Papa John's Frito Chili Pizza Ain't Nothin' But Schwag

Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
Not a pizza for mid April.
A few weeks ago, Papa John's announced a new pizza and created a bit of an uproar. I won't weigh in on the espionage issue, but I will weigh in on the pizza. With apologies to Anthony Calleo. Or perhaps the opposite.

I've only had the Pi Pizza Truck 420 Slice once, and it was quite a while ago. That said, I remember it as surprisingly well balanced. I don't, however, remember it being all that much like a Frito chili pie. That's not a knock on the pizza.

The Papa John's Frito's Chili Pizza doesn't really taste like a Frito chili pie, either. Likewise, that's not necessarily a knock on the pie. This one does deserve its knocks, though.

Let's start with the chili. It's thin and acidic, like a can of Wolf Brand mixed with lemon juice. There's an overpowering taste of raw chili powder, like a bucket of the stuff was dumped in after cooking. This might not be entirely off the mark, judging by the slightly grainy texture.

More »

Consumer Reports Names the Best and Worst Fast-Food Restaurants in America, and the Results are Surprising

Is this the best fast food burger in the country? Voters seem to think so...
Last week we published an article about good, old-fashioned, roadside-style Texas burgers, and in this story, we might have insinuated that there are a lot of crappy fast-food burgers out there. One commenter called us out on it, writing: "I would also argue that McDonald's does not serve a poor excuse for a cheap burger. They serve the gold standard for cheap burgers. The McDouble is a good burger, especially for $1.19."

Well, friend, I'm sorry, but the latest study by Consumer Reports begs to differ.

The online shopping resource conducted a study in which they asked readers to rank fast food meals on a scale of one to ten (ten being the best thing they've ever eaten). According to the report, readers ate "53,745 burger chains' burgers, chicken chains' fried or roasted chicken, Mexican chains' burritos, and sandwich chains' sub -- or heroes, hoagies, grinders, or wedges, depending on where you call home."

In the burger category, McDonalds came in dead last, and not by a narrow margin.

More surprising, though, is the burger category's winner...

More »

5 Worst Fast-Food/Chain Restaurant Salads

Photo by K. Latham
Granted, if you go to a fast food or chain restaurant and order a salad, you're sort of asking for it. These institutions weren't founded to provide the people of the United States with interesting combinations of healthful garden fare and the addition of dishes involving fruits and vegetables to the menu was in large part a reluctant mood to get the federal government off their asses. Some of their salads are pretty good, some are decent, and some are...well...very misguided. Here are the five worst offenders:

5. Green Burrito Taco Salad (Carl's Junior). Leaving aside the fact that "green burrito" seems like an unpalatable euphemism, this salad is not a great choice for anyone actually seeking to fulfill their RDA of vegetables. Of the components ingredients, I've highlighted the actual veggies: "Crispy, bowl-shaped tortilla shell filled with spicy, seasoned ground beef, Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses, shredded lettuce, refried beans, sour cream, hot sauce and fresh-made salsa. Yikes.

4. Strawberry Fields Chicken Salad (Wendy's). You know what goes great with strawberries? Nope, it's not cured pork, but that's exactly what Wendy's pairs with the fruit. Things become even more confusing with the addition of chicken, blue cheese, and sunflower seeds, which alternately render the salad sour, salty, and liable to get stuck in your teeth. Finally, in keeping with the strawberry theme, Wendy's dresses this abhorrent concoction with apple balsamic vinaigrette...wait, what?

This story continues on the next page.

More »

Issue at Woodlands Salata Raises Question: Should You Bring Outside Food to Restaurants?

Photo courtesy Salata
No salad for you!
On Friday, the Chronicle's Syd Kearney reported on a brouhaha going down on Facebook.

Apparently two mothers and their kids had gone to Salata, a fast casual salad restaurant with locations all over Houston, and encountered an issue when they sat down to eat their meals. Employees of the Market Street Salata in the Woodlands informed the mothers that they couldn't bring outside food into the restaurant, and if they wanted to eat the Chipotle burritos they had brought for the kids, they'd need to leave.

The mothers, incensed that they had to take three children and meals and eat outside in the "95 degree heat" (Note: The high on Friday was 91), took to social media to complain about Salata.

More »

Taco Bell's New Quesarito Makes Me Reconsider Fast-Food Loyalties

Photo courtesy Taco Bell
My Quesarito did not look like that.
I have distinct loyalties where fast food is concerned.

I grew up in Corpus Christi, birthplace of Whataburger. The first Texas-based fast food chain opened on Ayers Street in 1950 and quickly spread like an orange and white wildfire across the city. When I was in high school, I'd walk to Whataburger with my friends every day after class, and we'd spend the next couple of hours crammed in a booth eating french fries and burgers and downing chocolate milkshakes.

I attended Trinity University in San Antonio for college, and I quickly discovered that the original Taco Cabana was just a few blocks away from campus. After nights out drinking too much Lone Star at local bars, we'd end up at Taco Cabana, ordering half the menu and several large cups of water in an effort to ward off hangovers. To this day, I swear that a large queso and half a dozen tortillas consumed before bed will have you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning, no matter how much you imbibed the previous night.

Taco Bell, however, I have always hated.

More »

Taco Bell Hack With McDonald's Habanero Ranch Sauce

Categories: Fast Times, Lunch

Photos by John Kiely
Move over Cool Ranch. Here come Habanero Ranch.

Sometimes I fancy that I've had my lifetime supply of McDonald's, but the food wizards of Oak Brook, Illinois keep pulling me back with their culinary tweaks. Recently, it's McDonald's coffee, which is better than half the blends at Starbucks down the street, and Habanero Ranch Sauce.

The McDonald's at Ella Blvd and the 610 North Loop makes exceptionally good French fries if you get them at the high-turnover times of lunch and dinner. A co-worker, who grew up with a New York habit of dipping them into ranch dressing, recently became a chili addict, and started dipping her fries into the Habanero Ranch Sauce. Other people in the office thought her crazy, because the Habanero Ranch is surprisingly and definitely hot.

I tried the combo, and it was indeed crazy. Crazy delicious.

More »

Verts Introduces Houstonians to Germany's Most Popular Street Food: The Döner Kebap

Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
Chicken kebap on the left, veggie kebap on the right.
Schwarma. Gyro. Trompo. Döner.

The popular fast food has many names, but only one of them is taking Houston by storm: The döner kebap, a German street food staple brought to the Bayou City by two Austinites who own the restaurant Verts. Sound complicated? It's gets more tangled.

The Germans claim the döner kebap was invented in Berlin in the 1970s by a Turkish immigrant named Mahmut Aygun. According to an obituary in The Telegraph from 2009, Aygun was born in Turkey and moved to Germany at the age of 16. He opened a snack stall there and sold kebab meat cooked on a rotating spit and served over rice. After noticing drunk people struggling to stumble home with the food in tow or reticent to sit at his counter and eat, he decided to invent a more handy means of edible transport. He stuffed the meat into a pita and sent diners on their merry way.

The Telegraph reports that the first such sandwiches--if you can call them that--was served at Aygun's restaurant, Hasir, on March 2, 1972. Today, Verts Kebap is serving the same sort of meal right here in Houston. The first location on Yale north of Washington opened last week, and the owners are planning on opening at least four more locations in the coming weeks and months.

But Houston has Turkish food. We have trompo and gyros. What's the big deal with the döner?

More »

We've Narrowed Down the Most Underrated Pizza...Vote Now!

Photo by Leonel Nerio
The pizzas at Pizaro's are amazing and definitely not underrated. Check out the poll to see which are!
Last week, we talked pizza. No, Houston isn't generally recognized as a great pizza city like New York or Chicago, but your responses to our query about the most underrated pies in town reminded me of just how many pizza joints we have here. You even alerted me to some spots where I can get deep dish--a style I've been craving since I moved here from the Midwest (home of mediocre thin crust, but pretty good Chicago-style).

As usual, the votes were all over the place. Some of you love the convenience of delivery, while others go gaga over unusual toppings like crawfish and tandoori paneer. Some of you like wood-fired pies with thin crust, while others prefer thick, doughy pizzas or deep dish stuffed with toppings.

Thankfully, no one mentioned stuffed crust or breakfast pizza. Those are best left back in the '90s where they belong.

More »

BK Rodeo Burger Chicken Sandwich: A One-Dollar Disappointment (But Still Not Half-Bad)

Categories: Fast Times

Photos by Christina Uticone
Do I really have to write a "Where's the beef?!" caption?
I don't expect much from a dollar-menu sandwich. I just need it to taste good, and hopefully, be the actual sandwich that I ordered. For the eleventy billionth time, my fast-food order has been dead wrong. (This happens regularly, regardless of company, whether I order inside or use the drive-thru.) In this particular case I'm not surprised, as the sound quality of the drive-thru microphone at the Burger King on Kirby is comically bad -- I couldn't understood a word from the person who took my order, so this seems to be a two-way malfunction.

More »

Minimum-Wage Increase Could Mean Higher Restaurant Prices

Photo by Andinarvaez
Fast-food workers could soon be making more money.
Last Tuesday during President Obama's State of the Union address, fast-food workers and their fellow minimum-wage workers were an important topic. Obama called for the minimum wage for federal workers to be raised from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. He also called for an increase in the minimum wage across the country, a move that would help people in the restaurant, construction and retail industries (among others) to make a "living wage."

But while many see a pay increase as a positive step toward reducing income inequality, the restaurant industry worries that operators will have to raise food prices to respond to the higher labor costs. The National Restaurant Association reports that a higher minimum wage could lead to more expensive food, fewer employees, a drop in the quality of food that is served and fewer franchises.

More »