Archive for the 'Fast Food' Category

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Fatburger – Los Angeles (Santa Monica)

I’ve been on a burger binge lately. First,  Pie ‘n Burger. And now, Fatburger. Which begs the question, does this burger make me look fat? Good thing The Streak is still alive.

The Astronomer and I were kickin’ it in Santa Monica on a gorgeous sunny Saturday when hunger pangs got us searching for suitable grub. We were tempted to hit up the local branch of our favorite fast-food Chinese eatery, but decided on a whim to try Fatburger. Founded in 1952 in Los Angeles, the Fatburger chain is co-owned by Magic Johnson. There are currently 93 outlets worldwide, most of which are in California.

While I didn’t notice it at the time, it appears from the photos I took that Fatburger’s clientele is mostly comprised of dudes. I guess with a name like Fatburger, it’s hard to attract the girly population.

Unafraid of putting on the pounds, The famished Astronomer ordered a half-pound Kingburger ($5.49). All of Fatburger’s burgers come with a choice of mustard, relish, onions, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce and mayo. One has to fork over extra chedda for some cheese. The Astronomer ordered his Kingburger with only lettuce and onions. Although the Kingburger was better than an average fast-food burger, it was altogether unspectacular.

Not nearly as hungry as my dining companion, I went with the Baby Fat ($2.99), which I ordered with lettuce, grilled onions, tomato, cheese and a straight face. With the meat patty cooked all the way through, the burger bordered on dry and needed a good squirt of ketchup with every bite. The fixins were average; the onions could’ve used more time on the grill. As far as fast-food burgers go, this one was decent enough, but nowhere near as tasty and fresh as the burgers from In-n-Out.

The Astronomer and I love, love onion rings, and Fatburger delivered in this department. The homemade onion rings ($3.29) were lightly battered and well-seasoned.

This is what Santa Monica looks like in the middle of January. We don’t miss the east coast winters one bit!

1218 3rd Street Promenade
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Phone: 310-393-7331

Lotteria – Ho Chi Minh City

If you’re one of the 1,400+ people who have read my Jollibee post, you’ll remember that I promised to blog about Lotteria before leaving Vietnam. This hasn’t turned out to be as easy as I anticipated—to put it simply, at no point in the past 12 months have I felt any desire to step inside a Lotteria branch and order food. However, one day I was on a blogging roll, and with our days in the country winding down, it was time to act.

A little background on the place: the Korean-owned Lotteria is the dominant fast-food hamburger chain in Vietnam. As with most American-inspired products, the hamburger has caught on among the Vietnamese community, and business is good for Lotteria. However, most expats agree that the burgers suck. Rumors abound, like “they’re not even trying to make good hamburgers, they’re just holding retail space until they get bought out by McDonalds.” Nevertheless, our friends Zach and Tom used to eat here approximately once a week. They too weren’t big fans of the hamburgers, but they swore by the chicken sandwich. Once I accompanied Zach and tasted a few of his fries. They were good—good enough that I wanted to eat more. Not quite McDonald’s quality, but a huge step above Jollibee. Still, I had no interest in sampling Zach’s sandwich.

On my solo visit, I spent a few minutes perusing the menu. Like any good Asian hamburger chain, Lotteria offers a selection of rice dishes in addition to sandwiches and fried chicken. I considered ordering the chicken sandwich or “bulgogi burger” but decided that it would be wrong to try anything other than the classic cheeseburger (burger pho mai) for my first Lotteria meal. Two categories of combo meal were available: a sandwich with fries and a soft drink (been there, done that), or a sandwich and drink paired with a piece of fried chicken. I ordered the latter, minus the Pepsi.

Zach used to hype how the food was prepared to order at Lotteria—the meat covered with breadcrumbs right before your eyes. Well, that may be true of the chicken sandwich, but for the hamburger and fried chicken it most certainly is not. My food was bagged up and I was out the door within 15 seconds of placing my order. I fastened the bag on my motorbike hook and headed home, because isn’t that what you’re supposed to do with fast food? Actually, it would have been more appropriate to eat the burger with one hand while driving, but it hadn’t been photographed yet. Plus I didn’t want to die.

So, what was the verdict? Well, the cheeseburger didn’t blow me away, but it wasn’t inedible either. I removed the tomatoes and pickles, as I would in America, leaving the burger dressed with lettuce, cheese, a few shards of onion, and a touch of mustard and ketchup. The quality of the ingredients seemed comparable to a typical McDonald’s burger, but the folks at Mickey D’s really know what they’re doing with flavoring. The Lotteria burger was bland. The cheese didn’t taste like cheese (or anything really), but that’s often the case with cheeseburgers.

I was pleased to see two small packets in my to-go bag, one labeled “chili sauce” and the other “tomato sauce.” I assumed the “tomato sauce” was ketchup; it looked reasonably like what I’m used to from Heinz, if a little darker in color. Jollibee only offered chili sauce to complement their fries, so this was a step in the right direction. I didn’t have any fries this time, so it wasn’t as big of a deal, but I did try dipping the hamburger in the ketchup to add a little flavor. Did it taste like ketchup? Well, no…but at least they’re trying.

The fried chicken piece I was given was a medium-sized thigh—a nice compromise between the malnourished birds you sometimes get in Vietnam and the ‘roid-juiced pieces at KFC in the U.S. It was a solid offering, with tasty seasonings and a moist interior. The breading became a little soggy on the drive home, but that’s hard to avoid in this climate. If I had to choose, I’d go with the chicken tenders at Jollibee over this one, but you could do far worse.

From my research at Lotteria and Jollibee, I’ve come to one main conclusion: Vietnamese fast food places know how to do fried chicken. This shouldn’t come as a surprise; the concept is much less foreign to the cuisine than the idea of a hamburger. If you find yourself stuck in one of these places for a meal, ordering some variety of ga ran is probably your safest bet. Whatever you do, stay away from the spaghetti (see Jollibee), and I wouldn’t recommend the hamburgers either.

Mang Inasal

After our awesome day-trip to Tagatay, we arrived back in Manila beat, stinky, dirty and hungry, so we didn’t stray far from our hotel for dinner. The Astronomer, Nina and I dined at a fast food-style joint called Mang Inasal on Makati, while Cathy took her meal back to the hotel. Here’s a heartwarming blurb from the restaurant’s website.

Mang Inasal endeavors to adhere to elements that bear a distinctively Pinoy stamp—grilling with charcoal, rice wrapped in banana leaves, a marinade concocted out of local spices and herbs, bamboo sticks for skewers, and the ambience that encourages kinamot (the Ilonggo term in eating with the hands) whenever chicken inasal is served. All these evoke a rush of nostalgia for tradition, culture, and most of all, Home.

The protocol here is order at the counter, pay, take a number and the food is delivered when it’s ready. Just like at Rubio’s!

Nina ordered Paa with Rice—grilled chicken (leg and thigh) with white rice and a kalamnsi. This is referred to as a Paborito Meal on the menu, which I assume is comparable to a Western value meal.

The Astronomer also ordered a Paborito Meal—Pork Inasal with Rice. The meat wasn’t super-tender, but it was very satisfying and well-seasoned. The flavors reminded me of Korean barbecue. Charcoal grilling imparts of a lovely smoky taste upon the meat.

The best perk of the Paborito Meals is unlimited rice! One was enough for Nina, but The Astronomer demanded seconds. There is an employee at Mang Inasal whose sole job is to provide rice refills. After he scooped a fresh ball of rice onto The Astronomer’s plate, he said something like, “here is your second rice, and it is free!” He cracked us up.

The Astronomer and Nina shared a side of Krispy Kangkong—deep fried river spinach with a mayonnaise dip. Definitely not up my alley (I prefer my vegetables honest), but The Astronomer and Nina seemed to like it fine.

In the mood for something sweet, I decided to try one of Mang Inasal’s dessert offerings. After grilling the woman working behind the counter on her favorite sweet on the menu, I settled on the Saging Melt. The Saging Melt, which was comprised of shaved ice, topped with bananas and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, was a huge let down. The ice cream was good enough, but the bananas’ texture was horrendous (I’m pretty sure they were frozen for months prior to being served) and the shaved ice was just strange. Boo.

Mang Inasal
Villa Building, Jupiter Street, Makati City 1207
Phone: (632) 890-2442

Jollibee – Ho Chi Minh City


On a recent Sunday, The Gastronomer needed to get caught up on the virtual world, so we drove around District 4 looking for a free WIFI spot. After the local coffee shop let us down, she suggested that we try the Filipino burger chain Jollibee. I feel obligated to eventually sample each of Southeast Asia’s attempts at American-style fast food—plus Jolli’s mascot blows Ronald McDonald out of the water—so I agreed.

I stood at the counter weighing my options for some time. Jollibee’s combo meals are slightly cheaper than Lotteria’s (the current leader in the Vietnamese fast food market), and their hamburger looks equally unappetizing. Other menu options included hot dogs, soft serve ice cream, and spaghetti with marinara sauce. Four boys at a table next to us ordered the latter, and it looked terrible—straight out of a bad elementary school cafeteria.


The most appealing possibility by far was the fried chicken, available in several forms. I settled on the original style chicken tenders. I didn’t particularly want a soda, so I initially ordered only tenders and French fries (in evaluating a new fast food restaurant it is absolutely essential to sample the fries), only to find that adding a drink would actually decrease the price of my meal. Go figure—I have a feeling the portion of fries included with the combo meal may be tinier than the smallest bag one can order by itself, or maybe logic just can’t explain it. Fortunately I took seven semesters of economics in college, so I knew what to do.

The fries and Pepsi came out first. This was a good sign, evidence of the fact that fast food restaurants here actually make most of the food to order. I dug in—the fries resembled the classic fast food fry in look and texture, but they arrived only lukewarm and were barely seasoned. In this situation a large dose of ketchup can usually save the day, but sadly none was provided; instead I received a dish of Vietnamese chili sauce. This is probably just fine with most of their customers, but I don’t really like the stuff. Perhaps the most vital Vietnamese phrase I’ve learned so far is “dung cho ot.” I barely dipped the tip of each fry in the sauce and tried to strike a balance between blandness and unpleasant chili flavor.


At this point, I was not enjoying myself and kind of resented The Gastronomer for bringing me there and bamboozling me into buying something so she could surf the web. Fortunately, the chicken tenders arrived hot and crispy. I bit into one and found them slightly superior to the version served in stadiums and arenas across America. This may not sound like high praise, but those trans-fat-soaked babies are pretty damn good. Like nearly all meats in Vietnam, the Jollibee tenders were scrawnier than those back home, but I found them to be quite satisfying and flavorful enough to enjoy without the addition of chili sauce. I even convinced The Gastronomer to try a bite, and she admitted to enjoying the garlicky seasoning.

Will I return to Jollibee? Most likely not—I’ve trained myself to distrust fast food, and I can still get a better deal on fried chicken from a Vietnamese place. However, in a pinch one could do much worse than their chicken tenders. I expect the spicy fried chicken is tasty as well. Stay tuned for comparisons with the competitors.

Multiple locations in HCMC

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