Okay, I'll just come right out and say it, I eat way too much fast food. I could make a lot of excuses for my poor eating habits like my job keeps me so busy I only have time to grab a quick lunch, or I'm not a very good cook, or fast food is a cheap way to fill my belly. All those things are true, but if we're going to be completely honest about it, I just really, really like a good burger. Or a burrito. And fries. Given my experience with the quick-cuisine industry, I'm happy to share with you the best and the worst of what our fast food chains have to offer.
This one is a no-brainer. For those of you not on the West Coast, In-N-Out Burger makes the greatest hamburgers known to man, and the Double Double is their crown jewel. Two patties, two slices of cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and secret sauce. Simple, yet perfect. And while that's the "basic" formula for the Double Double, there's a whole "underground" menu available for those of us in the know. First of all, there is no limit on the number of patties and cheese slices you can order -- the 3x3, the 4x4, whatever you want. Legend has it that someone once ordered a 100x100 for a party, at the everyday low price of $98. "Animal Style" burgers (my personal favorite) are made with a mustard-grilled burger, sauce, tomatoes, pickles, and grilled onions, the "Flying Dutchman" is just the meat and cheese with no bun. Whatever your preference, In-N-Out Burger is the best of the best.
When my family first moved to California my Aunt Judy, who lived in Hollywood at the time, introduced me to the Macho Combo and I've been a fan ever since. It weighs about fifteen pounds (okay, maybe not that much but it seems like it when it's sitting in your belly), contains beef, beans, veggies, two kinds of hot sauce and sour cream, and is mucho delicioso. I get mine with no sour cream or green sauce, and with extra red sauce. Like I said, these things are enormous. A grizzly bear could hibernate for an entire winter after eating just one. Of course, his farts would wipe out a small village.
I'm not a huge fan of fast food chicken sandwiches, but I'll make an exception with Wendy's. There's nothing at all fancy about it -- just a breaded chicken breast, lettuce, tomato, and mayonaisse -- but the chicken is always juicy. Pair this up with a cup of Wendy's chili and a chocolate Frosty and that's one heck of a lunch. Back in the 80's I worked at Wendy's during the infamous "Where's the Beef" era and when it got close to closing time, a couple of us would drop a few chicken breasts into the fryer hoping that there would be "leftovers" when it came time to lock up. They made a great late-night snack.
Cole slaw is an interesting dish. My mom's recipe is absolutely delicious, while the stuff you get in the deli section of Stater Brothers supermarket tastes like lawn clippings soaked in tepid dishwater. There's just no industry standard for cole slaw. But if there were, Kentucky Fried Chicken's entry would most definitely be the one to shoot for. If KFC existed on Mount Olympus, Zeus and Apollo would've shunned ambrosia and nectar in favor of cole slaw and crispy Snackers.
McDonald's French Fries are the Beatles of the fast food industry. The best, without any competitors even close to attaining their pure and unquestioned greatness. I don't know what the McRecipe is for their fries, but my guess is that a key ingredient is crack because once you eat one, you just keep eating and eating and eating. In my forty-plus years of McDonald's customership, I can honestly tell you I've never thrown away a single fry, not even the burned and cripsy McRejects. I would have no problem whatsoever with McDonald's creating a fifth size for their French Fries -- small, medium, large, Super Size, and Infinity. A bargain at any price.
1. Chicken McNuggets (McDonald's)
A basic rule of thumb in the fast food industry is this: If the word "taco" doesn't appear in the name of your restaurant, you have no business making tacos. Nowhere is this more obvious than at Jack in the Box. Jack's tacos are unique in the fact that aside from the cheese and vegetables, they come "preformed" as a frozen taco shell with a lump of meat/sauce/seasonings wedged inside. This is deep-fried, pried open by the "cook" and filled with lettuce, tomatoes and cheese. More often than not, the shell ends up limp and soggy, dripping grease and recently-thawed beef juice all over the place. Since they taste like sewage, the mess is simply not worth it.
3. Whopper (Burger King)
4. Big Carl/Big Shef (Carl's Jr./Hardee's)
5. French Fries (In-N-Out Burger)
Remember when I mentioned the McDonald's paradox, how odd it is that the company that makes the best fries on the planet also makes repulsive chicken nuggets? In-N-Out Burger has a similar situation, only in reverse. They make incredible hamburgers, but their fries flat-out suck. The problem is simple. In-N-Out makes its French fries from actual potatoes and nothing else, if you can believe it. You can see the employees over by the fryers, slicing the spuds and submerging them in the grease. They leave out all the tasty additives and preservatives (like the crack they use at McD's, for example). In a perfect world, In-N-Out would merge with McDonald's and serve Double Double cheeseburgers with McFries.
But with my luck, they'd go with In-N-Out fries and Chicken McNuggets.