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Chain restaurant love manifesto.

I know many people love to hate chains. I love them. Let me explain why.

For the most part, every successful chain restaurant has a very distinct product that no other vendor sells. Take a look at a White Castle. Does anyone sell a burger even remotely similar? None that I know of. If any of of my random local burger joints disappeared I really wouldn't care - there are so many other restaurants selling a near-identical product in most cases that the departure of one burger restaurant wouldn't be a big deal unless it was your favorite.

However, if I were to lose White Castle, there is no place I know where I could get a burger so deliciously full of stinky onion steam that I keep smelling it the next day. This principle applies to every chain I hold dear. What other fried chicken joints sell chicken that is as ridiculously fatty and soggy (in the most delicious way) as KFC? Where else can you get a taco where you're not sure where the meat came from, but don't care because the fire sauce has obliterated all sense of taste in your mouth? Who else on this planet sells a burger that is as fantastically childish as McDonalds? Who's got a pizza greasier and soggier than Pizza Hut? Nobody, that's who.

This is why I love chain restaurants. There's something fantastic at every good chain restaurant that *no one* else has.

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  1. I can kind of agree. I travel a lot for work (between 100 and 200 nights in a hotel, per year), and I often seek out local places to eat, especially if there is some kind of cuisine for which the area is known. That said, if you can't find reliable info about local joints, or just can't find anything that sounds good, then you can at least be pretty sure that the chain you know will have food that will be as you expect it, whatever that food is. My best example is also my favorite fall-back when traveling.... Buffalo Wild Wings. Wherever I am, I know that there will be a wide selection of draft beer, the wings will be approximately the same, and the Spicy Garlic sauce will be delicious, whether it is California or Massachusetts. And hopefully it will be Tuesday! Actually, it usually is Tuesday, but not always. Anyway, that is the great thing about chains, and I don't even mean those of the fast-food variety, though that is the same idea. Having said that, I am sitting here trying to think of chains that I regularly visit when I am home, but I'm not coming up with much. Once or twice a year at a steakhouse chain, but rarely. The only thing that comes to mind is, well, wings ;-) Even then, it's more often another chain, albeit more of a regional than national one. Quaker Steak & Lube, anyone? Still mostly on Tuesday though, and still sometimes Buffalo Wild Wings instead. The more important question might be "why does every place have their wing night on Tuesday?". I guess that's for another thread....

    1. I'll give you some support - I hear you. When I play a gig that gets out at 11pm and I'm all amped on adrenaline and hungry, Taco Bell is the best. I know it's not "real" Mexican food, I know it's not "quality" food. It's late night junk food that scratches a particular itch after playing cello for 2 1/2 hours.

      And sometimes, there are just problems in my world that nothing except KFC fried chicken and mashed potatoes will fix.

      5 Replies
      1. re: CurlieGlamourGirlie

        >And sometimes, there are just problems in my world that nothing except KFC fried chicken and mashed potatoes will fix.

        I think that's the greatest thing I've read all day! Yes, there are few problems a bucket of KFC, mashed potatoes and cole slaw can't fix. :)

        1. re: joonjoon

          Yes, there are few problems a bucket of KFC, mashed potatoes and cole slaw can't fix. :)

          Especially constipation :)

          I love me my junk food sometimes as well! There is a time and place for everything in my world!

          1. re: sedimental

            I agree!

            I get really tired of reading the other boards, and people proudly proclaiming: "I have never had a fast food burger!"

            I Love food, and I love all kinds of food!

            It's closed minded snobbery, and these peoople do not know what they are missing in life!!

            I actually, hardly ever do eat at chains, but when I get a craving for White Castle - or McDonalds French fries - I swear - NOTHING else will do.

            1. re: NellyNel

              It's closed minded snobbery, and these peoople do not know what they are missing in life!!
              there are various reasons why people eschew fast food burgers - it's not always just because they think they're "above" it.

              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                True,GHG, but I was referring to the posts whereis IS about snobbery. I have seen quite a few across the boards.

                Actually, I encountered the worst snobbery, when I mentioned that I happen to really like PF Changs!
                Oh brother!
                Yes, I know it's not authentic, yes, I know it's not quality...yes, I know it's a tacky chain - but I like it - the food is tasty to me!
                I got slaughtered for admiting it, by loads of harsh comments..Food snobs there, for sure!!

      2. I agree with our philosophy. Especially about White Castle. Now I want one!

        1. I got a couple of meatball subs at a Subway once during a tropical storm here in Florida, it let up a bit after about 24 hours and I hadn't had hot food in a while so I went looking for some. They were the only place open.

          I don't even like Subway but since then I've always appreciated them. My first advice to anyone when a storm is approaching is "make sure you know where the nearest Subway is located."

          1 Reply
          1. re: redfish62

            These days, the Publix deli counter might be an equal bet for post-storm food since they put generators in most of their coastal stores after the 2005 hurricane season.

          2. ha ha well said, well said.

            1. Hi... I'll approach this from a slightly different angle: the reason that I enjoy occassional chains/fast food places, is that with 'leftovers' from chains (and are they really leftovers, if I intentionally purchased more than the original meal's worth, so that I might refrigerate and save for the next morning/day?), I personally enjoy the cold/refrigerated leftovers as much or more than it's original incarnation that came hot off the grill. Cold chain burgers/pizza/fried chicken tastes fine to me the next day straight from the fridge. As opposed to a sublime osso buco or coq au vin from a nice non-chain retaurant (or even that I may have cooked myself from scratch), which I could not imagine pulling straight from the cold fridge and eating as a breakfast of champions. In sum: I like the taste and texture of cold chain fastfood directly from the fridge. Cold pizza and cold burgers and cold fried stuff tastes pleasantly alien and bizarre, like what you might eat in a dream or in a diving pod 1000 feet below sea level or on the spacecraft from the original 'Alien' movie. I remember in the 1960s, there were tv commercials for weirdly-textured peanut butter 'space sticks' that were packaged like cylindrical rods of congealed astronaut rations - loved 'em! I'm sure I'm in the minority on this persepctive, but I just think that cold fastfood tastes better than cold leftovers from 'real' restaurants...

              1 Reply
              1. re: silence9

                Silence9, it's nice to know that someone else feels the way I do about certain things. I do like Burger King's Whoppers. But the last time I went for BK, my eyes were bigger than my stomach. I ordered two hamburgers, and one Whopper meal and a side order of onion rings. Now that's a lot of food. I don't really drink soda, but I was parched so I downed half of it. That was almost all I needed. I ended up only eating one of the burgers and the half the fries. I put the second burger and the whopper in the fridge along with the rings. I went out for the night and then came home to the burger. Eh, soggy and not that good. The next morning however I woke up and ate the whopper and the rings. The cold had made the lettuce and tomato crisp and the burger was actually pretty good. The rings had lost their greasiness and I doused them with Sriracha. In mant ways it was more enjoyable than hot.

                As for Pizza. I think Pizza in my neck of the woods has become so poor, that I actually prefer it the next day cold.

              2. >>> This is why I love chain restaurants. There's something fantastic at every good chain restaurant that *no one* else has.

                I have my love posts about the McRib and McDonald's double cheeseburger, etc... but ...

                The thing is almost every restaurant, chain or not, has something fantastic that no one else has.

                The fun is in finding it and sharing that with others.

                Probably it would be better if posters didn't love to hate chains with dismissive replies, but instead offer better suggestions.

                Yes, I fall back on chains and love some of the food created in the corporate boardroom ... these joints are there to make money so they are out the please most of the people most of the time.

                But in the back of my mind I'm always thinking "I could be eating something better and more interesting than this".

                And actually cheaper. Yes there are the value meals, but I just walked into Denny's this week for the first time in years. In my college days I loved the $1.99 Grand Slam ... which falls into the current Chow credo of "eating is social" rather than about deliciousness.

                But for fast food prices these days (value menu excepted) I can get better quality food for maybe a buck or two more. I mean, most of Denny's breakfasts were in the $10 range. I can get an omelet with organic eggs, Hobb's meat, farmers market veggies at a joint not too far away for $8. Denny's coffee is $1.99. At the other joint it is $1.50 lovingly roasted locally.

                I can go to Taco Bell for their mystery meat or a block away a taqueria that buys their pork from the market next door and roasts it on a spit, topping it with house-made salsa, fresh cilantro and onions with a side of marinated veggies and fresh lime ... for a buck less that TB (heh, bad initials, eh?)

                KFC is tasty enough, but its value lies in convenience. If you come to my area, I can name a number of joints that make better fried chicken, cheaper.

                I can get a wood-fired pizza made from seasonal ingredients for a few bucks more than the greasy, soggy Pizza Hut pie you describe.

                I guess I was more on board with fast food when the prices were more in line with the quality. I resent paying high prices for junk food, I guess.

                That being said, I like fast food. I don't hate it. I think though that "fantastic' might be a little over the top though.

                Howver,I think the value of these boards lies in not trashing fast food, but in offering better suggestions ... and to me the journey has been tastier, often less expensive and an opportunity to broaden my world.

                The path less chosen has been more interesting than lining up behind everyone else at the drive thru inhaling exhaust fumes.

                5 Replies
                1. re: rworange

                  I hear you about fast food prices creeping well into "real food" territory. A combo meal is now upwards of 6-7 bucks at most places and for that money I can get some real, actual food. But no matter what the price point, no I know makes something that can compete with a white castle or a McRib. I'll pay *any* price for those.

                  Aside from that, it still comes down to knowing what to order - until recently a Whopper Jr. was a fastastic bargain at just 1 dollar. A beef taco supreme is just a little over a dollar and a bucket of chicken from KFC can often be had for around 10 bucks. And don't forget how delicious their cole slaw and mashed potatoes w/ gravy are. :)

                  I'm obviously not saying FF is the end-all of food, but rather that it doesn't deserve all the hatred and animosity that people (especially "foodies") like to throw at it. Most importantly, that there's something pretty tasty at most FF joints people love to hate.

                  What area do you live?

                  1. re: joonjoon

                    >>> What area do you live?

                    San Francisco ... having recently returned after a year in Guatemala. While there are all the American chains there, for the most part ... fried chicken excepted ..... the majority of people don't eat at them often ... too expensive.

                    Fpr the price of a burger, you can get soup, entree, just-made tortillas, desserrt and a beverage made from schratch. As a friend said, that burger doesn't fill you up.

                    1. re: rworange

                      i didn't realize you were back in the States...welcome home! i enjoyed reading your posts about Guatemala - interesting, informative stuff.

                      1. re: rworange

                        I live in the suburbs - I fully recognize that chains lose a lot more of their appeal when it has to compete with the price and quality offered at a major dining city like SF. If I lived in NYC I would probably go to chains with far less frequency.

                        1. re: joonjoon

                          I live about a half an hour from SF (on a good traffic day). I'm more likely to eat from street vendors and strip mall joints.

                          I lived for a while near Escondido in the San Diego area which I have to believe was the chain capital of the world. Even there, I found a Brazilian steak house, another place with great German food, and given the area, some tasty Mexican dishes.

                          On the culinary wasteland that is known as I-5 between LA and SF, I can tell you a place that makes supurb fresh apricot shakes, another great pupusa place, a joint that makes its own sausages and theres a few places I still want to explore.

                          Another poster documented my drive from SF to Guatemala where I had very little time to explore on route and needed to stick close to the freeways


                          In the desert in Quartaize, Az there was a brratwurst stand ... didn't have time to check out the bakery off the exit. There was homeade pie and frozen custard in New Mexico. In Texas there was a fabulous breakfast joint in Van Horn and in other cities bbq, barbacoa burritos, tacos, etc

                          In Vera Cruz, Mexico I did stop at Wal Mart ... still have the plantano vinegar from there. They have samples ... that include booze. There were the outstanding tlayudas at Juchitán de Zaragoza, Mexico.

                          I drove down with a friend who is a truck driver and I was a little snobby and refused to eat the filling station burritios he likes to eat when working. Then too late ... just before we crossed into Mexico ... he brought me a goat meat burrito from a filling station and I discovered that some of these places don't sell the usual pre-made dreck sitting under heat lamps but freshly made food.

                          Location is no excuse.People would say there's little but fast food options along the concrete corridors.

                          I can't wait to walk into that unknown joint. It is like a gift wrapped in shiny paper waiting to be looked into.

                          I won't say it doesn't take effort. Going for the familiar, especially when exhausted after driving hundreds of miles a day is tempting.

                          I won't say it is all great stuff ... but after a while you get a feel for what might be a hidden gem ... or the the one good item on a menu of dreck ... the only good thing at the apricot shake place is the apricot shake.

                          It is not only the food. It is getting to know people and cultures I might never otherwise mingle with ... evesdropping on the ranchers at the Texas breafast joint, where they chowed on heavenly homemade biscuits and gravy before starting their day ... Lupita making tlayudas in a special clay oven while I sat in a small oasis in the middle of the dessert under tropical trees while watching her children play.

                          So in one way I guess I agree with the Chow mantra "Eating is social" ... but not in the way they mean by impersonally clicking and tweeting ... remotely and virtually communicating rather than sitting down with real people.

                          Whether or not this type of eating appeals to anyone else, doesn't matter to me. It is just something I enjoy.

                          I'll share the tips. Whether anyone wants to follow them ... up to them. I don't think any less of ayone ... maybe occasionally a little sad ... both for the diner and the restaurant that gets overlooked.

                          ipsedixit wrote in this thread "I, for one, am glad there are so many fast-food chains to choose from"

                          Of course I eat at chains. I have some favorite foods. It is great that at 5am or 2 in the morning there's places with reliable food. There are other times I need convenice or a filet of fish fix.

                          However ... I, for one, am glad there are so many other places to choose from .. and through Chowhound I learned about the different food there and eventually learned how to find the good stuff on my own.

                  2. The problem with the fast-food critique on these boards is that many 'Hounds tend to judge fast-food restaurants against an inapt standard.

                    Of course the pizza at CPK isn't going to be like the one at (for example) Patsy's or Bianco or Mozza.

                    And why would the burger at In N Out be anything like a burger that costs 2x or 3x as much at say a place like Father's Office (in Los Angeles) or Rays (Washington DC).

                    Judge a fast-food chain by fast-food standards and I think we'll be a bit happier and less angst-filled.

                    I, for one, am glad there are so many fast-food chains to choose from.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      ipsedixit ...

                      Are you really finding fast food cheaper these days .... McChicken sandwich and such "value" foods excepted?

                      No one needs to go to the superstars for the exhorbitant burger, but there are tons of unsung joints offering a better product for the same price or less than fast food.

                      1. re: rworange

                        Hmm, not sure I said that fast-food meant "value" and certainly did not intend to say that.

                        As to the same or better product at the same price point? Maybe for some items, but I have yet to find a comparable Filet-O-Fish at any price point.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          ... ah ... my other weakness ... the Filet-O-Fish ... paired with an orange soda ... which weirdly enough is the only HFCS soda that I've been able to drink after a year of living in a country where all soda is made with sugar. It doesn't taste vile like ther rest of the US soda.

                          Still ... it's almost $5 bucks these days for a solo FOF. Get the combo and it is over $7.

                          Coming back with a family of 5 is different than eating fast food solo. With tax, it just kills me to be shelling out $40 - $50 a shot for junk food. I'm not feeling the love so much anymore. I want more than this for my money.

                          1. re: rworange

                            oh the FoF is my Achilles heel. it almost never gets priced down. if it was on the dollar menu all the time I would LIVE there. get yourself to the motherlode and hit the McD's in the Piazza d'Espagna in Rome. it is the hallmark and the standard of what the FoF should be.

                            1. re: hill food

                              McD just ran a 2 for $3.00 on FOF last month in my area. Long lines mid day..happy fish people :)

                              1. re: hill food

                                Look around. FoF is on sale on Fridays during Lent ( most Catholics 'do not eat meat' on those Fridays as well as Ash Wednesday).

                                A few affiliates have FoF on sale all Fridays of the year (I'm in San Diego County and know of four stand alone restaurants and one inside a Walmart that have $1.25 FoF Fridays)

                                1. re: Cathy

                                  I've noticed that, but for some reason one year it ended not with Lent but rather at the end of March which was a day or 2 before Good Friday (I suppose if you're a good Catholic you're supposed to be on a hard fast that day anyway).

                      2. i grew up in White Castle territory and i could never get past those square patties with holes in them - too bizarre...but on the rare occasion when we were allowed to have fast food, i was all about a Whopper Jr with onion rings or some KFC extra-crispy with mashed potatoes!

                        and if we're including non-fast food chains, Houston's veggie burger ROCKS. (sigh. if only could still eat them...)

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          Personally I'd gobble up a Mr. J's sloppy joe (with lots of dressing, slaw and turkey breast btwn triple layers of rye bread) before I'd hop over to WC...but the rest of my family would meet me at WC w/out hesitation.

                          You can't enjoy a veggie burger ?

                          1. re: HillJ

                            You can't enjoy a veggie burger ?
                            it contains oats. boo.

                            the original Sol & Sol Deli in Fort Lee was my go-to for sloppy joes. oh how i miss rye bread!!

                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                              You must prepare some delish meals for yourself tho!

                              1. re: HillJ

                                i do :) in fact, i came up with a fabulous copycat of the Houston's veggie burger with GF oats...but it also contains brown rice, and i'm off *all* grains these days so i haven't made one in quite some time.

                                i'm extremely fortunate to love cooking as much as i do, it's just exhausting to navigate restaurant menus, and since i eat out so rarely i'd love for it NOT to be such a battle once in a while.

                                but back to the topic at hand, in addition to my "issues" with the patties at WC, growing up in Bergen County i had easy access to the famous sliders at White Manna in Hackensack, and they blew WC away.

                                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                  growing up in Bergen County i had easy access to the famous sliders at White Manna in Hackensack, and they blew WC away.
                                  You would have to debate my dear hubby about that detail :) in his 20's he was quite the Jersey burger-mister.

                                  1. re: HillJ

                                    ha! no need for debates. DH can have his uniform, hole-punched, square WC patties, and i'll stick with the round-ish hand-formed ones that don't resemble Swiss cheese...diff'rent strokes ;)

                                    BTW, i could never eat Wendy's square burgers either!

                                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                      Ah! Sounds like a great food memory. I spent my youth @ diners and deli's. I was fond of short-order cooks...still am.