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Sign O' the times...

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do you feel like you're eating at chains more or less these days? to save money, i've been eating out less and cooking at home more but some of my friends who have been eating out but just at chains because they claim it's more economical and can find good deals. i figure if i'm going to go out, it's probably not going to be to a chain but what's your take?

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  1. My main change is that I now cut chain restaurants less slack than I did in the past. The main reason to patronize chains--as far as I'm concerned--is consistency. With money getting tighter, my attitude now is on the first experience of poor quality food or service, the place is off my list. With an independent, I might be a little more patient.

    1. No. The independent places need our business more than ever. (plus, at least in my area, there are plenty of great indie alternatives)

      Well, I still go to Le Pain Quotidien (because it's good, but pricey) and sometimes Chipolte.

      1. I have found that it seems that as a cost cutting effort, the chains are cutting thier quality and thier portions etc. What scares me the most, is that as the economy gets worse (which it will have to do before it gets better) the mom and pop restaurants where truly good food is found will go under and all we will be left with are the chains. I shudder to think of it.....

        1 Reply
        1. re: SarahChef

          I worry about that too Sarah. I try to vote with my money when I can.

        2. I avoid chains at all costs, I'd rather find a reasonable Mom&Pop place and patronize them, they need the business.

          1. I find I'm resenting fast food more these days. Value menu excepted, fast food is really expensive food. A regular sized burger or sandwich is close to five bucks. Add a drink and fries and that's almost a $10 lunch ... for salty, tastless junk. And those value menu items are not that filling.

            Just eat at home more, make a lunch... and make your eating out food dollars count by going to a nice restaurant. Or explore the little mom and pops. Why pay five or more bucks at subway or Quizno when you can get a $2 Vietnamese sandwich, often with a freshl baked roll. A Mexican torta is often less expensive and twice as large.

            I have taken quite a few chances on unknown mom and pops over the years ... at a minimum ... one a week ... so let's say that over a few years that's over 200 meals at these joints. In all that time there were at most four that were not good.

            So I disagree about going for consistancy at chains in order not to waste money. Why buy consistantly mediocre fast food? Also on those occasions that I do eat at a fast food joint, as mentioned, the prices always shock me. There is so much less food for so much more money.

            9 Replies
            1. re: rworange

              I remember a time when there was very few fast food restaurants and chains. We did have Howard Johnson's. In my area there weren't many pizza places and no chinese food. But there were plenty of diners. The fast food I got was a steak sandwich or a meatball sandwich from the local cheesesteak joint. I remember the one unhealthy meal I was allowed to get once in a very great while was a fried chicken basket at the blue spruce diner. To this day the connection is there and when I hear or read the words blue spruce, my tummy gets hungry for some diner fried chicken and fries with catsup. I'd like to think that if something has to go it would be the chains, but I know I'm dreaming. Still, I think I'm heading to Pudge's for a cheesesteak tomorrow. I think Pudge's will be just fine but hey, better make sure. :)

              1. re: rworange

                Sounds like you're in a great area for mom n' pop type places. Although I seldom pass up a chance to try one when I hear about it, my experience has definitely been mixed. Probably about 60% good. Where I live a lot of them are owned by folks of Greek extraction. So we get some good gyros, Cincinnati-style chili, and a local favorite called double-decker sandwiches for not much more than the price of fast food.

                I'm not so interested in consistency at the bottom price point. But given my family's financial resources, it definitely bugs me to spend $30 or $40 a person for a disappointing meal. Unfortunately, we seem to be moving in the direction where that's as likely to happen at a chain as at an independent.

                1. re: Emm

                  While, yes, I currently live in an area with good mom and pops, however a few years ago I lived in an area where all I could see were chains ... until you looked.

                  That's the problem ... no one looks. You wrote 'I seldom pass up a chance to try one when I hear about it"

                  That is one problem. People don't go until they hear about a place. Someone has to walk in that place the first time and try it out.

                  When I lived in chain-land, as I liked to call it, it was surprising how many good restaurants there were. I watched a Brazilian steakhouse go out of businesses that had and amazing salad bar, flew in sausage from Brazil, and had all you could eat meat. Price-wise it wasn't any more expensive than Mimi's or Macaroni Grill for anyone ordering three courses ... and the food was so much better. People would not step in the door. There was that fear of anything different.

                  I think that is the real value of chowhound. You don't have to take the risk. You can ask if anyone tried a place and if it is good and worth that $30 or $40.

                  From your profile, I'm guessing you are in the Cincinnati area. It's a little more difficult because you have to share the entire midwest board. Kind of a shame there's a board dedicated to chains on Chowhound yet breaking up boards to be more manageable seems like an undoable task.

                  Still If searching the Midwest boards for "Cincinnati", there are almost 500 results, If people post, they build a community and more people participate. Use this valuable resource for shushing out good food.

                  The web itself is valuable. Put in almost any restaurant out there and some sort of info comes up be it a blog, newspaper, or other food sites.

                  Not to promote another site, and not in the $30 range, but in the $ range outside of the stuff Cincinnati is known for ... doing a quick scan ... and this is ONLY an example. I have no clue if this stuff is any good ...

                  Sophia's Deli which only has one brief web mention and no Chowhound mention I could find has supposedly great mac and cheese, good deli sandwiches and home made desserts. Most items are in the $5 range.

                  Cafe De Paris supposedly has great affordable breakfast and the French owner in the kitchen serving mainly lunch items at good prices. No chowhound mention,.

                  Ok, maybe not the best example, but maybe stop at Habanero if your taste runs to places like Chipotle. The website says "We believe in a few basic ideas: serve really good food in a funky, cool environment with great people who actually care if you enjoy your meal."
                  http://www.habanerolatin.com/menu.htm

                  Personally, I'd like to try the CHUBA CABRE there ... cinnamon-roasted squash, pinto beans, rice,apple green chile salsa $6.50. There's a lunch special for $6.95 that where you create your own burrito and a soft drink is thrown in.

                  The thing is if we choose to settle for medicore corporate chains because it is a good, realiably mediocre value, well we have only ourselves to blame. If we continue to throw our money at them as quality declines we deserve what we get.

                  Leave the chain board behind. Start using the local boards more if only to ask questions, but better yet to report the good and bad.

                2. re: rworange

                  Im curious why you immediately started talking about fast food, are those the only chains you have? I assumed that the OP was talking about places like Chili's, Olive Garden, Macaroni Grill, Applebees, Ruby Tuesday, CPK, etc. Not gourmet fare, but certainly a cut above the KingMcJack type places.

                  Having said that, the appearance of saving money at fast food or mid-range chains generally is an illusion. But there are things there that most people are not going to be making at home, starting with a simple french fry. No doubt better fries can be made at home, but no one I know happens to have a deep fryer, doesnt want to spend the money to buy all that oil, fat, crisco, whatever, and doesn't want the mess that a fryer can create.

                  One area that there can be some cost savings is in those rather expensive salads that some of the chains specialize in. For me to buy the say 12 different ingredients in a CPK thai or waldorf salad doesn't make sense. I won't use it all up before they go bad, and it drive me nuts when I have to toss it. That might be different if I was cooking for a family of four every day.

                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                    - Chili's, Olive Garden, Macaroni Grill, Applebees, Ruby Tuesday, CPK

                    That's even worse than the low-level chains like BK and group. That is throwing even more money to eat food that comes from a can, freezer or salad bag. It begs the question of why you go out to eat ... is it only a social function to get together with friends or to try something delicious.

                    Do you really think you are getting anything better at a place like Macaroni than canned minnestrone, frozen lasagna and pre-made desserts ... and paying four or five times more for the priviledge ... with tip ... than if you went to Safeway or whatever the local supermarket is and eating that at home.

                    The french fry doesn't have to be from a chain or the salad from CPK.

                    If there is the perception that the only inexpensive sit-down restaurant food can be had at the Chili's and Olive Garden ... which I believe is not true ... but if that is the perception ... why not eat out less frequently but at a better quality restuarant. Instead of two visits to a chain at $30 a shot, go to a local restaurant where there's a chef in the kitchen making real food one time for $60. Why waste money and calories ... and your life ... on the mediocre.

                    I'm not putting myself above that. I'm here reading the chain board and contemplating the Angry Whopper ... but I find myself more and more unsatified by fast food choices ... and Olive Garden ... just don't do that anymore unless I have a dining companion that I can't persuade to go elsewhere. I have better uses for my bucks.

                    1. re: rworange

                      I guess I'm lucky; I live just north of Toronto, in an area where there are many Asians. I have literally a hundred Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, or Korean spots to choose from in a five-mile square. Some of them are very luxurious, and you can easily drop $100/person without booze for dinner; others are cheap and cheerful, and it's hard to spend more than $15/person unless you opt for shellfish. (And not always then; this fall, lots of places offered 2 lobster specials for $20.) We have upscale chains, too. Il Fornello and East Side Mario's are local (Canadian) Italian chains; Mr. Greek, Montana and Outback Steakhouses, etc. We hardly ever visit those - we'd rather go to an owner-run spot, spend less, and get better quality food.

                      I do go to FF places for lunch sometimes. They are quick, lunch specials are usually inexpensive, and if you pick carefully you can get something palatable. BK has Whopper or Double Whopper Jr. combos for $3.99 twice a week; not bad. My favourite, though, is still Wendy's large chili and a sour cream baked potato. Almost nutritious, cheap, quick, and with the hot sauce, tasty.

                      1. re: rworange

                        I can't speak to the others, but I worked for awhile at a macaroni grill and dated the head chef for quite awhile. They actually make many, many of their dishes each day, including the sauces, which do not come in a bag. I watched the kitchen prep these dishes each day and they followed huge recipes to make giant amounts of whatever dish, but they do make it, they get in a lot of raw ingredients and follow recipes from corporate.

                        1. re: rockandroller1

                          rock, I also worked at Mac Grill. A few years ago they stopped making their own soups and sauces due to inconsistancies in following the recipes. They do come in bags now. They also used to make all the desserts, but that was also stopped.

                          1. re: timbug

                            boo, that's disappointing. I will write to Phil Romano.

                  2. While I still primarily patronize indies over chains, I can understand why others might be turning more to chains. With less $ to spend on meals out, it really, really sucks when we have a bad meal because we went to an indie place, whereas at a chain we know exactly how the meal is going to be each time we go. In a better economy, I minded less about throwing my money away on meals that aren't good when trying mom and pop places, so now we are less adventurous and only go to indies we know will give us good food based on past experience. We just can't afford to gamble right now, especially because where we live, one out of 15 indies is bad.

                    13 Replies
                    1. re: rockandroller1

                      I think that pretty well summarizes my attitude about my area, also. There's simply no particular likelihood that if you walk at random into one of the less expensive independent restaurants that you'll get anything actually prepared (as opposed to just heated up) on the premises. A lot of them just serve what tastes like prepackaged food service stuff. And if what they serve is the cheapest of the cheap, it's unlikely to be even as tasty or as good quality as something the chains have made the effort to concoct a recipe for.

                      1. re: Emm

                        So if one in 15 is bad, you are missing out on 14 opportunities to eat more than mediocre food.

                        I guess I don't understand this. Why don't either of you or anyone with similar thoughts, just ask on the board about specific restaruants and if they are good or bad? Why waste this resource? Why eat instead at a chain?

                        Or why bother eating out at all? Why throw your money at the medocre if the economy is so bad? Why not save up money and good to amazing places?

                        1. re: rworange

                          My mistake in typing. I meant one in 15 is GOOD. 14/15 are BAD.

                          Edited to further answer your question:
                          "Why don't either of you or anyone with similar thoughts, just ask on the board about specific restaruants and if they are good or bad? Why waste this resource? Why eat instead at a chain?"

                          My town is not big enough for people to post about the myriad, bad mom and pop small restaurants that are in the suburbs. CH and other food boards pretty much stick to posts about what is GOOD and there is very little discussion about what is bad and what to avoid. I mean, if I were to ask about any of the, say, 20 small restaurants in a 10 mile radius of my home, I can guarantee you nobody I know in person has been to any of them and nobody on CH has either. Generally, if it's good, you already know about it. I would estimate in the 5 years I've been living in the place where I've been living I have literally wasted thousands of dollars on bad meals at these sorts of establishments, so bad that after one visit we agree never to return. Does that explain why one would be reluctant to keep banging one's head against the wall and trying place after place after place? Ergo, we only try brand new places or places we've heard or know of to be good. When we're hungry and want to stay in the neighborhood, there just aren't more than 2 of those choices and we get tired of going to the same 2 places. When there's terrible, snowy, icy roads (6 months out of the year) and freezing cold temps, we don't want to drive 15 miles to a different indie that we know is going to be good, so we go to a close by chain. When we don't feel like cooking or don't have anything defrosted and want to go out to eat, those are the choices. It's not about saving money to travel 30 minutes to go somewhere good, it's about grabbing something quick that won't break the bank that we know will be at least palatable.

                          If you truly cannot understand what I'm saying, you are blessed to live in a place where this isn't a situation you have to live with.

                        2. re: Emm

                          There are plenty of indy restaurants that serve bad food, but they tend to go out of business pretty quickly. On the other hand, there are very few chains that serve good food, and those that serve mediocre stuff tend to stay around forever.

                          You're right that there's no guarantee you'll get good stuff at any given restaurant. But it's a lead-pipe cinch that you WON'T get good stuff at a chain. And at an indy place, you can at least ask the proprietor what's good and leave if you don't like the response. At a chain, the same question will get you the pre-programmed upsell of the week.

                          IMO the odds of getting a bad or mediocre meal are about the same no matter where you are. If there's a mediocre dish you're comfortable with, that may be a good choice for you. But my experience has been that you tend to get better food for less money ON AVERAGE at independent shops than at chains.

                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            That's just not the case where I live. We have a lot of people who do not care about eating really good, chow-hound level food and a lot of elderly who only care that the breakfast is $2.99, not how it tastes. We have hundreds of really, really bad restaurants that we have been to and drive by and are amazed they stay in business year after year after year.

                            1. re: rockandroller1

                              Wow, that's tough.

                              One thing you might try is to go in for a cup of coffee and try to engage the owner / server / cook in conversation about food. I know that some places sling hash for the lowest-common-denominator crowd but have good stuff buried in (or completely off) the menu.

                              There's a restaurant near my house that would have to climb several notches to compete with Denny's on most of their menu. But the cook is Tamil, so even though the chicken-fried-steak is indifferently-prepared Sysco stuff, the sambar and rasam - which aren't on the menu - are pretty tasty.

                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                The only places I've had this type of success are our ethnic restaurants, those are places you can really find a gem if you're able to engage them in conversation, find out what's really good, etc. But the vast majority of places around where I live are the following: american food/greasy spoon, sports bar, pizza. Drive 2 blocks, repeat. It's just really hard to keep throwing away money at these places after so many very disappointing visits. And clearly they are still in business. People here do not have very discerning tastes. We went to a breakfast place very close to where we lived TWICE, once on our own and once after friends had said they liked going there, and each time we were astounded at how bad the food was and couldn't finish what we left. And their parking lot is packed every weekend. I just rode the train home with a co-worker last week who was lamenting that he no longer lived in our neighborhood because a certain restaurant was there that he liked to go to frequently. He liked it because of the massive beer selection. I asked what he thought of the food, because we'd been there and thought it was awful, which I didn't say, and he said it was ok but nothing to write home about. good beer selection = good restaurant here, you know? People LIKE the food at BW3, where I think it's the most vile stuff I've eaten. My boss' family eats at McDonald's at least 3 nights a week and they all think it's wonderful. Honestly, going to macaroni grill or lone star is a step up in my neighborhood, given the choices of fast food or one of the nasty 3 above (greasy spoon, sports bar, pizza).

                                1. re: rockandroller1

                                  I didn't answer you because I thought you had a good argument and seem to have made a major effort to find the good stuff. Also, I felt I was running on too much as it was. However, I feel bad for some of the lost culinary lambs out there.

                                  I have lived places like you mention, so I do understand. Also a good chunk of my S/O's family are chain-iacts.

                                  I tried introducing them to better food. They were unhappy. I was unhappy. The breaking straw for me was when I was dropping a few hundred dollars at one of the best dim sum restaurants in the area, and one pouty teen not only acted rudely but loudly said to a waiter "Nice snacks, but don't you have any REAL Chinese food. No chow mein".

                                  That was it. I recently took them out to a damn chain in SF Fisherman's Wharf that had a great view and mediocre food and recieved accolades ... I was finally taking them to a "real SF resturant".

                                  They in turn take me to Cafe Macaroni because it is fancy food that "you like".

                                  So I understand the mentality of certain people and certain areas.

                                  When I lived in the burbs, at a pot luck people ooohed over Safeway cold cut platters and salads. The dessert hit was Cool Whip mixed with oreos. Everone wanted the recipe. Can you say brain dead? Take Cool Whip. Break up Oreos. Mix.

                                  So unfortunately chains are fine dining to some people and mediocre food is good eats. I blame the chaining of America for lowering our tastes.

                                  However, IMO, your area is the exception. Some people in this thread seem based in towns like Cincinati and Cleveland or other larger towns.I'm sorry but it is hard for me to believe there aren't better options.

                                  Any anyone living in California ... almost anywere ... no excuse. If you are in a town that is big enough to support chains, it is also supporting good independents.

                                  I just urge people to post on their home boards ... good and bad.

                                  It is a public service to post about the bad places because it helps others. And ... you never know ... you might get that post that says ... "yeah, everything is crap there but they do one thing equisitely and it is not on the menu".

                                  When I was living in chain land I was the only person posting. However, every now and then I'd get a response and a good tip. Or someone who had lived in the area all their lives and never bothered to try some great place I posted about.

                                  And even when I was posting regularily on Chowhound and lived for a few months in a burb that I thought was dreadful ... after moving from town and posting about the horror of it all ... turns out there was some great mom and pops I missed out on. Ironically, I sometimes drive up there for the eats now.

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    There's a big difference when you get into a place like Cincinnati or Cleveland and talk about "The city" vs. the suburbs. I live in a suburb of Cleveland. It can be a major hassle to get in to downtown when the weather is bad, which is literally half the year here. MOST people here live in the suburbs still. But those who live on the E side have a great deal more good, independent eateries than we have on the side of town where I prefer to live. You can go all over the E and far E side of town and find all kinds of gems. It doesn't work that way in the SW burbs. Some of the W side is good, but that's also a pain to get to. So why do I live here? I don't choose where I live based on it having good restaurants. I live here because it's extremely affordable (much moreso than the E side), much lower crime than anywhere else in town, and I have direct, close-by access to drive 5 minutes, leave my car and take a train to work, which you can't do on the E side. This saves me literally thousands of dollars a year. I also value having some open space, value being close to our park system and think this part of town is prettier than the other parts. But the price paid is lack of good indie restaurants. I was just talking about this at dinner with mr. rockandroller and he agreed, we have literally thrown away many, many hundreds of dollars in the 5 years we've lived here going to really bad indie places. One after another after another. Multiple tries when we've heard from the "cool whip crowd" that they like something, only to come away scratching our heads. We do have good eating options throughout different areas of cleveland, but the best ones are concentrated downtown and on the E side.

                                    You should take a look at the midwest board. there are so few Hounds that live in Cleveland that we are maybe in one post on the "current" page on any given day, if that. If we had our own city thread it would likely crawl along, and most of the posts would be about restaurants that are DT and E side because that's where most of our chowhounds live.

                                    I know it's hard to believe unless you're here. Let me grab a post I just put up in a similar thread that can explain it just a little bit more.

                                    1. re: rockandroller1

                                      for rworange. And by the way, to all others, unless you REALLY LIVE HERE and are VERY FAMILIAR, as I am, with my part of town, you really, REALLY cannot say "I just can't believe there aren't other choices." Believe me. There aren't. I'm a major food lover. I seek out new places all the time. There is literally no restaurant in my neighbohood I have not been to at least once except for some places I don't patronize at all like all you can eat buffets, pizza hut and fast food places. Here's what I posted on the other thread:

                                      Edited to add: I'm sure many people reading a post like mine simply don't believe it. Today is a perfect example, let me run it down for you, for real.

                                      "mr. rockandroller and I have to go to a specific store for an errand that is out in another suburb, not our neighborhood but one where we used to live (and we may move back there at some point, we still enjoy it there as it's very low crime, good schools, manageable traffic/commutes, etc.). We will probably be hungry after we go to the store we need to visit, and will want to get dinner out. These are literally our choices, I won't use the specific names of the restaurants but I'm sure you can figure it out:
                                      Steak chain
                                      Italian chain
                                      "American" chain
                                      BBQ chain
                                      Fish/seafood chain
                                      Sit-down burger chain
                                      ALL the fast food chain places
                                      Fast casual chains, such as giant burrito place, "homestyle" chicken and sides place, sub shops, salad/sandwich/bakery place.

                                      Indie restaurants include:
                                      Italian place - terrible, have been there twice
                                      Upscale asian place - way, way too expensive for a casual weeknight meal, reservations only
                                      Japanese place - very bad. Last time, my 2nd try, I left without even eating my entree.
                                      Pizza place - takeout only and mediocre pizza
                                      Greasy spoon/American breakfast place - absolutely awful, nothing but Sysco or lower products.

                                      I know *every* restaurant in this neighborhood. I can assure you there is no stone unturned. There is nowhere else to eat if you want a decent meal than the chain."

                                2. re: alanbarnes

                                  "There's a restaurant near my house that would have to climb several notches to compete with Denny's on most of their menu. But the cook is Tamil, so even though the chicken-fried-steak is indifferently-prepared Sysco stuff, the sambar and rasam - which aren't on the menu - are pretty tasty."

                                  Curious, is that his personal stash or does the proprietor have him make to sell to customers in the know? On another thread asking for favorite comfort food, I listed rice & rasam. Growing up in Waco, TX, I never thought anyone would ever understand that not all Indian food is "curry" :)

                                  I believe you are from the Sacramento area? Funny, when I first moved to the Bay Area many years ago, I missed chicken fried steak so much. LOL.

                              2. re: alanbarnes

                                "But it's a lead-pipe cinch that you WON'T get good stuff at a chain. "

                                I disagree. There are some dishes that some chains do very well - I happen to really enjoy the BLT salad at Firebirds and a hot Chick Fil A sandwich, to name two. Saying that "all chains suck" is just as much of a generalization as saying that "all independent restos are great". Things are going to vary, and if someone's feeling adventurous, they very well may check out a new place. However, there are other times when getting something tried, true, and reliable outweighs the risk factor in trying a new place.

                                1. re: Suzy Q

                                  Hey, I like chain food, too. My personal weakness is In-n-Out burger.

                                  I've never heard of Firebirds, but have no objection to a Chick-Fil-A sandwich. It can certainly hit the spot at times. But is it really good food? Not in my book. Your mileage may vary.

                          2. I gave up on fast food burger joints long ago. I still patronized some of the sandwich chains, on a fairly regular basis, and only with coupons. Now, I don't bother much with sandwich chains either. It's so much cheaper and more nutritious to make your own sandwich at home. Plus, it saves on time and gas. I just make a sandwich in the morning and leave it in the fridge at work for lunch.

                            I figure a home made sandwich costs about a third of what a chain sandwich does.

                            1. When I eat lunch out - which is rarely these days - I've been known to patronize a restaurant with some decent items on the dollar menu. Since I was laid off late last year, the Wendy's $1 chili with the $1 baked potato isn't a bad option for a lunch on the run. So far, I haven't seen any indie places in my area offer those kind of cheap deals. Is it gourmet? Of course not. But I can't make chili and a potato at home for $2.

                              And I couldn't tell you the last time I had a $10 lunch. We used to do it all the time - there's a great indie restaurant that has a salad that I absolutely adore - but a $7.95 salad and a $1.95 glass of tea is a splurge for many of us these days. I hate it, because I definitely believe in patronizing local businesses whenever possible, but it's an economic reality.

                              1. I would suggest : http://www.roadfood.com/Forums/defaul... as a place to go to see where regional indie food is served. There are many, many great restaurants in every town which we can patronize. It beats frozen meat and salad from a bag. Take a look.
                                Robert

                                1. Most of the good "mom and pop's" around here are buffet's. To be honest, even though they are written up with positive reviews by the local papers, the food is pretty nasty. Greasy, salty, fatty, and you walk away feeling extremely bloated and listless.

                                  In terms of quality food, I'd rank things the following way:

                                  1. Whole Foods (tastiest, most nutritious, but most expensive; least problematic returns)

                                  2. TJ's. I admit, despite my complaints, I've liked a lot of their prepackaged and especially frozen food items. Tasty, cheap and very convenient.

                                  BUT, their packaged veggies limit choices, their juices often turn rancid well before the expiration date, and the parking is a non-financial "cost" associated with each and every purchase.

                                  3. Costco. Great prices and amazing return policy. I find a lot of their food bland, and the quantities you are forced to buy are ridiculous, but I just love shopping there nonetheless.

                                  4. Some of the less nasty fast food places: Quizno's, Subway, Wendy's, Round Table.

                                  5. The certifiably nasty, but still tasty: Taco Bell.

                                  6. Nasty, greasy, and politically dangerous: Mickey D's and BK.

                                  7. Rock bottom: local indie restaurants.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: NewDude

                                    Where on earth do you live? From your recent activity, I see that you've been to Zachary's. You couldn't possibly live in Berkeley, though.

                                    1. re: Glencora

                                      No, I don't live in Berkeley right now. I visit when I can. I love that town. It's maintained a lot of it's character over the years. It strikes the right balance for me; people are not syrupy sweet, but there's still a sweetness and civility in the air which is palpable. And that's in addition to having world class resources in a small town.

                                      Oh wait, is this post about food? Honestly, even if Berkeley only had Blondie's Pizza and Top Dog, it would still be a very fun and tasty food experience!

                                      But yeah, I'm in a different small town. Sigh.

                                    2. re: NewDude

                                      what in the world is indie? is that Indian food? Curries and such?

                                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                                        I think he means independant restaurants.

                                        New Dude. Welcome to Chowhound. Despite the fact that the only non chain discussion you participated in was the Zachary's your post about that shows that you have some serious food chops. That was a good ... and at least as far as my tastes go ... spot-on post.

                                        I disagree with you about your list. If you use chowhound to sniff out good local independants ... I'll bet you a Taco Bell item by the end of the year ... you no longer will want to collect the bet.

                                        Ask on the board about the joints near you in your small town ... if it is in the SF Bay Area I say you are not trying. If you have a Whole Foods and a TJ's near you that you are stopping by regularily ... I say you are missing a wealth of eating opportunities in your back yard. Good heavens, if you live in the Bay Area and are eating at Taco Bell ... well, time to start exploring taco trucks.

                                        A lot of the small joints do certain things very well. By posting on chowhound and asking question, you can find out what that excellent thing is. You don't even need to go in. Just ask about that place you've drivin by a zillion times and you'll find out if its worth your time. The journey will be so delcious you will be amazed.

                                        1. re: rworange

                                          ah, duhhh... of course.

                                          btw people, nobody knows more about finding good values when it comes to food than rworange.

                                    3. Let's just say I'm in a small town surrounded by other small towns. Yes, there ARE world famous indie restaurants around. But, they are WAY too expensive.

                                      In SF, I could walk into an Italian at random, and have a GREAT meal. For fifteen bucks! Or less! Here, they try to ream every tourist in town. They literally have an instruction manual showing you how to hold a tourist upside down by the ankles, how often to shake, and at what angle, to get every last coin out of their pockets. btw, they extend such 'hospitality' to the locals as well.

                                      I can't wait to get back to a big city again. Or at least live closer to one.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: NewDude

                                        Ah ... wine country ... ok, just joking with that guess. I was in Yountville on Sunday and the whole Disney-esque feel of that town makes me roll my eyes. The tourists were lined up outside of Bouchon bakery like it was the space mountain ride.

                                        I'm being sort of a pain about this because I think you appreciate good food and don't need to limit yourself to that sad list. I don't care where anywhere is, there are other options. The people who work in those famous restaurants have to eat somewhere ... I don't mean just the high mucky-mucks, but the people who clean the floors or fix the plumbing or clean the napkins and tablecloths. They can't be eating at only fast food joints and bad buffets. Anyway, hope you will use your local board, wherever that is to sniff out better options. I'm not a suburb kind of girl and when I was living in chain-land I couldn't wait to get back to SF. However, there are still restaurants back there that i really miss. The good stuff is there.

                                        1. re: rworange

                                          Yeah, some great local spots are coming to mind. The problem is, they're not healthy. The portion sizes are just out of control. There are a couple of breakfast places locally which are good to great. But the portion sizes are pointless. It's like you are ordering for two or three people.

                                          I am one of the biggest eaters among people I know, and I simply cannot finish a meal when I eat out. This is cool in the sense that it's almost like getting a second meal for free, but when my health is concerned, I'd rather just make my own food or eat at home and eat a sensible portion. I've eaten half a plate at restaurants and almost fallen asleep because it was too much.

                                          I enjoy eating, but I'm not Kobayashi.

                                          1. re: NewDude

                                            Eh, you're just playing with me now.

                                            Hard to believe you can;t find something similar and far more tasty at number 9 in your list than numbers 4-8 or there isn't anything comparable to Whole Foods. for an equal price.

                                            Dang, I'm looking at the menu for Bouchon ... using my recent Yountville experience ... because seriously ... if ever there was a town on upscale overload ...

                                            Now this is just a quick example ... though not a particularily good one

                                            There are two salads on the Bouchon menu for $10 with fancy goat cheese and all ... the table next to me had them so I know they were HUGE.

                                            I spent a few years eating often off the Whole Foods deli because I didn't know any better. I could spend easily spend the same amount for the same amount of salad at the salad bar. I believe there are less extreme examples, but it was a quick one. I mean, sure there's that $1 ceasar at Wendy's, but I'm using your top choice in this case.

                                            Even better when I looked into Yountville a bit more I found a block away from Bouchon a little hidden sandwich and salad shop where there are sandwiches and salads for $5-$6 using fresh, local ingredients

                                            The sandwiches ... using quality ingredieants ... are $5.75. I do believe Quzino's was making a big deal about their six inch $5 sandwich. So there you go.
                                            http://yountvilledeli.com/deli-sandwi...

                                            If a place like Yountville can have reasonable alternatives, I'm sorry ... any area supporting both a Whole Foods and TJ's has better, just as healthy, delicous and interesting food for comparable prices

                                            I had my BK Anygry Whopper yesterday ... like I said I'm no saint and the concept appealed to me. I thought it was good. It was $3.99. If I got the whole meal it would have cost over $7. There's a indie place down the street where if I really just want a burger and fries I can get that same meal for $5 ... and given it is in a Latino nabe, probably could have had them throw some jalepenos in. There are less expensive options at every level of equal and more often better value.

                                      2. Chains have always been the craving place or somewhere to go when there's no where else to go. These days, I'm saving those few dollars on the road to be able to indulge better at home, the locally-sourced establishments, or the non-chains.

                                        1. I must be really lucky.... I am able to enjoy city based, indie meals on a regular basis. I'm in the hospitality industry and am able to attend events showcasing the newest in trends and sampings from the finer restaurants in my city. Yet, I can go into many chain restaurants and ACTUALLY find something that I enjoy. And it's often prepared the same way when I travel to another city and don't feel like doing last minute research. Huh. Go figure.