I have recently started trying “meal kits” and while I love the idea of simple meals I can make in under an hour, I hate how expensive they are. At $20-$28 per entree for two people, they cost about the same as take out and there are no leftovers! Still, they are super convenient.
Today, I decided to try to recreate one of those kit-meals buying the ingredients myself to see how they worked and whether I saved money. Now, if you are a professional billing $500/hour (or even $100), the time spent at the supermarket hunting these ingredients will surpass any savings you may have – so these meals are really ideal for people for whom time is literally money. But my time is far cheaper than that.
I chose this recipe for French Onion Burgers with Gruyere and Arugula because I had read good things about it while looking through Plated reviews and it has fairly common ingredients, which I hoped I could easily find at the quirky discount grocery store near my house. I wasn’t able to get all the ingredients I needed, but I think the substitutions worked well enough. I haven’t tried the Plated kit dish, so I don’t know how it compares to mine as far as flavor goes, but I don’t think it’s likely to have been significantly better. My version was far cheaper, however. While the Plated meal for 2 costs between $22 and $28, depending on where you buy it, I spent a mere $15 in groceries and had enough food for 3 people (alas, neither of my kids would eat this, so we have leftovers for tomorrow) with groceries remaining.
Here is a list of the ingredients in the recipe, what I bought and the price.
|PLATED Ingredient||My Substitution||Cost|
|Beef Stock, 1 container||Beef broth, 1/2 cup||pantry|
|Yellow Onion, 1 small||Yellow Onion, 1 regular||$0.70|
|Thyme, 1/8 oz.||Living thyme plant||$2|
|Lemon, 1||Lemon, 1||$0.80|
|Ground Beef, 12 oz||Ground Beef, 16 oz||$3.50|
|English muffins, 2||English muffins, 3||$2.80|
|Baby Arugula, 3 oz||Mixed Greens, 5 oz||$3|
|1 Tbsp||Flour, 1 Tbsp||pantry|
|Gruyere, 2 slices||Processed Gruyere Cheese product, 7 oz||$2.20|
|Unsalted butter, 3 packets||1 Tbsp||pantry|
|Dijon mustard, 2 packets||Coarse Dijon mustard||pantry|
Note that I had to substitute baby arugula for mixed greens as all the packages of baby arugula at the grocery store had expired yesterday. The price was the same than for the mixed greens, however.
Where I did save a lot of money was by using “Gruyere cheese product” instead of Gruyere. Unfortunately, my discount grocery store didn’t have it and I decided to substitute with this product as at least it had Gruyere as its main ingredient. Alas, it didn’t take anything like Gruyere and rather it was a more solid version of Laughing Cow cheese. Delicious, but far cheaper and different than real Gruyere. In reality, I don’t think the substitution mattered – the flavor of the onions was so strong that I doubt any cheese would have broken through. The cheese did add to the creaminess of the burger, however.
All in all, I felt the burgers were interesting and tasty but the combination of burger and fresh onion flavors wasn’t a big winner for either me or my husband. I sort of liked the English muffing for a bun substitution, but that’s because I was smart enough to eat the burger with knife and fork. My husband didn’t and wish he had a bun instead.
Neither of us were that fond of the lemon juice/olive oil dressing on the greens, however.
Still, I’m left with 4 English muffins I can have for breakfast, some newly discovered and delicious cheese “product” I’ll eat as a snack (indeed, it’s so fun and unexpected that I may serve it as part of my Xmas cheese course), some more greens to eat as a salad and a very cool thyme plant. I can’t complain at all.
Habit Burger is a newish chain of “upscale” fast food burger joints that is trying to spread throughout the Bay Area. One may be opening in San Leandro in a year or two, a fact that Mayor Stephen Cassidy considers a major accomplishment of his administration (I kid you not!). We were driving by Walnut Creek, and my husband decided we should stop by one of its restaurant and find out whether Cassidy’s characterization of the restaurant as “a hip, healthy and delicious” was accurate. It wasn’t, but then again, I can’t say I am surprised.
As far as fast-food chains go, Habit Burger is definitely a step up from McDonalds and their ilk. Its flavor profiles are closest to In-N-Out, but the restaurant is classier and it offers greater choices. The burgers ($3.50) were tasty, though the patties were small, thin and dry. They are charbroiled, which gives them a flavor similar to Burger King’s whoppers. My youngest daughter, who had hers with cheese & ketchup but nothing else, found it too small and too dry. This is a child that’s eaten her fair share of school cafeteria burgers, so criticism from her says somethings. I ordered my burger with guacamole and bacon ($1 extra each) and that made all the difference. The guacamole tasted fresh and vibrant and the bacon was crispy; the two combined completely redeemed the burger – but the patty was pathetic. My husband had the BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger ($4.60) and he also thought the burger was just OK.
My 11-yo had the chicken sandwich ($5.75) . She found it “OK”. The chicken itself was dry and the sandwich was a bit too peppery. She wouldn’t return, even if we had one here.
Neither my husband nor kids liked the fries ($1.85). They had a hard/chewy outer part and had a strange flavor. To me, they tasted as if they’d been cooked with their peels, but that wasn’t actually the case. Still, they did remind me (flavor wise, not texture wise) of In-N-Out fries. The portion was generous, but we didn’t finish them between the four of us.
We had different opinions with respect to the shakes ($3), however. Hubby ordered the vanilla and he found it too thin and tasteless. I shared the mocha with my oldest, and we both enjoyed it. It had a nice flavor, and while it was thin, I guess you don’t expect mochas to be thicker.
The food was ready fast and, as I mentioned, the restaurant was quite nice and clean. It did smell horrible, though, like old, stale oil. Maybe that’s why their fries were so unappetizing.
In all, I’d say this place is marginally better than In-N-Out, but nowhere as good as Nation’s. It’s probably a good fit for those who like Burger King but want nicer surroundings. But if you want a burger that looks like it’s made of beef, then Habit Burger is not for you.
The Habit Burger Grill
1255 S California Blvd
Walnut Creek, CA
Nation’s is a Bay Area restaurant chain offering burgers, fries, breakfast and pies. Mike and I have been eating at Nation’s ever since college – there was one near the UC Berkeley Campus, then we were within walking distance of another, when we lived in Richmond, and we found yet another one here in San Leandro.
I don’t know if Nation’s burgers have declined in quality since we were young, or if our expectations have risen, but I don’t think the burgers are nearly as good now as I used to think they were back in my 20’s. Still, they are better than anything else you can get at a fast food joint.
Nation’s menu is very limited: burgers, hot dogs, chicken and salmon sandwiches. They also have eggs and pancakes for breakfast. And they have pies and shakes. Prices are good, from $4.10 for a plain burger to $6.80 for a bacon cheeseburger.
The regular burgers come with very generous portions of mayo, lettuce, tomato and onions. They are huge and quite tasty. Their fries, fried in canola oil, are pretty good though not outstanding.
Their pies are quite good, with flaky crusts and thick centers. We particularly enjoy the chocolate cream and banana cream, though we dislike the artificial topping with which they are covered. Their lemon merengue pie is also very good and doesn’t suffer this problem (pies start at $1.80 for a small slice).
Mike has had breakfast once or twice. The breakfast are huge but, as you can expect, not particularly high quality.
Another advantage of Nation’s is that it stays open late.
Nation’s Giant Hamburgers
San Leandro Plaza
1335 Washington Ave.
San Leandro, Ca.
Hours: 6am-3am Daily
Breakfast served till 11am
When my kids were younger, I used to take them to Yerba Buena Gardens and we’d often had lunch at the Buckhorn Grill in the Metreon. I wasn’t super fond of that restaurant, but it served food they would eat. So when my husband suggested that we had lunch at the Buckhorn Grill at Stoneridge Mall, after a visit to the Apple store, I wasn’t extremely enthusiastic. But food options were limited and it was Father’s Day, so he had the right to pick the place. I have to give him credit, he picked right. Not only was the food at this Buckhorn Grill excellent, but it was reasonably priced.
I had the “bacon cheddar buck” ($8.50) and it was pretty much the perfect sandwich. The roast beef itself was delicious, and the bacon and cheese complimented rather than competed with the meat. Mike liked his “big buck” ($9), which came with caramelized onions and he also thought it was great, at least until he tried my sandwich.
My daughters had the burgers, and while the old one was pleased with hers (at least until she tried my sandwich), the younger one didn’t like it at all. It was a plain burger, so my husband, who finished it, didn’t find it particularly exciting.
In addition to sandwiches, Buckhorn Grill offers platters of their BBQ meats. A whole take home tri tip (feeds 5 to 6) is $25. You can even order online.
Buckhorn has ten restaurants in the Bay Area/Northern California. I think they would do great if they came to San Leandro, and if our business development unit at City Hall wasn’t so lame, they would be trying to entice them to come to town.
2245 Stoneridge Mall Rd.
We went to the City Center Grill for lunch a couple of weeks ago when we took place in an Occupy Oakland protest (as you can see, these protests do bring business to nearby eateries, we saw several cops eating around as well). As it was in the weekend, our choices for lunch were limited. Unfortunately, City Center Grill wasn’t a good one.
City Center Grill offers breakfast, burgers, sandwiches and salads. We went for the cheeseburgers, $7.50 with French Fries and a small drink. The fries were OK, but the burgers left much to be desired. I don’t think we even finished them, even though they were pretty small for the price. The fries were good, however.
Service (this is a place where you order at the counter) was very friendly. Still, I wouldn’t go back.
City Center Grill
1221 Broadway, #105
M – F 6:30 AM – 3:30 PM
We stopped by Jaspers Café in Medford in our way back to California. I had researched Medford restaurants before we left and Jaspers got very good reviews – plus I’m always in the mood for a burger.
Jaspers offers the most extensive selection of burgers I have ever seen in my life, a couple of dozen at least. They also have tons of different hot dog combinations and sandwiches. In addition to offering different topics and combos on the burgers, from your regular patty & cheese to those covered with mole sauce and pot stickers, Jaspers offers several burgers made with more exotic meats. These include relatively common choices as Buffalo and Kobe Beef, but also elk, antelope and venison. Of course Mike and I had to try those burgers, which definitely was a mistake.
I had the “Widowmaker” burger ($8.20), which came with a 1/3 lb Himalayan antelope patty, covered with bacon, cheddar cheese and a peanut butter chipotle BBQ sauce. It definitely sounded interesting to me, but it was a total miss. I’ve eaten all sorts of wild meats in my day (and this reminds me I want to post a list of them) and have generally liked them, but Himalayan antelope had an off, gamy taste which I didn’t like. The closest thing I can compare it too is Indian goat meat (which I also dislike). As if that wasn’t enough of an issue, the meat was incredibly dry. I really don’t think I’ve had a drier burger. Perhaps fortunately I couldn’t really taste the meat or the other ingredients unless I made a special effort (and I did, because I wanted to see what antelope tasted like) because the flavor of the sauce was overwhelming. Really, that’s the only thing I could taste. It wasn’t bad, the BBQ sauce is pretty tasty, but it made the whole burger one-note. Needless to say I would never order this again.
Mike had almost as bad luck with the burger he ordered. His was elk and also suffered from dryness and an overwhelming sauce, though at least the elk meat itself was tasty.
Both kids had plain cheeseburgers. Camila liked it well enough, but Mika considered it the worst burger she had ever had in her life and didn’t eat much of it. It definitely tasted differently than other burgers, the taste of the meat might have been gamier. I thought it was OK, though it needed seasoning but Mike thought it was quite good – then again, he likes his food undersalted. We ordered fries and onion rings, both very tasty.
Another problem with Jaspers is that it’s a tiny place. I don’t think more than a dozen people can be seated inside (they also have outside tables). We stopped there around 3 PM the Sunday after Thanksgiving and the place was packed. It was pretty cold waiting outside, but fortunately we managed to grab a table before our burgers came.
In all, I’m glad I tried the burgers but I would definitely not eat them again. I’m curious enough to go back and try one of their whacky combinations with a beef patty, but given that Mika didn’t like them I probably won’t.
2739 N Pacific Hwy
M-Th 10:30am til 7pm
F-Sa 10:30am til 8pm
Sun 11am til 6pm
This restaurant has once again changed names and, perhaps, ownership. I think it’s still Mexican. I haven’t tried it but given all the bad experiences we’ve had at that location I won’t go there until someone swears to me on their puppy’s life that it’s the best restaurant in San Leandro.
Harley’s Burgers has changed ownership and concept and is now a Burger & Mexican food joint. It sort of changed names, it’s menu claims it’s now “JDs Burgers & Mexican Food” but the Harley sign still remains. So does the modest building, and small dining room, though it seems to have been brightened up. Still, this is as modest and divish a restaurant as you can get in San Leandro, and that is its “charm”.
In its previous incantation, Harley’s served OK food at relatively low prices – we went once and though we live a block away, we never felt the need to return. Still, it served the worker and customers of nearby auto shops well. That can no longer be said. We went there for lunch today and I can honestly say that my 8-yo would eat a head of broccoli before eating one of their burgers again. The plain cheeseburger had a small, dry, tasteless beef (we presume) patty, covered in some weird cheese sauce and smothered in some kind of Thousand Islands type dressing. It tasted of nothing but the dressing and the weird cheese, it was just disgusting. The accompanying fries were fine, cooked in oil that was just about to go stale, but steal edible. Camila had a cheese & bean burrito ($3) which she did like, so perhaps their Mexican offerings are better. I still wouldn’t trust them.
To add insult to injury, Harley/JD’s prices are pretty high. A cheeseburger is $7, $8 if you want it with bacon. You can get something a hundred times better at Boulevard Burger for less. Our lunch (well, I did not eat, but Mike and the girls did) of two burgers w/ fries, one bean & cheese burrito, two sodas and one orange juice came to about $20.
Needless to say we will not go back, at least until a new owner chef takes over.
JDs (Harley’s) Burgers & Mexican Food
2170 Washington Ave.
San Leandro, CA
M-F 7 AM – 7:30 PM
August 2011 Update
We’ve gone to Boulevard Burger a few times since my last update and the quality of the burgers seems to have gone downhill. I always get the MBA burger (with avocado, bacon & mushrooms), medium rare, and the last few times I’ve ordered it it has been very dry. I don’t know if they got a new cook who is not as good making burgers or it’s been a coincidence, but I’m less enthusiastic about going there now.
July 2011 Update
In the last year and a half, Boulevard Burger has become my favorite casual-food restaurant in San Leandro. We go there at least once a month. The burgers are almost always perfectly cooked medium-rare, as I request them. They are very juicy and tasty. The bacon in the MBA burger is top quality, and the vegetables are always fresh. I’ve grown to like their onion rings (they might have improved them), but their fries are just adequate. In addition to burgers, they have now chicken sandwiches and veggie & portobello burgers. They have a variety of children dishes for $5. My kids don’t love it, however, but it’s not all about them.
December 2009 Review
I’ve been looking forward to go to Boulevard Burgers since I first heard it was opening, back in August. But I don’t go out to lunch that often, so the opportunity didn’t present itself until today – when our empty stomachs and a very dirty kitchen convinced us that a lunch out was a good idea. And, indeed, it was. Both Mike and I were very pleaed with our burgers and are sure to go back.
Boulevard Burgers is the latest venture from restauranteur Mike Wiesner, the owner of Paradiso. It occupies the space on MacArthur Boulevard where Sonoma’s had been until a few months ago. Sonoma’s had attempted to be a “nice” restaurant, but I was never enthralled with its food – though I hope that my negative review wasn’t a major reason why the venture failed. Boulevard Burgers is a much less ambitious endeavor. It’s basically a semi-upscale burger joint. Upscale in that they use “grass-fed, grain finished California Angus which has no steroids, antibiotics, hormones or pesticides” and which comes from a nearby ranch – but not quite gourmet as the burgers they offer are quite basic; toppings include four kinds of cheese, avocado, mushrooms, grilled onions and little else. Don’t come here expecting a Kobe burger with saute foie gras and homemade Dijon mustard (if that’s what you want, Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar in San Francisco will be more your thing).
The important thing, however, is that the burgers are good. Both Mike and I had ours medium-rare, and they were perfectly cooked and very juicy (so much so that they did manage to soak the bottom part of the bun, a problem easily solved by just turning the burger around :-). I had jack cheese, bacon and avocado on mine – and the combination was very good. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The burgers are between 6.5 and 7 oz, a good size for a good appetite; I couldn’t finish mine. They range in price from $5 for a simple hamburger to $8 for the “Whole Enchilada”, a burger with avocado, bacon, sauteed onions, mushrooms, jalapeños and cheese. I think the prices are quite reasonable for the quality of the food. The burgers come solo, but you can order fries ($2), sweet potato fries ($3.50) or onion rings ($3) on the side – we got the fries (a HUGE portion) and found them to be un-exceptional. Thin, crispy and tasty enough, but not addictive.
Boulevard also offers grilled chicken sandwiches and a portobello mushroom burger. There are also salads. We didn’t try them.
At Boulevard Burgers you order at the counter and have the food brought to your table. Service was quick and very efficient, and the servers/counter people were very attentive.
In all, we had a very pleasant experience and I’d definitely return.
1027 MacArthur Blvd.
San Leandro, CA
Open 11 AM – 9 PM
January 2012 Update
Do yourself a favor. If you have $10 (plus tax & tip) to spare, head over to Paradiso and have a burger. Paradiso’s burger is simple: a half a pound of chuck in a homemade bun with no accoutrements. When I first ordered it I was skeptical, no cheese? no bacon? no fancy sauces? And then I took a bite. And another. And soon I could swear it was, by far, the best burger I had ever tasted. The secret to the flavor of Paradiso’s burgers is not one you can easily replicate at home: they are cooked in their wood burning oven and are imparted with the smoky flavor of the burning oak.
Their sliders (3 for $11) are equally as good, though these are made from Kobe beef and served with good, though unnecessary, caramelized onions. When I ate them, I had to stop the waiter and ask if there were any condiments on the bun, I really couldn’t believe a piece of meat inside a bun could be so flavorful and moist. But alas, they were plain.
The rest of the food during a couple of recent lunches at Paradiso was also solid and good, though not particularly exciting. They continue using the same sides for all dishes, which I don’t like. In any cases, if I go back to Paradiso it’ll be for the burger.
Last night it was girl’s night out with my friends Penelope, Desiree, Victoria and Paz. We went to Paradiso for appetizers, drinks and dessert.
As usual, I got the filet mignonettes ($12), slices of beef pan seared and served on crostini with a marsala mushroom sauce. As usual, it was very good. Desiree and Paz shared the Calamari Fritti ($10) and the smoked salmon pizza with goat cheese ($15). I forgot to ask them how they liked it, but I will report about it as soon as I hear from them.
We all shared a bottle of the Salentein Malbec, from Mendoza ($32). I don’t remember what year it was. It was absolutely delicious – it had a good body, not too light, not too heavy, soft tannins and a hint of oak and fruit. I see they sell it at BevMo, and I’ll have to trek over there some time to buy a few bottles.
For dessert (all $6) I had their famous sundae. I wasn’t as impressed with it as everyone else seems to me. The ice cream was just OK, the chocolate sauce very good but scant. It wasn’t a particularly big sundae either. The rest of the team shared a couple of apple crisps and they all seemed to be very happy with it. They thought it was just right.
The only negative part of the evening is that they close fairly early, they threw us out by 10 PM (this was a Wednesday night). Still, we had a very good time and I’d recommend it for a mom’s night out.
685 Bancroft Ave
San Leandro, CA