I intend for his thread to be a discussion of places where you expect to get barely tolerable food -- a convenience store, a mall food court, a tourist-trap chain -- only to discover something really chow worthy. One example, frequently mentioned on this board, is the Indian food served at the food court in the Burlington Mall, which is surprisingly good.
Here's my contribution to get us started: I have always found Starbuck's sandwiches to be above average as far as pre-wrapped sandwiches go, but still not chow worthy. And I find that you've got to wait half an hour to eat them after you buy them to get the chill of the refrigeration off. Today, however, I bought a tomato, basil and mozzarella sandwich on ciabatta, and I had them heat it up in one of those ovens they installed in many stores last year. It was GREAT, even after applying the got-it-at-Starbucks demerit.
Obvious to CH regulars:
* Villa Mexico - solid, if perhaps not best-of-city Mexican, in a Beacon Hill gas station.
* Vinny's at Night - some of the Boston's better Italian food in a nice setting, but located in the back of a convenience store.
* Speed's - the best hot dogs I've ever had, served out of a sketchy truck in an industrial park.
Not so obvious:
* On the Border - (no, not Border Cafe) this is a national Tex Mex restaurant chain, the closest branch to Boston being in Woburn, and most of the menu sucks. But they make absolutely phenomenal homemade salsa (with a legitimate little bite to it), light and crispy chips fried on premises, and really flavorful fajitas. They also use 7/11-style slurpee machines to make their very strong frozen margaritas, the result being vastly smoother than a crushed ice version.
* Sei Bar - surprisingly inventive maki at this random little Thai/Japanese place in Medford. I think of them as Oishii-lite.
Good call, finny.
I'll throw in the Iggy's Breads outlet in the industrial park adjacent to nothing in Alewife.
And although I cannot vouch for it recently, the Keene NH airport at one point had the best Indian restaurant in an airport in NH that I have ever had! It was legitimately very good.
Great topic (if vague header) - does this fit?
I am extremely wary of packaged sushi ; I have the lowest expectations for anything 'fast food' that demands fresh. Ditto anyplace with a "captive audience." So it's totally out-of-character that I even dared to eat food-court sushi in Terminal E before boarding a 7 hour Air France evening flight.
I enjoyed tasty and inexpensive Dragon and California rolls. It was a guilty pleasure and crapshoot LOL.
Plenty of cooked Americanized Chinese food options also, at "Wok & Roll" (the sushi station is barely visible at the far left in this photo):
Definitely Villa Mexico in Boston (great Mexican food in the back of a gas station).
The sierra turkey sandwiches at Panera are really good, IMO.
Also, the hot dogs served by one of the vendors at McCoy Stadium in Providence are downright awesome, though I haven't been in a couple of years, so I don't know if they are still there.
Another is the food at the Mendon Drive-In. Surprisingly good burgers, dogs, sammys, etc.
Finally, the clumpy, old-school macaroni and cheese at Tennesee's in South Braintree may be in my top 3
Many of my surprises already posted here.
Blumie: be aware that not all Starbuck's franchises are exactly alike in this respect: I recently got a Logan Airport Starbuck's sandwich that was so inedible, I suffered through a long flight with almost no food rather than choke it down. Wretched. I think it was supposed to be turkey.
I was shocked to find some good, reasonably-priced wines on the list at a Capital Grill in Orlando. Pretty decent KC style bone-in tenderloin too, though I never would choose such a place on my own dime. Terrible value if the company's not paying.
I think the paddy melt at The Junction, a pub in Southie, is excellent: grilled onions, a nicely cooked patty, and Tabasco-fired Russian dressing, like some imaginative variant on a Reuben. With few exceptions, I don't expect to find decent food almost anywhere in the entire neighborhood (I still have to get back to Amrhein's with its new chef, though).
re: MC Slim JB
Starbucks definitely are not all created equal. Most notably, as you point out, the airport locations, which I believe are operated by HMS Host, suck. But at the "regular" Starbucks, I find most of the sandwiches are acceptable, and that many of them -- the mozzarella/basil/tomato, the Italian, and the turkey and pepperjack cheese, for example -- are affirmatively good if heated in the ovens they installed in many locations.