Tag: Fast Food

Chain Restaurant Reviews: Panda Express is Fast, Good and Cheap

In the post-pandemic world, Panda Chef still delivers an affordable family meal.

Restaurant food has become crazy expensive, and we’ve been eating out a lot, so I wanted someplace cheap to go for Mother’s Day. Well, not as much go – because Mother’s Day is too crazy a day to actually dine out – but get take out from. Enter Panda Express. They have a family meal that consists of 3 family size (26 oz) entrees and 2 family size sides for $35 (some entrees were an extra $5) And they had a $5 off coupon for mother’s day. And let me tell you, 78 oz of food is a lot of food, more than enough for four people. I don’t know that you can get a cheaper meal anywhere anymore.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, they also had a deal that gave you a free bowl of your choice ($9) if you bought $30 in gift cards. You can’t use more than one coupon at the time, so I had to order the bowl separately. That required a $10 minimum purchase, so I added a $2 egg roll. All in all, for under $40 tax included, we had a pretty good meal.

Now, Panda Express food is not extraordinary – but it’s consistent and fine. This is what we got:

Orange chicken has been one of Panda Express’ most popular dishes forever. It’s highly breaded, with a thick sticky sweet-spicy orange sauce, and it’s pretty tasty. Of course, you’re eating mostly breading.

Beijing beef is actually pretty similar to orange chicken, but has a slightly less orangey taste and the pieces are smaller. it also comes with slices of onion and red pepper. It consists of breaded beef in a tangy, sticky, sweet and spicy sauce. Also pretty good, though both of them were too much.

The Honey Walnut Shrimp is, once again, sickingly sweet, but Mike liked it. It’s an additional $5 if you order this.

As my first side I got the chow mein. It consists of very thin wheat noodles, with a nice chewiness, a lot of shredded cabbage and some onion slices. In all, the chow mein isn’t very flavorful and it’s in need of something else – soy sauce? They forgot to add some to my order, unfortunately. There is also way too much cabbage. It’s a cheap filler, I guess.

The second side was the “super greens“. On the website it looked like it would be steamed broccoli. Instead, it was a combo of cabbage leaves and broccoli, heavy on the former. Yes, I know, cabbage is cheap. But it’s definitely not a super green. The veggies are steamed and made up for the very sweet entrees.

I also ordered a chicken eggroll ($2) and it was pretty good. It’s rather large, so well priced, and while the flavor is mild, it’s pretty good for an egg roll.

Not long after this order, my daughter had a hankering for Panda Express again, and given how affordable this deal is (particularly if you first buy a gift card and get a free bowl out of it), I decided to go for it.

I got the Grilled Teriyaki Chicken, and I think this will probably be my to-go choice in the future, because it does seem to be the best value. Unlike the picture in the website, this consisted of grilled chicken thigh, coarsely cut into pieces and mixed with their mandarin teriyaki sauce. The chicken itself lacked seasoning and there wasn’t enough sauce, but that was simply remedied by adding salt and more teriyaki sauce. It was good. Not great, but good for the price.

I can’t say the same about the Broccoli Beef. The dish consisted mostly of large broccoli florets with very few thin slices of beef – I think there might have been a dozen and a half in this family portion. Most importantly, the sauce was very milk and lacked flavor. You get a much better beef with broccoli from your local Chinese joint.

Panda Express
1271 Marina Blvd
San Leandro, CA
(510) 667-9585
M-Su 9 AM - 10:30 PM

Chain Restaurant Reviews: Panera has gotten worse

This chain sandwich store seems to have downgraded the quality of its sandwiches.

I discovered Panera during the pandemic, when I was looking for restaurants that offered family meals. I had heard, of course, of Panera before, but never felt compelled to try it. We had it several times during the pandemic, and I became a fan of their tomato soup and their steak and horseradish sandwiches. Still, after a while I forgot about it altogether until last week, when I got an e-mail with a free birthday pastry offer from them, and then saw them in the news for their literally killer drinks. So I got a craving and, after three years, I decided to order another family deal.

Panera has changed a bit since I last ordered. It still serves sandwiches, pastries, salads and soups, but the sandwiches themselves have changed. The prices have sort of increased as well, but it’s the quality going down that is the real problem.

Like in the past, I ordered a family deal. It’s now $36, up 24% from what it cost in 2021. It comes with 4 half-sandwiches, a salad, a quart of soup and a baguette. Pannera no longer has my favorite steak with horseradish sandwich, and instead they now sell a ciabatta cheesesteak ($15) that comes in a ciabatta roll and is served with Provolone cheese, caramelized onions, peppadew peppers and garlic aioli. Ciabatta is a very substantial roll which calls for a lot of filling for balance. This sandwich lacked it, which meant that the overall result was just too bready. Both the onions and the peppadews are served chopped and there were so many of the latter that they overwhelmed the sandwich, I could barely taste anything else. In all, I don’t think I’d order this sandwich again.


I liked the bacon avocado melt ($11) more, and it was probably my favorite of the four sandwiches I tried. It was also the one with the thinnest bread. The sandwich was very simple, but very tasty. It had bacon bits, melted cheddar and sliced avocado. It comes in sliced sourdough bread with chipotle aioli. It needed more avocado, but it was actually quite tasty.


The smokehouse BBQ chicken ($12) was just OK. The chicken itself had no flavor, so the sandwich tasted only of red onions and BBQ sauce. I liked the sauce well enough, but not enough to order it again. this sandwich also came in a ciabatta roll, and there wasn’t enough filling to balance all that bread.

Finally, we had the chicken bacon rancher ($14), which comes with pulled chicken, bacon bits, white cheddar and ranch sauce in a black pepper focaccia roll. The focaccia was good, but it really overwhelmed the filling. The chicken, again, was under-seasoned and while the bacon was able to carry the sandwich through, it wasn’t that exciting. I also wouldn’t order it again.

The tomato soup ($9.50 bowl/$26 quart) was just as good as I remember – but really not significantly better than the packaged Panera soup that you can get at the supermarket. Given that it’s just $10-12 for the 32-oz package at Safeway, it doesn’t seem worth it to get it at the restaurant (unless it’s part of a family deal as in this case). The baguette ($2.20) with a crunchy, hard exterior and a very chewy middle, is quite good.

Finally, both my husband and daughter really liked the Caesar Salad ($10.40). The vegetables are fresh and crisp and there is enough dressing to cover them all. In the past, the family meal included the more expensive chicken Caesar salad, but as my daughter prefers it without chicken, we are actually happy that they’ve removed it.

I might try the family deal again, but I’d probably try other sandwiches to see if any are substantially better.


I also got a cinnamon roll ($4.60) as dessert, given that I had a free pastry coupon. It was the end of the day, so it was hard, but after microwaving it, it loosened. It was quite tasty.

*Update*

A couple of days after this meal, Panera got me again by sending me a couple of big “rewards”. One gave me 50% off a single entree and the other gave me a free drink, treat or cup of soup with a $10 purchase. Of course, the two could not be combined – only one reward per purchase. But Panera still had its “get 15% off gift cards” promo, so I got that as an additional discount. In all, I spent $21 to get 2 sandwiches and a cup of food, which isn’t bad but not super great either.

For my sandwich, I started with the bacon avocado melt ($11) but I got it in focaccia bread, and added tomatoes and caramelized onions. The results were great. I liked it better than the original.


For my freebie, I got a cup of the French onion soup ($7.60), which comes with a piece of bread, a bag of chips or an apple – though they gave me both the bread and the chips. The soup was actually pretty good, it had a nice caramelized onion flavor which was deep but not too bitter. It did need more cheese. I would have added more, but I then would have had to warm the soup – which was barely warm by the time it got home. Still, it was quite satisfactory. In all, half a sandwich plus the soup was a satisfactory meal and left me stuffed, and considering that I have the other half of the sandwich for later, it was a great deal – but only because of the promo. I did read that promos become much more stingy the more you go to Panera, so this will probably be my last time.

I also use the 50% off promo (in a separate purchase) to get a ciabatta cheesesteak for my daughter and her boyfriend. I doubled the meat (and should have doubled the extra lettuce) and half a sandwich was sufficient for each one of them for a mid-afternoon snack. The discount didn’t apply to the extra meat, only to the original price of the sandwich.

While you can make up to five customizations on sandwiches you order by themselves, you can’t customize them in the family meal. So I think I will order Panera again if I get good coupons, but not otherwise.

Panera
24133 Southland Dr
Hayward, CA
(510) 732-0279
M-SU 7 AM - 8 PM

Chain Restaurant Reviews:: Whataburger

A Taste of the South: Notes from a Trip to Louisiana

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

Chain Restaurant Reviews: 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.



Chain Restaurant Reviews: Taco Bell

BOYCOTT!

Taco Bell, like sister companies Habit Burger, KFC and Pizza Hut are on the boycot list, as their parent company, Yum brands, invests in Israel. Please help stop apartheid and genocide by Israel by not doing business with companies that financial benefit from the killing, torture, maiming and oppression of Palestinians and who de facto support crimes against humanity.

More information as to why you should boycott Taco Bell.

San Leandro Bites: Mochinuts

Crispy Corndogs and Mochi Donuts, what is not to like?

Mochinut is a newish chain fast food restaurant/bakery that serves just four products: Korean-style corn dogs, mochi doughnuts, canned drinks and soft serve ice cream. Their concept reminds me of Hot Dog on a Stick, a chain of food stands serving corndogs and fried cheese that was very popular at malls in California when I was a teenager. Mochinut already has over two dozen stores in seven states and continues to expand. It opened in San Leandro a few months ago.

I hadn’t been super-impressed the first time I got donuts from them, but decided to give it another try and try their hot dogs as well.

Their hot dogs look similar to corndogs, which is why I’m tempted of calling them that, but they are encased in a batter made from Korean rice flour. This results in an extremely crispy exterior – though it also means the dogs are very high in carbs, about twice as much as what you can expect a regular corndog to have.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is signal-2024-03-10-143816_005-e1710106973767-1024x363.jpeg

We got both an original hot dog ($5) and a half-and-half ($5.50) one. The latter was half hot dog and half cheese (rather than hot dog surrounded by cheese). The cheese wasn’t very flavorful, but the hot dog itself was tasty. I’d order them again. In addition to these rather plain dogs, they also have some covered with crunch cereal, hot cheetos, takis and even ramen. You can get just a fried mozzarella stick, but they also seem to have a hotdog with cheddar that I might try next time.

Of course, Mochinut is mostly famous for its mochi doughnuts, and my reviews of these are pretty mixed.

I love how elastic the dough is, which gives them a pleasant, light chewiness. But they are overwhelmingly sweet. The churro donut was, perhaps, my favorite simply because it wasn’t as sweet as the others – but I’m not a huge fan of cinnamon and it’s messy to eat. Both the original glaced and the mango one were too sweet for my taste.

That said, I do look forward to trying other flavors, thought for about $10 for a box of three, this is a very occasional treat. They are served beautifully, though.

Mochinut
Pelton Shopping Center
185 Pelton Center Way
San Leandro, CA
(510) 969-7247
M-Su 12-7 PM

Chipotle Quesadilla Review

Good but Expensive

I’m not the biggest fan of Chipotle – mostly because it’s boring and expensive. I understand why people might seek it in places that don’t have a great taqueria (or taco truck) in every corner, but I fail to understand its appeal in California. Still, my daughter likes it, so we ordered it for lunch a few days ago.

This time I decided to try the quesadilla, which is basically a deconstructed burrito grilled long enough to melt the cheese. It’s served with 3 “sides” which really mean the ingredients you’d otherwise have inside the burrito, things like rice, beans, salsas and sour cream Burrito extras, like guacamole, are still extra for quesadillas.

The steak quesadilla was tasty, but it felt smaller than a burrito (probably just my imagination), and having the salsa/sour cream/guacamole (the latter came in a different container) outside the burrito only made it more difficult to eat. The shape of the quesadilla, and the fact that it’s cut in two diagonally made it even more impractical, the filling kept falling out as I tried to dip it.

At $11.40 (prices vary by location*), it was a pretty poor value – though I’m sure no worse than anything else at Chipotle.

On the plus side, the ingredients were fresh and the beef has less gristle/fat than that at some local taquerias. Also on the plus side, Chipotle is very vegan friendly. Not only do they offer sofritas, a plant based protein, as a vegan alternative to meats, but their rice, beans, tortillas and chips are all vegan. Often times, Mexican restaurants use chicken broth for their rice, or lard for their beans and/or tortillas.

Chipotle – San Leandro
1505 E 14th St.(510) 667-100310:45 AM – 10 PM

* For the sake of looking at how minimum wages impacted on Chipotle’s prices, I used their very helpful website to price a steak quesadilla at different Chipotles. This is what I found:

In Seattle, WA, with the highest minimum wage in the country at $16.69/hr, a Chipotle steak quesadilla is $9.85

In San Francisco, CA with a $16.32/hr minimum wage, it’s $11

In Berkeley, CA with a $16.32/hr minimum wage, it is $10.25.

In Manhattan, NY with a $15/hr minimum wage, it’s $11.15

In my city, San Leandro, CA, with a $15/hr MW, it’s $11.40

In Fresno, CA, with a $14/hr MW, it’s $9.65

In Peoria, IL with an $11/hr MW, it’s $9.65

In Tulsa, OK, with a $7.25/hr MW, it’s $9.55

In Hinesville, GA, with a $7.25/hr MW, it’s $9.65

The Habit Burger Grill – Walnut Creek – Review

 

BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger & Cheeseburger w/ Avocado & Bacon

BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger & Cheeseburger w/ Avocado & Bacon

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.

Chicken Sandwich

Chicken Sandwich

Closeup of beef patty

Closeup of beef patty

The Habit Burger Grill 
1255 S California Blvd
Walnut Creek, CA
(925) 279-2286
http://www.habitburger.com/

Marga’s Chain Restaurant Reviews

© 2024 Marga's Food Blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

RSS
Follow by Email
Pinterest
fb-share-icon
WhatsApp
FbMessenger