad. I order the entrees just as an excuse to fill up on these. I usually take all the pasta home for lunch the next day.
Lyon's: The Lyon's in Saratoga had the best fried zucchini in the world. My high school friends and I always had a late night snack here on Friday or Saturday nights. But it closed and I've never found it as good anywhere else.
McDonald's: Filet-o-fish and chicken nuggets. In fact, I had these 2 for dinner last night. I know nuggets can't be found anywhere on a chicken but they have their own appeal.
Overall, I find Claim Jumper's and Elephant Bar to be the better chain restaurants in the area. But maybe that's just because they're relatively new to Northern California and trying harder.
I second on Chili's honey-lime dressing, and the fries at our local are terrific: crunchy and spicy outside, meltingly creamy inside.
My worst confession: I love the Tiramisu at our Olive Garden. My son and I have to order two of them. I have never eaten at any other Olive Garden and hear they are terrible (but oh-so-favored by our kids!)
The French have a term for this: "L'aime de la boue," or "Love of the mud." It means the greatest gormets often have a secret addiction to food even they must admit is crappy.
Here are some of mine (which drive Burke to distraction!):
At White Castle: Extra-steamed (you have to ask for it) cheeseburgers
At Chili's: their "queso" dip (though I can't find any cheese in it)
At Carrow's: Their chicken strips (lovely crisp breading)
At Dairy Queen: Vanilla Blizzard with Reese's Peanutbutter Cups and Oreos
At Friendly's: Peanutbutter topping (so salty!)
At Starbuck's: Mocha Frappacino
At Cinnabun: Cinnabun with extra frosting
At MacDonald's: Sausage biscuit with egg and cheese, hashbrowns
At Roy Rogers: Fried chicken
At Spoons: Chili with lots of scallions
At Applebee's: Applebee Club (grilled ham and cheese), spinach-artichoke dip, "chocolate sin" dessert
FOR BURKE: I know he loves the flabby, horrible all-you-can-eat breadsticks at Olive Garden. Me, I don't really like them much.
More if I think of them!
re: Burke and Wells
re: Burke and Wells
re: Burke and Wells
re: Burke and Wells
re: Burke and Wells
re: Burke and Wells
I second the sausage egg and cheese biscuit from McDonalds. Someone somewhere on these boards posted putting grape jelly on it, I'm going to try that one of these days.
I also get a craving for a Big Mac about twice a year. If it comes out fresh and the fries are very hot and salty, I love it!
Another thing I used to love, I don't know if they still serve it is the cheese and crackers at the "99" restaurants. Eaten alone, the crackers tasted something like dog biscuits, but with the salty orange cheese and a beer... yummy!
re: Nancy Berry
Believe it or not I also have the Chevys recipe. When I finally sat down to make it I realized it was to make a gallon! I didn't actually make it though (don't remember why...) Where did you get your recipe?
The Spaghetti Frutti di Mare is my favorite dish at Pasta P. That and the now extinct chocolate mousse.
re: Nancy Berry
re: Wendy Lai
Whip out the food processor and fire up the grill because youll need these essential tools to clone one of the best restaurant salsas in the business. The key to recreating the flavor of the real deal is to fire roast the tomatoes and the jalapenos, and to add a little mesquite-flavored liquid smoke. The restaurant chain uses a mesquite grill, so these steps are crucial to getting the same smoky flavor as the addictive restaurant version. Chevys uses chipotle peppers, or smoked red jalapeno peppers. But unless you grow your own jalapenos, it may be difficult to find the riper red variety in your local supermarket. For this recipe, the green jalapeno peppers will work fine.
6 medium tomatoes
10 jalapenos (red is best)
1/4 of a medium Spanish onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons mesquite-flavored liquid smoke
1. Preheat your barbecue grill to high temperature.
2. Remove any stems from the tomatoes, then rub some oil over each tomato. You can leave the stems on the jalapenos.
3. Place the tomatoes on the grill when its hot. After about 10 minutes, place all of the jalapenos onto the grill. In about 10 minutes you can turn the tomatoes and the peppers. When almost the entire surface of the peppers has charred black you can remove them from the grill. The tomatoes will turn partially black, but when the skin begins to come off they are done. Put the peppers and tomatoes on a plate and let them cool.
4. When the tomatoes and peppers have cooled, remove most of the skin from the tomatoes and place them into a food processor. Pinch the stem end from each of the peppers and place them into the food processor as well. Toss out the liquid that remains on the plate.
5. Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor and puree on high speed for 5-10 seconds or until the mixture has a smooth consistency.
6. Place the salsa into a covered container and chill for several hours or overnight while the flavors develop. (http://www.topsecretrecipes.com
)Makes approximately 2 cups.