Tag Archives: chain restaurants

Fast Food Reviews: Whataburger

Chasing the Eclipse: Gastronomic Notes from a Trip to New Orleans and Dallas.

Some of the best fast food burgers we’ve had.

Before our trip to Louisiana, I’d never heard of Whataburger. That just shows my ignorance. Founded in Texas in 1950, Whataburger is a regional chain with over 1,000-restaurants, mostly located in Texas but slowly expanding into surrounding states. It doesn’t have any restaurants in California, however. They have twenty five locations in Louisiana, including two in Natchitoches.

We had arrived rather late at Natchitoches, after driving back from Dallas after the eclipse and encountering some foul weather in the way, and our choices of places to dine were limited. That was a blessing in disguise, as it gave us the opportunity to try this burger chain, which we probably wouldn’t have otherwise. And I’m glad we did. As far as fast food burgers go, these are as good as they come.

The fast food set up is similar to most fast food restaurants, and the ambiance – which I didn’t photograph – looked like a fast food joint. It was very clean and, at least at that late hour, seemed well staffed – they brought our food to the table.

They ask you if you want spicy ketchup with your meal – it’s not that much spicier and not that remarkable. I was happy to see that you can substitute fries with onions rings.

Their menu actually had a lot of yummy-sounding choices, but I went with the Avocado Bacon Burger meal ($13.4). It consists of a beef patty served in Texas toast with American cheese, bacon, avocado, diced onions and creamy pepper. It was very good for a fast food burger and the sandwich was huge. It came with onion rings and a large drink. The avocado was actual avocado, and not guacamole. It’s not cheap, but you get what you pay for. I’d definitely have it again. The onion rings were fine, pretty generic.

Mike had the Sweet & Spicy Bacon Burger meal ($12.7), which consisted of a patty in a burger bun with American and Monterey Jack cheese, bacon, grilled onions, sweet & spicy sauce and mustard. He also liked his burger. The fries were fine, but frankly, the burgers were so large that we couldn’t really bother with the fries.

I did get an apple pie ($1.75) for dessert just to try them. It was very similar to the old McDonalds’ apple pies when they were fried. I’d say that the pastry was thicker than McDonald’s, and overall it was less yummy, but it’s definitely better than their current baked apple pies.

Whataburger
5123 University Pkwy
Natchitoches, LA
(318) 581-4591
Open 24 hours

San Leandro Eats: Nation’s Giant Hamburgers

One of the best fast foods burgers out there

The other night I had a craving for a burger, which had me thinking: where can I get the best burger in San Leandro? We are not a city known for burgers. There are lots and lots of places to have burgers here, to be clear, but none that are particularly noteworthy. Still, I haven’t visited many of those places for years and I thought trying the different burgers available in San Leandro might be a fun project for the upcoming year (or two). I had planned to start with Rocky’s Charcoal Grill – a place beloved by many in San Leandro. I have not liked their burgers in the past, but it’s been fourteen years since my last visit, so they may have changed. My old review is definitely ready for an update. Alas, Rocky’s wasn’t open (it was a Sunday) and Nation’s is very close by, so Mike went there instead.

I like Nation’s burgers. As far as fast food burgers go, they have always been my “default” for over three decades – though they now share this “honor” with Habit Burger. At 1/3 lbs, the burgers are fairly large, they ooze with American cheese and they are very generous with veggies and toppings – though I always get mine with just tomatoes, while Mike prefers his with lettuce and onions. The burgers are smothered in mayo, probably enough to cause a heart attack to someone with cardiac issues. For this reason, I feel that they mostly taste of mayo and American cheese, though enough to not really be able to forgo it. But I like them. If I had to grade them – and I do, because this is a project about finding the best burger, I’d give them 8/10 as far as “fast food burgers” go, and a 5/10 as far as all burgers go. Indeed, I will make Nation’s my standard for an average burger, and grade others accordingly.

In addition to burgers, Nation is known for its pies. These are of a similar quality to their burgers: enjoyable. On this occasion we got the blueberry pie which was on season, and we liked it.

Nation also has breakfast items, which also are totally fine as far as a fast food place goes.



San Leandro Eats: Taco Bell

Yes, Taco Bell

Kauai enjoying the Baja Blast straw.

2024 Update

I started my Birthday Weekend Extravaganza (TM) last Thursday by getting Taco Bell for dinner. Yes, Taco Bell. No, I’m not kidding and yes, I think it’s worth blogging about it. Defensive much? (I ask myself, of course).

Despite living in California for over 40 years now, I don’t think I’ve had Taco Bell before. It’s not like I’m against fast food, I’ve tried all the burger chains (or almost), but Taco Bell just never appealed to me. I’m not a fan of crunch, and their crunchy tacos always seemed unwieldy. Plus, really, their meat looked nasty (and then there was the whole scandal about whether it was even meat) and their tacos seemed to be mostly lettuce anyway. So I’ve never been tempted to try them.

Until Thursday night. My daughter was home from college, none of us could figure out what we wanted for dinner, and then she suddenly mentioned she wanted to try Taco Bell’s Black Bean Crunchwrap. I had no idea of what that was, but ordering Taco Bell solved the problem of what to get for dinner, so I jumped at the idea – much to my husband’s surprise (“Taco Bell? Really?”).

For my first incursion into Taco Bell cuisine, I ordered a Steak White Hot Ranch Fries Burrito with extra guacamole ($4.4) and a Steak Quesadilla also with extra guacamole ($6.2). Neither were as bad as I feared. For one, by ordering “steak” items, I was able to avoid the dreaded “seasoned beef”, and while the steak was just low quality meat, it wasn’t actually offensive. Indeed, the steak quesadilla tasted like something I would make at home (which, btw, is why I don’t make quesadillas at home, and instead get them from Taquería Los Pericos). It wasn’t great, it wasn’t bad, it just was. But it wasn’t was a particular great value. At that price, I might as well get one from Los Pericos. The burrito was pretty similar except that it had french fries inside. I had french fries in souvlaky pitas in Greece in the past, so I was intrigued by the idea of french fries in a burrito. Alas, I’d forgotten that I no longer like french fries and I didn’t like them inside a burrito either. Still, it was perfectly acceptable. Both items were too much for a single meal – I didn’t have a good sense of how big they would be -, one will be enough next time.

I also ordered the cinnabon delights (12 for $5), which are cinnamon roll balls filled with glaze cream. They are deadly. Super, super sweet and I’m surprised I didn’t die of a diabetic coma. But they were very tasty and one goes a long away.

My daughter tried the black bean crunchwrap supreme ($4.4). This is supposed to be a crunchy tostada wrapped in a flour tortilla but it lacked the promised crunch. Instead it was soggy and yet it tasted dry and would have benefitted from a sauce. She wouldn’t order it again. She also didn’t like the spicy potato soft taco. This was just potato, cheese and lettuce in a tortilla, with no sauce or anything to bring it together. IT’s just $1, but not worth the calories. Fortunately, she did like her veggie White Hot Ranch Fries Burrito ($3.3), so at least she didn’t go hungry. The Cinnabon twists ($1) were also good, but not as good as the delights.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised that Taco Bell didn’t suck, which is good to know for road trips and if I’m ever hungry and with nothing to eat at 2 AM – which has yet to happen.

Update: my daughter wanted to stop at Taco Bell for a breakfast burrito today so I had her get me a chicken quesadilla ($5.4). As we were in the drive through I didn’t customize it, but I was actually quite satisfied with the results. It had plenty of gooey cheese and it was slightly spicy. It wasn’t particularly big but works for a snack. My daughter got the Sausage Hash Brown Toasted Breakfast Burrito ($2.6) and she was quite happy with it. She’s liked other breakfast burritos before but this one became an instant favorite.

*2024 Update*

I got the Cheesy Chicken Crispanada ($3.50) and I wouldn’t get it again. First, I really didn’t like the shell. It was too crispy and too thick/heavy, while lacking flakiness, flexibility and flavor. The filling mostly tasted of nacho cheese. The chicken provided some texture, but not enough to notice it. There was also a disconcerting spiciness to it. Making an empanada is not hard, so it’s pretty sad that Taco Bell couldn’t figure it out.

I also got a Stacker ($2.20), which is basically a grilled quesadilla folded in two. Inside the tortilla there is beef filling and cheese. If you like Taco Bell’s beef filling, you would like it. I don’t think it’s that great, so I wouldn’t order it again.

Finally, I got the Chips and Nacho Cheese Sauce ($2.30). The chips are very light, and crunchy. A little bit oily. The queso doesn’t have much cheese flavor, it’s fairly spicy and no better than the jarred kind

Taco Bell
At 797 Marina Blvd
San Leandro, CA
Dine In M-Su 7 AM - 10 PM
Drive Through Su-Th 7 AM - 3 AM, F-Sa 7 AM - 4 AM


NYC Food Aventures: Sugar Factory

Notes from a New York City Foodie Trip

A ridiculous milkshake, but that’s the point.

We had time to kill after our dinner at John’s of Times Square and Mike wanted something for dessert, so we headed towards the Sugar Factory location around the corner. While we didn’t have reservations, we were able to grab a couple of spots at the counter.

The Sugar Factory is a casual restaurant chain with locations in many parts of the country, including two in New York City. They serve burgers, sandwiches and tacos, in addition to alcoholic drinks, but they are best known for their “insane milkshakes.” These combine pastries/cakes and milkshakes in outrageous presentations. Of course, that’s what Mike wanted.

milkshake


At the recommendation of our waitress, Mike got the Brownie Volcano insane milkshake (“chocolate shake served in a chocolate frosted mug, mini chocolate chips, topped with a chocolate frosted donut, a brownie ice cream bar, chocolate pocky cookies, whipped cream and dark and white chocolate sprinkle mug”). It was, indeed, insane as was its price (around $25). I, being a sane person, wasn’t hungry – but I did enjoy the pokey sticks and some of the shake, which was your good, standard chocolate milkshake. Mike liked the whole concoction, though it left him in a sugar coma.

The Sugar Factory Times Square location was pretty cute when we visited. It was obviously decorated for Valentine’s Day, and with the proper photographer, I’m sure it’d be instagramable. That wasn’t our aim, however, as shown by the poor quality of our photos. Our waitress was very kind and attentive, absolutely lovely. I’m not big on chains, but this was a pretty nice experience.

Sugar Factory
694 8th Ave
New York, NY 10036
(347) 721-9066

Pacific Catch in Dublin is a Fun Place for Drinks & Seafood

I’m celebrating my Birthday Week Extravaganza (TM) and this time my friend Elektra took me out to dinner to Pacific Catch in Dublin. Pacific Catch is a Bay Area chain of restaurants (with one location in La Jolla) serving seafood dishes inspired by the cultures surrounding the Pacific ocean. It feels like an updated version of a tiki restaurant, though their drinks are more plebeian. Presentation and the fusion of Asian flavors and cuisine does seem to be the point here, however. And seafood.

The Dublin restaurant is located at a supermarket-centered shopping center, so in the middle of suburbia. It has a fairly large dining room with a bar, a covered patio enclosed with plastic sheet walls and several roofed, walled but open to the air tiki booths set on the sidewalk (to call it that), between the restaurant and the parking lot. These are made from canes and are quite attractive, save for the fact that your view is of the parking lot and the big block stores beyond it. Some plants might have improved the look. But still, you get a whole booth to yourself and there is plenty of open air, so you can feel quite safe COVID-wise. Unfortunately, neither servers nor managers wore masks – and while they didn’t get close enough that I felt this was an issue for our sake, I didn’t feel they were safe spending time indoors maskless.

The restaurant also seems to have some free standing tables outside, though I didn’t see them well, and they do have heat lamps for them. For the booths, they have firepits that they put at the entrance. I don’t know how well these work, but there wasn’t one in front of ours and it did get a bit chilly as the evening progressed – fortunately I’d come prepared with a shawl for this eventuality.

We started our dinner with drinks – my third one this week and probably my last one until my next birthday. I’m just not much of a drinker. I had a caramelized piña colada ($15), which was sweeter than usual but otherwise not particularly remarkable. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but few piña coladas aren’t good – that’s why I order them. Elektra was happier with her island mule ($12), which she thought was very good

Next, we shared the pupu platter ($29), which came with three coconut shrimp, a small macaroni salad, two each ahi tataki bombs, chicken katsu musubis and bbq pork skewers, some pickled ginger and little bowls of a very sweet & sour sauce and a tangy chimichurri.

I’m not a fan of shrimp but Elektra, who does like them, felt these were too sweet. She felt that the chimichurri sauce helped balanced them, and wouldn’t eat them without it. The sauce itself was very tasty, and I finished it off with the French fries from my main dish. I also don’t like macaroni salad and that was a good thing as Elektra found this one very disappointing. We both did enjoy the ahi tataki “bombs”, which consisted of rice with a sweet soy sauce wrapped with a fried wonton skin and topped with a sesame crusted slice of raw lightly seared ahi tuna. The flavor of the tuna was a bit overwhelmed by al the other flavors on the platter – sesame seeds included, but everything in the bombs worked well together. The chicken katsu musbis, meanwhile, were sort of a failure. The chicken katsu and seasoned rice itself was pretty good (though I thought it was pork rather than chicken), but the sweet flavors were completely incongruent with the seaweed wrappers. I think it also had a seasoned mayo inside which Elektra didn’t like, but which didn’t bother me. Finally, the bbq pork skewers were tasty, but one of my two bites was pure gristle – I couldn’t eat any of it. Pork is a fairly cheap meat, this was an expensive plate, and they really should have used a better cut.

We had barely started on our appetizers, when the main dishes were brought to the table – something Pacific Catch might want to work on, as that meant by the end our meal we were eating lukewarm food (in particular, as we were outdoors). I had the 3-pieces of fish & chips ($19), which consisted of fried Alasklan cod, coleslaw and french fries of your choice. The choices included plain fries, sweet potato fries, fries spiced with furikake and fries with some other spice mix, which I don’t recall. I went for the furikake fries. The fish itself was fine, though not terribly remarkable. It probably needed more seasoning (on the fish itself, not the batter), and it definitely benefitted from being bathed in malt vinegar (the single slice of lemon juice wasn’t enough) and being dipped into the tartar sauce. The furikake fries were a tiny spicy but also otherwise unremarkable. I’m not a huge fan of french fries any more, and these ones didn’t convince me to become one.

Pacific Catch’s current special menu features three composite plates of items inspired by the cuisines of Hawaii, Japan or Korea. Some of these items are also available as appetizers or appear in the pupu platter we had as an appetizer. Elektra decided on the Japanese platter ($34) for her main entrée.

Overall, she liked the composition of the plate and the variety of textures and flavors. Like the pupu platter, the Japanese platter came with two ahi tataki bombs, but it also had a piece of grilled salmon served on a bed of Brussels sprouts okonimayki, a seaweed salad, steamed edamame and another veggie salad. Elektra liked the grilled salmon, though I vaguely remember her complaining it was mildly overcooked. It came with a mayo-based dressing she wasn’t a fond of, however, but she did like the pickled ginger. She is a big fan of Brussels sprouts and enjoyed these ones. She was also a fan of the seaweed salad which had a sesame dressing that brightened up its flavor. She found the edamame’s crunchiness to be a nice break from the other dishes and overall liked the salad. It also had a mayo-based dressing that she wasn’t too happy about, but she appreciated that it was lightly applied. She was happy to find tomatoes, not a usual thing on Japanese dishes. Overall, she liked her plate and had more comments that I cannot remember.

Pacific Catch’s weakness is desserts. It seems they feel they have to offer them, but they’re not really into them. Apparently, they used to have more but they realized it took too much time and effort to make them inhouse and now they outsource them. It shows.

They only offer four desserts, including a scoop of ice cream ($5) and a mochi fondue ($9) consisting of 3 small mochi balls to dip in a chocolate sauce. Instead, we shared the other two:

I got the Crispy Dulce de Leche “Spring Roll” ($9), which were basically eggrolls filled with sweetened cream cheese (the description said cheesecake, but I don’t think the filling was baked into a cheesecake first. They were topped with a dulce de leche ice cream that was similar to that from Haagen Daaz, but which is apparently made by a gelato store in Berkeley, and then it was drizzled with a commercial caramel that actually tasted like jarred butterscotch sauce. It really would have been better without it. But all in all I enjoyed the dish and it’s really large enough to share – we did have trouble finishing our desserts.

Elektra got the Hula Brownie Sundae ($9) which consisted of a brownie topped with a coconut gelato and chocolate sauce. It was unremarkable and a bit too sweet.

Service was quite good and our waitress was very friendly. She didn’t really check on us after we got our main dishes, however, so it took a while before we could order dessert – but not an inordinate amount of time. Really, it’s a minor complain. All in all, service was good and we had a really wonderful time. I need to celebrate birthdays more often.

Pacific Catch
Persimmon Place
5251 Martinelli Way
Dublin, CA
(925) 999-8053
Su-Th 11 AM - 9 PM, F-Sa 11 AM - 10 PM

Bag O’Crab Review

They literally mean “bag”

A new Bag O’Crab franchise opened in the old The Englander spot in San Leandro, which is sad in many, many levels. My husband decided he had to try it out. While I’m not a fan of crab myself, a quick look at the menu assured me they had other stuff, including wings and fried fish, so I said I was game. He got take out and brought it home. I don’t think we’re going to make it a regular haunt.

Bag O’Crab’s menu consists of seafood and chicken cooked in a variety of ways. You can have different flavors of chicken wings ($8/$13 for 6/10 pieces) and french fries ($4/4.5), fried fish/shrimp/calamari/oysters/chicken tenders ($11-14), fish/chicken/shrimp po’ boy sandwiches ($12), a $25 lobster roll, grilled shortribs ($13) and cajun fish ($12) and a few soups, saladas, pastas and sides. But the main attraction, as suggested by the name of the restaurant, are their bags of seafood cooked in your choice of sauce at your choice of spiciness. These are sold by the pound and in combinations. My husband went for the bag of head-off shrimp, in a medium spiciness original cajun sauce ($16 for 3/4 lbs); he wasn’t impressed

The first disappointment was the bag. Now, we definitely can’t accuse Bag O’Crab of being circumspect about the fact that their bags of seafood are exactly that: plastic bags filled with seafood and sauce. It’s in the name of the store, after all, and of the particular dish he ordered. Still, we didn’t expect that they would be so literal – having the dish come in a transparent plastic bag seemed precarious and cheap. I’m assuming these are food grade plastic bags they are using, but it feels weird as they don’t look that way. They are also unwieldy and not exactly something you want to store as-in in the fridge.



I will admit that my husband is somewhat of a lazy eater. Other people may enjoy nothing more than cracking crab legs, gnawing at bones or cooking their own food at restaurants – but he wants all the work done for him in the kitchen. Thus, he was quite unhappy to find out that the head off shrimp, while indeed being devoid of heads, still had their exoskeleton (his word) on. Deshelling shrimp is never fun, but particularly not when the shrimp comes in a thin sauce. Needless to say, he wouldn’t order this again.

I should ad, that he did enjoy the flavor of the sauce, and it was correctly spiced. So there is that.

I, meanwhile, decided on the fish po’ boy sandwich ($12) with a garlic fried upgrade ($1 additional). The fries were pretty standard, thinnish and with a nice garlic flavor. It’s the type of fries you can eat a a handful of, and be done. The sandwich itself was too heavy for me. I think the combination of the oil from the fried fish and the dressing/remoulade was too much. I could only eat about half of it. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I did enjoy having the other half for lunch. Still, I can’t see ordering it again.

Indeed, I don’t see us returning to Bag O’Crab which I think it’s a good thing. Their website does not mention where they source their seafood from, and given the widespread use of slave labor in producing sea food – not to mention sustainability issues – I find this very problematic.

With this, I hope our foray into chain restaurant eating is over. And, indeed, it’s inspired me to do more cooking at home going forward.

Bag O’Crab
101 Parrott St
San Leandro, CA
(510) 878-9965

Little Caesars Pan Pizza Deserves a Thumbs Up

I wasn’t planning on writing a review of Little Caesars‘ pizza when my daughter brought me my order a couple of days ago. Indeed, when I decided that I had a hankering for pizza, Little Caesars was far from my first choice. I don’t think I’ve had it for at least twenty years, since the days my husband and I were childless and broke – not that that has changed much -, had no transportation and Little Caesars was the closest pizza joint to our rented apartment. Still, as I wasn’t particularly particular as far as my pizza hankering went, I acquiesced to my daughter’s insistence that we order from there. I’ll admit it, I was pleasantly surprised.

Little Caesars offers four different types of crust (original, think, stuffed and pan), cheese and a very limited number of toppings. This is not the place to order anything fancy. They do have plant-based pepperoni, but not plant-based cheese, which sort of ruins it for vegans. The pizzas are cheap to reasonably priced, and you can walk in and pick up a ready-made large pepperoni for $9 – or so says my daughter.

I had their deep dish supreme (a “large Detroit-style deep dish pizza with Pepperoni, Italian Sausage, Mushrooms, Onions and Green Peppers,” $16 at the San Leandro franchise) and loved its thick, spongy, flavorful crust. The toppings were also good and well balanced; I liked the somewhat sweet tomato sauce and the onions in particular. I had hesitated before ordering this pizza as often meat toppings make the whole pie taste too salty, but fortunately this wasn’t the case here. The rectangular pizza wasn’t particularly large, but it was thick and seemed relatively fairly priced.

My daughter was happy with her stuffed crust regular pizza, but then again, she’s the one who wanted to go there.

I also got their cookie dough brownies ($3.70 for 4 small brownies), which are pretty average soft (undercooked?) brownies topped with raw mini M&M cookie dough. I promptly forgot about them, but just tried one for this review. They’re OK – not as sweet as they could be, but still too sweet for my taste (and my blood!), and definitely not worth the calories.

Little Caesars
1254 Davis St
San Leandro, CA
(510) 569 – 7499









El Torito’s Fiesta Packs Are Back to Being a Great Deal

Update 2 – May 2022

We’ve continued to get these fiesta packs every once in a while over the last couple of years, and right now they’re back to being a good deal. That’s because while inflation has hit the US hard, the prices have not gone up significantly. The fiesta fajitas are now $48 while the fiesta tacos are $38 (note that El Torito charges a $2 surcharge on all online orders – and maybe in person as well). Given that they offer enough food to feed 6 people (and even more if they fill up on rice and beans), they’re pretty much the best deal in town. For now, I’m sure prices will go up soon.

What hasn’t changed, at least at El Torito in San Leandro, where we get take out from, is the randomness of the included side dishes. I truly don’t think they can remember which sides are supposed to go with the fiesta fajitas and which ones with the fiesta tacos. This last time we got the fiesta tacos and they came with a lot of meat, large trays of rice and beans and the big bag of chips, plus shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole and tomalito. We didn’t get the sour cream that’s supposed to come with this pack, but the guacamole and tomalito are supposed to come with the fajitas one. So all in all we scored 🙂

And the food was very tasty, the meat was tender and not too fatty. I’m sure we’ll order again soon, at least if they don’t raise the prices.

Update 1 – My last two experiences at El Torito have been less than stellar.

Since I wrote this post the fiesta/party packs – at least at my local El Torito in San Leandro, California – have both increased in price and decreased in quality. The packs now cost $5 more, and the last couple of times we ordered, they were missing some of the sides we originally got. I’m not sure if this is because the fiesta packs no longer include them or our El Torito was particularly busy now that California has reopened, and the workers were careless with what they packed in our orders.

The Fajita Fiesta Pack

The fajitas pack is now $48 and our last order included the beef fajitas (and we felt we got less meat than in previous occasions). Still, it was very tasty. In addition to the meat, we got rice and beans, warm tortillas, guacamole and sour cream and chips and salsa. What we didn’t get was the corn pudding we enjoy so much.

The Tacos Fiesta Pack

We ordered the taco pack once before and in addition to the stuff shown in the photo (meal, rice and beans, tortillas, chip and salsa and corn pudding) it came with sour cream, pico de gallo, shredded cheese and shredded lettuce. This time, the last four listed items were unavailable. That made for very, very boring tacos.

That said, the beef for tacos is very tasty, flavor wise it’s better than the fajitas. The chicken, which we got the previous time, isn’t as flavorful and it’s a bit dry. They also offer carnitas.

Photo shamelessly stolen from El Torito website

El Torito, a California-based chain of Tex-Mex (or Cal-Mex, for that matter) restaurants, is offering a great take out deal during the pandemic. For $30-$40 you can get a tacos, carnitas fajitas or combo (enchiladas, tamales or chile relleno) deals that feed at least four people. Given that an order of steak fajitas for just one person is $21.50, $40 for four times that amount is as good a deal as you are likely to get. Indeed, at $10 per person (or less, depending on how hungry you are), it’s the same or lower cost than the mid-priced meal kits I’ve used so much. For $20 more, you can add a pitcher of margaritas (not my thing).

The fajitas pack comes with large containers of beef strips and onions, Mexican rice, beans (choose between re-fried or de olla), corn pudding, salsa and guacamole, a stack of warm tortillas (your choice of corn or flour) and a huge bag of tortilla chips.

They tell you at what time the food will be ready when you order (or you can specify the time), and it’s very, very quick. El Torito offers delivery (sans alcohol) for something like $3, as well as curbside and in-restaurant pickup. The food is ready when it says it’ll be.

I used to be a huge fan of Chevy’s back in the day. Then it declined, and then the one in San Leandro closed, and then most of them closed. At some point, the remaining ones were bought by the same parent company from El Torito, which carried Chevy’s influence into El Torito’s kitchens.

You can taste this influence in the fajitas pack. The beef marinade now resembles Chevy’s, as does the salsa – while the corn pudding is practically identical to Chevy’s sweet corn tomalito. The chips are still not as thin as Chevy’s, but they’re thinner than other restaurants.

All in all I’ve enjoyed their meals, and I think I will give their other offerings a try later.

El Torito
5 Monarch Bay Dr,
San Leandro, CA
510.351.8825
M-Th 11 AM - 10 PM, F 11 AM - 11 PM, Sa 8 AM - 11 PM, Su 9 AM - 10 PM

Elephant Bar – Northridge, CA – Review

Mike and I stopped for lunch at the Elephant Bar last Friday.  He was well acquainted with the chain, but I hadn’t been to one before so I was curious.  The restaurant is part of a big chain and it’s at a mall, but the interior was very pleasant, with lots of wood/bamboo, dark colors, a brass elephants and posters of old cruises to exotic lands.

The menu is basically Asian-inspired California food, on the pricy side.  Mike and I shared the chicken potsticker appetizer (~$7), and we both liked them very much.  The chicken filling was bursting with flavor, and the soy-based dipping sauce complimented it nicely.  I’d order it again.

We then shared a full rack of the Kona BBQ pork ribs (~20). These came with a few french fries and coleslaw, and some apple sauce.  Mike liked the ribs, but I wasn’t thrilled.  Yes, the meat was falling off the bone, but it had the textured of steamed rather than slow cooked pork. The sauce was OK, similar to a teriyaki sauce, with sweet and gingerly notes, but not really remarkable.   The ribs I had a couple of days later at Willow Ranch in Buttonwillow were much, much better.

Service was great, however, with a very attentive waitress.

All in all, the Elephant Bar seems like a good place to have a generic good meal in very nice surroundings.

Elephant Bar
9301 Tampa Ave
Northridge, CA
(818) 534-3785
http://www.elephantbar.com

Marga’s Chain Restaurant Reviews

Nation’s Giant Hamburgers – San Leandro – Review

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.
(510) 352-8820
Hours: 6am-3am Daily
Breakfast served till 11am
http://www.nationsrestaurants.com/

San Leandro Restaurant Reviews
Chain Restaurant Reviews