Posts Tagged ‘Burgers’


Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 by virginia


I had figured that for any road trip, there would be a time when we would have to hit up a fast food restaurant for a meal. But my rule for eating “locally” while traveling applies to fast food as well, and so I prefer to go to chains that aren’t readily available back home. In Texas, this meant checking out Whataburger, which is primarily in Texas but also has locations in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.

We stopped by for a quick lunch before exploring the Johnson Space Center, so we went to the location on NASA Rd. Josh and I both got the original Whataburger with the default toppings – mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and diced onions. Josh opted for double meat though while I stuck with a single patty.

Original Whataburger

Original Whataburger – double meat

At first glance, the Whataburger looked fairly standard with a squishy, seedless bun and lettuce and tomato poking out. It was a decent size in circumference, though I thought the beef patty was on the thinner side. Josh had the right idea in ordering a double, as the toppings to meat ratio was completely off on my single burger. I usually don’t order mustard on my burgers, but did so here because it was part of the standard package. I thought it overwhelmed the meat, which was pretty bland and nondescript. I did like that the bun had been buttered and toasted before assembly, but even that was more flavorful than the meat.

Autopsy shot

Autopsy shot – single patty Whataburger

We got an order of six chicken bites for J. She ate a few pieces but then started tossing them on the floor so we wound up eating the rest ourselves. They were heavily breaded but still had lots of meat inside. I thought they were pretty good for fast food nuggets, although the portion seemed small for the price. The bites were pretty tiny compared to the super large containers of dipping sauces they offered.

Chicken bites

Chicken bites

And of course, our meal wouldn’t have been complete without french fries. These were skinny fries, similar to McDonald’s, though with more potato flavor. They weren’t as crispy as I would have liked, but we enjoyed them nonetheless.

Thin french fries

Thin french fries

Overall, we thought Whataburger was just ok. Better than McDonalds and Burger King for sure, but no comparison to In N Out. The burger reminded me a bit of Wendy’s burger, which isn’t a bad thing, but also isn’t that impressive. The ingredients did seem fresher though, and the burger was constructed better. But maybe I just had higher expectations because of the hype around Whataburger. Would I eat here again? Sure. Would I go out of my way to eat here? Definitely not. What I did like, however, was the service. The staff was friendly and courteous, and rather than having you get your own condiments, someone walked around with a tray of ketchup/sauce containers, straws, and napkins and offered to replenish our supply whenever we ran low. That’s something you don’t see at other fast food places, and I appreciated the extra level of hospitality.

Whataburger (multiple locations)
100 East NASA Rd. 1
Webster, TX

Two Fat Bellies Hit the Road – Roadfood Trip to South Carolina

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012 by virginia

Instead of flying down for our annual August vacation in Hilton Head, Josh and I decided to take a short road trip and drive down, making a few food-related stops along the way. I was inspired after reading Two for the Road by Jane and Michael Stern, who wrote about their various adventures in exploring the country’s best roadfood experiences. I loved the idea of just packing up, getting in the car, and driving off to taste the local cuisine at hole in the wall kind of places all over the U.S. I used their website,, in finding good stops along the way on our own road trip down south.

We hit the road on a Thursday morning, waiting until just after rush hour to get started. We decided to forgo a proper breakfast and picked up some of our favorite bagels to eat in the car instead. Our first Roadfood stop was about five hours away so we had quite a distance to travel before we could have lunch. We hit a little bit of traffic outside of Allentown, PA, so we were a little behind schedule by the time we got to our first destination in Winchester, VA, the Snow White Grill.

The Snow White Grill in Winchester, VA

The Snow White Grill is a small burger joint that features sliders, one of our favorite eats. We’ve been big fans of the sliders at White Manna in Hackensack, NJ, although the last few times we’ve gone there, the burgers were unseasoned and dried out. The Snow White Grill had a similar old timey feel, with seats at a long counter and a small menu. It’s in a quaint part of town, down a pedestrian mall with lots of restaurants and shops. It’s really a small place though so it might be easy to miss.

The menu board

The counter and grill

Josh and I both ordered red birch beer to drink, which is similar to root beer, but less sweet and not as medicinal-tasting, in my opinion. Josh and I both got sliders and shared some fries and tater tots on the side. We were surprised when the sliders came out of a warming tray instead of being cooked fresh on the grill. I was disappointed that we couldn’t watch their slider cooking method, but fortunately, the burgers still tasted fresh and hot. The meat was well seasoned and the onions were soft and sweet, though not super caramelized.

Slider with tater tots

Josh had his sliders with cheese, but because they were added after the burger had already been cooked and put together, the cheese wasn’t melted on. The residual heat softened it up though, and Josh didn’t have any complaints. The fries were the shoestring variety, which I prefer. They seemed to be the frozen kind though, as were the tater tots, but both were fried well – hot and crispy, so we enjoyed them.

Sliders with cheese and fries

I only got one slider so that I could also try the chili dog. We had recently tried the chili half smokes at Ben’s Chili Bowl in DC (more on that trip later), so I was in a chili dog mood. The chili was the ground meat variety, not too thick nor too thin, and fairly standard in terms of seasoning. The hot dog was also pretty standard, and overall it was not bad but definitely not as good as Ben’s.

Chili dog

Overall, we really enjoyed the sliders at the Snow White Grill. They were flavorful and well prepared, not overly greasy, and I wonder if they would have been even better if we had gotten them fresh off the grill. I could pass on the chili dog the next time, but the fries and tots were tasty. We were off to a good start on our roadfood trip.

Our second stop was a snack break just under two hours later, at Wright’s Dairy Rite in Staunton, VA. It’s a drive-in restaurant (although you can also sit inside if desired), which I was excited about as I had never experienced that before.

Wright’s Dairy Rite in Staunton, VA

We pulled into one of the drive in spots and took a quick look at the menu, which is fairly big but features basic grill and fry items. Since this was supposed to be our “snack”, we decided to each order a milk shake and to split one of their famous Superburgers. We placed our order through the intercom, and it was brought to us shortly by the car hop and placed on a tray next to the menu.

The menu, ordering intercom, and food tray

Josh got a vanilla milkshake while I chose strawberry. The shakes were thick and creamy, though not too thick so that we could still suck it up through the straw. The vanilla tasted like melted high quality vanilla ice cream, and was pretty delicious. The strawberry was even better in my opinion, with real bits of strawberry blended into the shake.

Vanilla and strawberry milkshakes

The Superburger was supposedly created a few years before the Big Mac. It features two beef patties, American cheese, shredded lettuce, and special sauce on a triple decker bun. It was definitely similar to a Big Mac, but tasted fresher. The meat was beefier, though we found the special sauce (similar to thousand island dressing) a bit too sweet. We liked the novelty of it but would probably get a regular burger next time, if we ever go back.

The Superburger

Overall, we loved the milkshakes at Wright’s Dairy Rite. I would definitely go back for another if we’re in the area, and maybe try some of their ice cream. The Superburger was a notch above standard fast food burgers, but nothing extraordinary. Still, we thought that it’s a great place to stop by for a quick snack, and having your food delivered to your window by a car hop is pretty neat.

After leaving Staunton, we headed towards our destination for the night, my brother’s home near Charlotte, NC. We planned to stop in Greensboro, NC for a barbecue dinner at Stamey’s, which I also read about on Unfortunately, we hit massive amounts of traffic en route and wound up arriving well after all the barbecue joints in the area had closed. Luckily my brother had saved us some marinated flank steak so we still ended up having a tasty late dinner.

The next morning we hit the road again and headed to Charleston, SC. Even though it wasn’t really on the way to Hilton Head, I really wanted to have lunch at the Hominy Grill. The restaurant is listed on, but I’ve wanted to eat there for many years now, ever since I read a profile about it in The New York Times. I was looking forward to having my first lowcountry meal of the trip, and it didn’t disappoint.

Hominy Grill in Charleston, SC

We arrived just in time for a late lunch, so the restaurant wasn’t too crowded. They brought us some boiled peanuts to start, which were easy to crack open and fun to eat.

Boiled peanuts

To start off our meal, we shared the fried green tomatoes and okra and shrimp beignets. The fried green tomatoes were perfectly breaded discs, crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The tomatoes were just slightly tart, and they paired well with the creamy ranch dressing on the side.

Fried green tomatoes with ranch dressing

The shrimp and okra beignets were loosely bound fritters that fell apart delicately when I cut into them. Though a bit messy to eat, they were delicious, with lots shrimp chunks inside, and just a hint of the oozy texture of the okra. They were served with salsa and cilantro-lime sour cream, providing a southwestern twist to the dish.

Shrimp and okra beignets with salsa and cilantro-lime sour cream

For our entrees, we split the big nasty sandwich and the shrimp and grits. The big nasty features a fried chicken breast topped with cheddar cheese that is sandwiched between a biscuit and smothered with sausage gravy. It looks and sounds like a total gutbomb, but it actually wasn’t overly heavy. While I wouldn’t call it a light dish either, the fried chicken was moist, the biscuit was fluffy, and the sausage gravy was creamy but not too salty or rich. Splitting the portion was spot on, leaving us plenty of room to enjoy our other dish.

Big nasty biscuit with fried chicken breast, cheddar cheese, and sausage gravy

The shrimp and grits featured plump shrimp topped with sauteed mushrooms, scallions, and bacon over a bed of cheese grits. There was a lemon wedge on the side that we squeezed over the top, and added a healthy dose of hot sauce as well. It was a great combination of salty, sweet, tangy, and spicy, a big plate of comfort food at its best. My only quibble was that the dish was only served warm, not piping hot, and the grits weren’t as creamy as I prefer.

Shrimp and grits with with mushrooms, scallions, and bacon

Overall, the Hominy Grill was one of my favorite meals all year. I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations, since I had been eager to try this restaurant for years, but the food was well executed and really tasty. The menu features lots of southern/lowcountry classics, and there were so many things that I wanted to try. And even though this is a highly acclaimed restaurant, all of the dishes were under $20, with appetizers and sandwiches all under $10. I would definitely go back again, and highly recommend it to anyone visiting Charleston.

We arrived at our final destination, Hilton Head Island, in the early evening, just in time for dinner. So while our first Roadfood trip was pretty short, and we weren’t able to make it to all of the places on our list due to traffic, we had a lot of fun and got to try a lot of good food. Roadfood isn’t about finding the fanciest or best restaurants. It’s about eating locally, seeking out gems that represent the cuisine of the region. All the places that we visited served solid, down to earth food, and for cheap. It’s the best of all the worlds, and I look forward to our next Roadfood adventure.

Snow White Grill
159 North Loudoun St.
Winchester, VA

Wright’s Dairy Rite
346 Greenville Ave.
Staunton, VA

Hominy Grill
207 Rutledge Ave.
Charleston, SC

Social Eatz

Sunday, October 30th, 2011 by virginia

Social Eatz is a restaurant that garners a lot of buzz because it is the restaurant of Top Chef alum Angelo Sosa. Josh and I are big fans of Top Chef but we didn’t root for Angelo when he was competing the first time around. While his food always looked good and his competitors clearly respected him, we had other favorites. Nevertheless, we didn’t object when Jess and Jack told us we should try the food at Social Eatz. They had eaten there before and enjoyed it, and so we decided to go on a double date with them and check it out.

Jess made a reservation for us on a Saturday night, but the restaurant was surprisingly empty when we arrived. We got a great table right next to the window in front. Jess and I got some beer while Josh ordered the carrot ginger fizz, an interesting cocktail featuring carrot juice, ginger beer, vodka, and citrus. It was sweet, tangy, and bubbly, and very drinkable.

Carrot Ginger Fizz cocktail

We decided to share a few appetizers to start. The first was edamame fritters, which our waiter said was a new dish for the restaurant. For some reason we were all expecting the individual edamame beans to be fried, and were quite surprised when we saw that it was actually like falafel balls made from pureed edamame. The fritters were fantastic – crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. The edamame flavor definitely shined through, brightened up with some citrus. There was also garlic mayo on the side for dipping that was addictively delicious. I could have used that mayo on just about anything. My only complaint was that there were only two fritters in the order. I wish there had been more!

Edamame fritters with garlic mayo

Our other appetizer was the noodle salad with plum ponzu. It featured cold buckwheat soba noodles with baby bok choy, sugar snap peas, and sliced scallions all mixed with a sweet plum and citrus dressing. It was light and refreshing and also a good mix of sweet and tangy. The noodles were cooked well so that they still had a nice chewiness to them, and this time I had no complaints about the portion size.

Noodle salad with plum ponzu

Both couples decided to share a bibimbap burger and a pair of tacos. There are lots of different burgers to choose from but the bibimbap burger won’s best burger in America contest so we wanted to try it out. We were happy to see that they cut the burgers in half for us in the kitchen, because they were really quite messy. The burger featured a beef patty topped with a runny fried egg, shredded lettuce, and pickled carrots and cucumber. There was also sriracha mayo on the burger that oozed out when we bit into the burger and dripped everywhere.

Bibimbap burger

Autopsy shot

The burger itself was very flavorful, with the pickled vegetables and sriracha sauce definitely showing its Asian influence. The beef patty was cooked to a nice medium rare but it was kind of mushy in texture and got a bit lost under the egg and all the other components. What meat I could taste was well seasoned, and while I really did enjoy the burger, it didn’t seem like a regular burger to me. I wouldn’t compare it to a Shake Shack burger or Corner Bistro, because it’s a totally different genre of burger. So even though it was pretty delicious in it’s own way, if I’m craving a burger, this isn’t what I’d go for. Nevertheless, we were happy to have tried it.

As for the tacos, we got an order of the Korean beef tacos and the tilapia tacos. The Korean beef tacos featured marinated skirt steak that had a slight kick to it from gochujang, which is a spicy Korean pepper paste. The taco was supposed to have bean sprout kimchee as well but I didn’t really see it or taste it. There were pickled carrots and cucumber on the taco, as well as more of that sriracha mayo, which actually made the whole thing taste very similar to the bibimbap burger. The skirt steak was pretty tender, however, and flavorful on its own, and I enjoyed the fresh cilantro on top. I just wish that the taco had more pronounced kimchee flavor.

Korean beef tacos

The tilapia tacos were pretty spicy, as the fish had been brushed with Thai chili. I enjoyed the fish and the accompanying green tomato salsa and avocado, which helped temper the spice. It was a flavorful combination of spicy and tangy, and I preferred these tacos to the Korean beef tacos. I just wish they hadn’t added sriracha mayo to these tacos as well, as after a while, everything just started tasting the same.

Chili kissed tilapia tacos

Both the burgers and the tacos were a la carte, so we got two orders of fries to share. They were thin cut and crispy, like McDonald’s fries, and dusted with a bit of paprika (I think). There was a mayo based dipping sauce on the side but the fries were good on their own and seasoned enough that they didn’t need the sauce.

Side order of fries

For dessert, we split an order of the yuzu cream puffs. The choux pastry was filled with yuzu curd, which tasted similar to lemon or lime curd. It was slightly sweet but the citrus flavor made it refreshing. The cream puffs were served hot, which I liked, and delicately crispy on the outside. We quickly took down the whole bowl.

Yuzu cream puffs

Overall Josh and I both enjoyed Social Eatz but didn’t find it to be outstanding. The food was tasty but nothing was distinctive. The menu indicates Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese influences, but mostly, I just found it to be generically Asian fusion food. Sriracha mayo was on almost everything, and that flavor really dominates. After a while, all the flavors got muddled and everything just tasted like the mayo. I did enjoy the appetizers though, which were well executed and the highlight of the meal for me. On the surface, the menu at Social Eatz is very affordable. The burgers and sandwiches top out at $12, and the tacos at $9. Most things are under $10. However, since everything is a la carte, adding on a side dish is an additional $4.50 each. That means for a burger and fries, it’s really about $16.50, not $12, which is really not that cheap. In terms of atmosphere, the restaurant did fill up by the end of our meal. It was a bit loud but not overly so, and the place has a trendy but casual vibe. I would probably go back, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to make another trip there.

Social Eatz
232 East 53rd St. between 2nd and 3rd Ave.
New York, NY


Wednesday, October 26th, 2011 by virginia

Josh and I recently went to dinner at Landmarc in the Time Warner Center with Felipe and Silva in honor of Felipe’s birthday. We’ve eaten at the original Landmarc downtown in Tribeca, but that was several years ago, though the menu still looks pretty much the same. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations for groups of fewer than six but we were able to get a table right away. It was sort of surprising considering it was prime dinner time on a Saturday night, but the restaurant is absolutely huge and has plenty of seating.

It was a bit loud by the bar but we were seated in a far corner so we could still carry on a conversation easily. We ordered a bottle of carmenere to share and settled in to enjoy our meal. The bread basket consisted of a loaf of chewy bread that had a relatively crispy crust and a slightly sour tang. There was a bottle of fruity olive oil on the table, which we drizzled over the bread.

Crusty sourdough bread

We decided to all share the crispy prosciutto and fontina flatbread for our appetizer. The flatbread was a bit floppy but had a nice chewiness to it, and it was sturdy enough to hold up to the toppings. It was draped with melted fontina cheese,  bits of crispy prosciutto, fresh baby arugula, and oven roasted tomatoes. It was a nice combination of salty and sweet, though I wish there was a bit more prosciutto in the mix.

Crispy prosciutto and fontina flatbread with roasted tomatoes and arugula

Felipe highly recommended that we try the burger so both Josh and I decided to order it. He added gruyere to his while I kept mine plain. My burger was cooked as requested, to a nice medium rare. The middle was still pink, and there was a decent sear on the outside. The meat was well seasoned and very flavorful, with an earthy, aged quality to it. I thought the bun would be too dry and flaky but it was pretty soft and non-obtrusive, as a bun should be. The burger came with tomato and pickles on the side, plus a small salad and thicker cut french fries. The burger wasn’t huge but it was definitely rich, and I was incredibly full by the time I finished. I didn’t even eat all of my fries!

Hamburger with fries and salad

Autopsy shot

Josh’s burger had a thick layer of gruyere melted on top – I couldn’t believe how much cheese there was! He ordered his burger rare but found it a bit too mushy for his liking. The burger had a very soft texture to it and was loosely packed so it was kind of falling apart. His was much messier than mine, and somehow he managed to eat all the meat in his burger but left 1/3 of the bun over. Nevertheless, we both enjoyed the flavor of our burgers immensely. The fries were also pretty good, though they could have been slightly crispier. I did like the soft and fluffy potato innards. The side salad was refreshing and a good way to cut through the richness of the burger.

Burger with gruyere

The desserts at Landmarc are pretty small portions that are just a few bites each so we decided to try them all ($4 each or $16 for all six options). We told our waitress that it was Felipe’s birthday, so they thoughtfully stuck a candle in one of the desserts. They were all pretty tasty, though the creme brulee was the favorite of the bunch. It had lots of vanilla bean flavor and the texture was silky smooth. The nutella eclair was also a hit, though I wish they had warmed it slightly because the choux portion was a bit cold and stiff. The blueberry crumble, on the other hand, was served hot and was chock full of syrupy blueberries. The chocolate mousse was on the thicker side but had a nice dark chocolate flavor and wasn’t too sweet. The tiramisu was fairly standard, but the lemon tart was a good way to finish off – refreshing and tart enough to cleanse our palates.

Lemon tart, creme brulee, nutella eclair, tiramisu, chocolate mousse, blueberry crumble

After we finished our meal, we moved over to the bar area to have another bottle of wine and chat. There are some small round tables by the bar and we were able to snag one quite easily. It was a bit loud but the vibe was still pretty low key. Overall it was a lovely evening with good food and great company. The burger is definitely one of the better ones I’ve had recently. The $16 price tag may seem a bit high but I think it’s pretty reasonable considering the venue and the top notch ingredients. The rest of the Landmarc menu is fairly extensive, with an assortment of pastas, salads, steaks, and assorted bistro-like fare. It’s a good place to go with large groups, as everyone will find something they like, plus it has an upscale feel to it without being overly fancy or stuffy. It’s definitely a nice restaurant to have in the neighborhood.

Landmarc (multiple locations)
10 Columbus Circle at 60th St.
New York, NY

Hilton Head 2011 Day 1 – Red Fish

Thursday, September 15th, 2011 by virginia

As I’ve mentioned, we don’t really have a “favorite” restaurant in Hilton Head right now, but Red Fish probably comes the closest. We went there last year and enjoyed our meal so we decided to go back again this year. We had quite a large group and they were able to accommodate us easily, giving us a large table in the back room where we had plenty of space.

For our appetizer, Josh and I shared the special of the day, which was fried green tomatoes with cherry tomatoes and mozzarella. The tomatoes were crispy on the outside and slightly tart on the inside, though I wish they had given us more than just two small pieces. The mozzarella was fresh and soft, and the accompanying cherry tomatoes were sweet and juicy. I was worried that the fried green tomatoes wouldn’t work well with the cheese but the textural contrast was pleasant, and there was a bright basil pesto sauce on top that tied all the components together.

Fried green tomatoes with fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and basil pesto

Eugene and Chris shared an order of crispy calamari with smoked tomato sauce, which they enjoyed. I nabbed a piece and the calamari was fried perfectly, with a crispy, non-greasy coating, and the calamari itself was tender. The smoked tomato sauce kind of reminded me of barbecue sauce, and though it seemed a bit strange, it did work well with the calamari. Jessica and Eric raved about their tuna tartare appetizer, which was served on edamame wasabi wontons.

For our entrees, Josh and I went halfsies on a special of the day, a pan seared grouper, and the Cajun shrimp and lobster burger. The grouper had a nice blackened crust that was flavorful but not too spicy. It was served on a bed of grits, which I love, and covered in a rich, creamy sauce. There were also little shrimps on the plate that were sweet and delicately meaty, as well as some slightly bitter collard greens that helped cut through the richness of the dish.

Blackened grouper over creamy grits with shrimp and collards

The Cajun shrimp and lobster burger was huge, with a thick patty made from chopped up shrimp and lobster. Although the flavor of the seafood kind of melded together, it was definitely a meaty burger without too much filler. The burger was served on a ciabatta roll that I thought was slightly too big and dense for the patty but it did its job of keeping everything together. There was a sort of remoulade sauce on the side that I enjoyed slathered on the burger. The dish came with french fries on the side that were well seasoned with lots of salt and pepper but sadly, the fries were kind of limp. Alexander absolutely loved them though and would make ecstatic faces every time I handed him a fry. Too cute!

Cajun shrimp and lobster burger with seasoned french fries

Autopsy shot

Josh and I also shared a side of lobster macaroni and cheese. The first dish we got was pretty cold and the cheese sauce had kind of congealed into an unpleasantly gritty paste. I asked our waiter if he could have them heat up the dish for us, and we were presented with an entirely new plate that was much hotter and creamier in texture. The pasta still had a good amount of chew to them, and there was definitely lots of lobster in the dish. We were too full to finish the serving so I had them box it up for me and we ate it for lunch a few days later. If anything, it was even better later on, as the lobster flavor infused into the sauce, making it a truly rich and decadent dish.

Lobster macaroni and cheese

Overall I think that we all enjoyed our meal at Red Fish. For the most part, the portions are pretty generous and the food is well executed. Service was friendly and efficient, and I thought they did a good job of handling our table of 15 people. The restaurant isn’t cheap but prices are reasonable, especially given the quality of the ingredients used. There’s a wine shop inside the restaurant and you can purchase bottles to drink at your table for a small corkage fee, or you can just order from the wine list. I would definitely recommend Red Fish if you’re looking for a nice restaurant that still has a casual vibe and good food.

Red Fish
8 Archer Rd.
Hilton Head, SC

The Frying Pan

Thursday, July 14th, 2011 by virginia

The Frying Pan is a historic ship that is docked next to a pier off the Westside Highway near 26th St. The pier features a seasonal bar and grill that opens when the weather is nice, generally from May to mid-October. It’s an extremely popular space, as the views along the Hudson are fantastic, and everyone enjoys the outdoor atmosphere on the pier.

The view from the end of the pier

An old fashioned style ship on the Hudson

Josh and I have been to the Frying Pan several times for drinks, but we never actually had a meal there. I’ve been itching to try their famed burgers and garlic fries, which I’ve heard so many great things about. The burger patty is made from a Pat LaFrieda blend, and Pat LaFrieda is probably the foremost meat purveyor when it comes to burger blends.

We got to the Frying Pan around 1 pm on a sunny Saturday. I was surprised to see that while most of the tables were full, the place wasn’t packed like it usually is. Fortunately that meant less of a crowd to maneuver through, and a short line to place our drink and food orders. They have some pretty good beers on tap (ie., Brooklyn Lager, Captain Lawrence IPA, SixPoint Sweet Action) so we got a pitcher of IPA to share. After you place your food order, they give you a number and you wait for it to show up on the board, indicating that your food is ready. It’s a pretty efficient system, and there are lots of boards around so you can keep an eye out even while you sit and chat with your friends.

After a short while, our number appeared on the board so Josh and his dad went to pick up the food. We had all gotten the burger, though Josh added cheese to his. My burger certainly looked promising, with a huge, thick patty that was slightly charred on the outside, served with a puffy toasted bun, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickles.

First look at the burger

Josh burger looked pretty similar, with the addition of a thick draping of melted cheddar cheese.

Josh's cheeseburger

One bite into the burger though, and I was extremely disappointed. This was not the thick, juicy burger that I had been hoping for. It was a hockey puck. The burger was completely cooked through, beyond well done (impressive, considering just how thick the patty was). The meat was crumbly and coarse, and I felt like I was chewing on rubber. Flavor wise it was ok, pretty well seasoned and tasting of the grill, but I couldn’t get over how overcooked it was. I had to drown it with ketchup just to get enough moisture to eat it.

Autopsy shot of the completely overcooked and dried out burger

All of our burgers were cooked the same way. Even though Josh’s had the cheese, he said it didn’t help and failed to add more flavor or moisture. To add insult to injury, the old bay garlic fries were a disappointment as well. There was no garlic flavor at all, and just a light sprinkling of old bay seasoning. The fries were also not very crispy.

Not very flavorful old bay garlic fries

The plain fries also lacked crispiness, but I preferred them to the old bay fries. They just needed a bit of salt to perk up the flavor a bit.

Regular french fries

Overall we were all pretty disappointed with the food at the Frying Pan. The burger was one of the worst ones I’ve ever eaten, simply because it was so overcooked. It had potential though, and I wonder if next time I could request it to be medium rare. Or at least just not well done. I’ve also seen on previous visits that the old bay garlic fries usually have more old bay and garlic on them. Maybe the kitchen was just having an off day? I don’t know. Nevertheless, the atmosphere of the Frying Pan is nice, casual but upbeat. It’s a great place to sit back with a few beers and enjoy the views and the breeze. It does get pretty crowded though, so go early to nab a table. By the time we left, the place was packed shoulder to shoulder, and it was hard to even get from our table to the restroom. I’m sure I’ll be back, though I won’t be as eager to eat the food. They do have other things on the menu, however, like sandwiches and salads and even some seafood items. I’ll probably just stick with the drinks.

The Frying Pan
Pier 66 Maritime at 26th St.
New York, NY


Wednesday, June 1st, 2011 by virginia

There have been lots of different burger chains popping up around NYC and northern NJ recently. It seems like I’m reading about a new burger place opening up every week. Smashburger was one of the chains that I’ve been really eager to try. It’s gotten good reviews from several sources, and I liked variety of toppings and side dishes available on the menu. One Saturday afternoon, Josh and I were left to our own devices in NJ and we headed to Riverside Square Mall in Hackensack to check out the Smashburger branch that was closest to us.

There was a relatively long line to order, though it moved fairly quickly. We had time to peruse the menu posted on the wall and make our selections. After we placed our order, we found seats and got sodas from the fountain. The food was delivered to our table shortly afterward (when you order, they give you a number that you display on your table so they know where to bring your food).

First up, the burgers, of course. I decided to create my own burger and chose a 1/3 pound patty on a classic egg bun with aged swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickles.

A 1/3 pound burger with swiss

The burger was true to its name, smashed flat while it cooked so that the edges were crisped up and the patty had a somewhat irregular shape to it. However, I found it to be a bit dry and incredibly bland. The swiss cheese helped, as did the toppings, but I ended up drowning it in ketchup to add some much needed moisture and flavor. It just seemed like the meat hadn’t been seasoned at all before it was cooked, and I was pretty disappointed.

Autopsy shot

Josh also decided to create his own burger, choosing a 1/2 pound patty on an egg bun with sharp cheddar, bacon, grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, and pickles. He also got some smash sauce, which came on the side and tasted a bit like russian dressing. What we found weird with his burger was that even though it was a 1/2 pound patty as opposed to the 1/3 pounder I got, his burger was smashed to the same degree of flatness, meaning that his burger was much bigger in diameter. That would have been fine except they use the same exact bun, and the burger overhang was way out of proportion. So much of the meat was off the bun, and because it was smashed so thin, the patty fell apart right away. He ended up having mostly burger with no bun, and it was incredibly messy to eat. His patty was also pretty tasteless, and while the cheddar and bacon helped, the cheese barely covered half the meat, and the three strips of bacon were pretty paltry compared to the size of the burger.

A 1/2 pound burger with bacon and cheddar

For our sides, we got an order of smashfries. They were shoestring fries tossed with rosemary, garlic, and olive oil. I liked that the fries were thin and crispy but surprisingly, the rosemary and garlic detracted from their flavor. I think there was too much rosemary and not enough garlic, but the taste was also kind of artificial. The olive oil also made the fries seem extremely greasy. I was incredibly disappointed with these fries, and probably would have enjoyed the plain french fries much more.

Rosemary and garlic smashfries

The haystack onions were much better, with thinly sliced and battered onions fried to crisp perfection. The onion strings were well seasoned, and we gobbled down a good portion of the basket.

Haystack onions

We also got an order of fried pickles because, why not? The thin slices of dill pickles were also battered and fried, and I like the sourness mixed with the saltiness of the batter. The pickles still had a nice crunch to them, and they came with buttermilk ranch dressing on the side for dipping.

Fried pickles

Overall Josh and I were both pretty disappointed with our Smashburger experience. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great, or even that good. The burgers were pretty dry and tasteless, and smashing the patty was pretty detrimental to the larger 1/2 pound burger. I did like being able to create my own burger and having lots of different options to choose from, but in the end, the burger just wasn’t that impressive. I was also unimpressed with the smashfries, though I did like the other sides we got, especially the haystack onions. Prices are pretty reasonable, starting at $4.99 for the 1/3 pounder and $5.99 for the 1/2 pounder. Cheese is included, as are basic toppings, but certain add ons cost extra. Sides average around $2 each, and portions are pretty big and easily shareable. They also have chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, and salads available, but I’m guessing most people go to Smashburger for the burgers. Reading the menu now, it looks so good on paper. However, our experience just didn’t live up to expectations. I’m not really itching to go back, though I might give it another shot sometime just to make sure this wasn’t just a fluke. Otherwise, for me right now, it’s just another burger chain I can pass up.

Smashburger (multiple locations)
390 Hackensack Ave.
Hackensack, NJ

White Horse Tavern

Monday, January 17th, 2011 by virginia

The White Horse Tavern is another one of those NYC institutions that we’ve heard about but had never tried. It is where the writer Dylan Thomas supposedly drank himself to death after imbibing on 18 glasses of whiskey. We wandered in one afternoon after trying and failing to get into the Spotted Pig for a late lunch. We had heard from several people that the burgers at the White Horse were great, even better than the Corner Bistro, which is a pretty strong claim considering the Corner Bistro is our favorite burger place.

The tavern wasn’t very full when we arrived so we got a nice seat in the corner in view of the bar and next to the window so we could people watch. After ordering mugs of Anchor Steam to start, we looked over the short menu that mostly included bar food. Obviously we were here for the burgers so I got a plain hamburger, medium rare, while Josh opted for a bacon cheeseburger, also medium rare.

Our food arrived fairly quickly, and the burger looked pretty promising. It was a thick patty with a nice dark crust on the outside, and was served on a toasted white bread bun with lettuce, tomato, and pickles. The burger came with a side of steak fries, my least favorite cut of french fries, but they were well fried and crispy, not mealy or soggy.

Plain hamburger with fries

Josh’s burger looked the same, just with the addition of American cheese and bacon. While the cheese probably could have been melted a bit more, the bacon was nice and crispy.

Bacon cheeseburger with fries

While the burger itself was cooked perfectly, perfectly seared on the outside and pink on the inside, it lacked seasoning. The patty had a soft, crumbly texture that I liked, but the meat was really bland. A little salt and pepper would have gone a long way. I sprinkled some on top but because the burger was so thick, it really didn’t make a big difference.

Autopsy shot

Overall we were both a little disappointed with the burger from the White Horse Tavern. It had a lot of potential and is still a pretty decent bar burger, but the lack of seasoning just ruined it for me. Everything worked texturally, and it was cooked perfectly, but the meat was just really bland. It definitely was not as good as the burgers from Corner Bistro. Nevertheless, the tavern is a nice place to hang out and have a drink. It has an old school NYC feel to it, and the historical aspect of the place is also pretty interesting. It’s definitely worth stopping by for a drink or two (maybe just not 18) just for the atmosphere.

White Horse Tavern
567 Hudson St. at 11th St.
New York, NY

Lunch at Skyway Malaysian, Takeout From Hua Ji and Xi’an Famous Foods

Monday, January 10th, 2011 by virginia

Every time that Josh and I finally make our way to Chinatown, I constantly ask myself why we don’t go so often anymore. Yes, it’s a huge pain to get downtown on weekends because we never know how the subways are running, but it’s totally worth the journey. Every time we go, we eat delicious food for super cheap, and we pick up tons of goodies for later. It makes absolutely no sense why we’re so lazy that we only go once every few months.

Because we go so infrequently, we’re always tempted to only go to our favorite places, like Lan Zhou Hand Pulled Noodles or Banh Mi Saigon Bakery. But that means we end up missing out on the million other great places in Chinatown. Now when we go, we try to go somewhere new to us, so that we continually expand our horizons. On a recent trip, we decided to check out Skyway Malaysian restaurant, a place I had read good things about.

Located on the east side of Chinatown, which is less touristy, Skyway is kind of off the beaten path but not too hard to find. The menu has pretty standard Malaysian fare, stuff that we fell in love with while in Singapore. We originally planned on ordering light so that we could eat more food elsewhere, but as usual, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs.

We decided to share an order of roti canai to start. It’s a flaky, buttery, layered pancake that’s dipped into chicken curry sauce. However, our waitress convinced us to order the “special” roti canai, which she said was hand made and much better than the regular roti because it was much crispier. What we got basically a single layer of dough, which was crispier only because it was dry. There was no butter, no flakiness, no richness that we love about roti canai. This was more like pappadum, basically just a large, thin cracker. It was a huge disappointment, and more expensive to boot. While the chicken curry dipping sauce was wonderful, we couldn’t help but wish that we had gone with the regular roti canai. We won’t make that mistake again!

"Special" roti canai

For our main courses, we split an order of mee goreng and curry chicken with rice. The chicken was served in pieces on the bone, and the curry sauce was different from the chicken curry dipping sauce that we had with the roti canai. This was much thicker and richer, less coconuty in flavor. It was definitely like a stew rather than the thin curry sauce that I’m used to. The flavors were pretty concentrated though, and I liked taking the chicken off the bone and mixing everything into the rice.

Chicken curry with rice

Mee goreng was one of my favorite dishes when we were in Singapore. My favorite version was from Jumbo, though Josh hated it because ketchup was the predominant ingredient. The version at Skyway was more like the standard kind we got at most places, meaning it wasn’t as sweet or tomato-y. There was a good balance between the sweet, salty, and sour aspects in the sauce, and the lo mein noodles were chewy and bouncy, not mushy. The mee goreng was topped with shrimp and bean curd, as well as other ingredients that added various textures to the dish. I enjoyed it a lot, though it was pretty rich and we ended up taking half of it home.

Mee goreng

Overall we were pretty happy with the food at Skyway Malaysian. Aside from the mistake in ordering the “special” roti canai, which wasn’t bad, just not our preference, the curry and noodle dish were both really tasty and seemed pretty authentic to us. As with most places in Chinatown, lunch was a bargain – less than $20, and I had leftovers for lunch the next day. If you haven’t tried Malaysian food before, this is a good place to go because the menu is really extensive. It’s not hard to find something that would be “safe” but still completely representative of Malaysian cuisine.

We were completely stuffed from lunch so rather than continuing on an eating tour, we decided to pick up a few things that we could eat later in the week for dinner. Our first stop was Hua Ji, a small takeout joint that was conveniently located just a few doors down from Skyway. Hua Ji is known for its pork chop over rice, a Taiwanese staple that I remember eating a lot when I was little. Josh had never tried this dish before so I was eager to have him taste it.

Pork chop over rice

We just heated it up in the microwave so it might have lost its crispiness on the outside, but the pork chop itself was still pretty juicy. It’s covered in a Chinese five spice powder and is slightly peppery. The rice is topped with a pickled cabbage and ground pork mixture that is slightly sour and very savory. I mix everything together and it just reminds me of my childhood. Hua Ji’s pork chop over rice was one of the best versions that I’ve had, and super cheap at just $5.

We also got a lamb burger and pork burger from Xi’an Famous Foods. We had gone to the original branch at the Golden Mall in Flushing, and we were thrilled when they opened up a store in Chinatown. It’s super tiny though so there’s no real place to sit and eat. We got the burgers to go and then heated them up in a nonstick pan, covering it so that the filling would get hot, then turned up the heat and let the outside of the bun sear a bit to crisp up.

Lamb burger

Pork burger

The lamb burger is chock full of cumin flavor, and is slightly spicy. It has a chewy texture to it and can be a bit gristly at times, but the flavor really packs a powerful wallop. It’s definitely a must-have if you like cumin. The stewed pork burger is more tender and juicy, though the flavor isn’t as intense. It’s slightly sweet and has a more homey, comforting flavor.

All in all it was a successful outing to Chinatown. I can’t wait for our next trip!

Skyway Malaysian
11 Allen St. at Canal St.
New York, NY

Hua Ji Pork Chop Fast Food Incorporated
7 Allen St. between Canal St. and Division St.
New York, NY

Xi’an Famous Foods
88 East Broadway at Forsyth St.
New York, NY

Hilton Head Day 4 – Red Fish

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 by virginia

In honor of Alice and Lloyd’s 32nd anniversary of the day they met, we went to dinner at one of Lloyd’s favorite restaurants in Hilton Head, Red Fish. Josh and I had eaten there once before, a few years ago, though I don’t really remember what we had. The restaurant has an adjoining wine shop where you can pick out bottles of wine at retail prices, and then pay a corkage fee to drink the bottle with your dinner. They also have a regular wine list, so I’m not sure what is the best deal, but prices in general seemed pretty reasonable.

After placing our orders, we were starving so we eagerly dug into the bread, which was a soft white bread with a chewy interior that had good flavor but wasn’t very crispy on the outside. Still, it was nice and warm, and it paired wonderfully with the accompanying soft butter and a tangy green chimichurri sauce that was a somewhat unusual but tasty offering with bread.

Bread with butter and chimichurri sauce

For our appetizers, Josh and I shared the BLT and the fried oysters. The fried oysters were served in an edible spring roll shell with a jicama slaw and tasso aioli. The oysters were freshly fried so they were nice and crispy on the outside. They didn’t have quite as much briny flavor as I would have hoped but they were still large and decently juicy inside. The aioli had a bit of a spicy kick to it, which was nicely tempered by the refreshing jicama slaw. It was a very nicely done appetizer, and a really large portion as well.

Fried oysters with jicama slaw and tasso aioli

The BLT was actually fried green tomatoes, prosciutto, spinach and goat cheese all layered and stacked into a tall tower. The tomatoes were also perfectly fried, and it was an unusual combination that really worked well together. The tomatoes were slightly sweet and slightly sour, the prosciutto was salty, the goat cheese tangy, and everything was bound together with a spicy adobo sauce underneath.

BLT – stacked fried green tomatoes, prosciutto, spinach, and goat cheese over adobo sauce

For our entrees, Josh and I shared the kobe beef burger and the lowcountry shrimp and grits. The shrimp and grits were served with chorizo gravy, fried okra, and sauteed kale. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and tender, and I loved the crispy little fried okra bites. The chorizo gravy was a bit heavy but it made the dish really hearty. While it wasn’t exactly summertime fare, it was still very tasty and well prepared.

Shrimp and grits with chorizo gravy, fried okra, and sauteed kale

I was really curious to try the kobe burger, which was also topped with foie gras. I’ve never had a “fancy pants” burger before, like the famous and uber-expensive DB burger by Daniel Boulud. Red Fish’s version featured ground kobe beef with foie gras, truffles, pepper jack cheese, and crispy onions. It also came with a port demi-glace on the side for dipping. I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with this burger, as there was perhaps too much going on and all the flavors were muddled. I didn’t taste the foie gras or the truffles, which two of my favorite ingredients. The beef itself had a slightly funky flavor, more like a braised pot roast rather than a grilled piece of meat. The ciabatta bun also did nothing to help the burger, as it was dense and chewy and kind of overwhelmed the meat patty. I’m sad to say that I prefer a simpler burger without all of the fancy ingredients. The burger did come with truffled fries that were pretty tasty. The menu said steak fries but they were actually standard thin cut fries, which was a relief because I’m not a fan of steak fries. They were doused in truffle oil but weren’t so overpowering, which was good.

Kobe beef burger with foie gras, truffles, pepper jack cheese,crispy onions, and truffled fries

We got a side order of lobster macaroni and cheese for the table to share. The macaroni was chewy orecchiette pasta and it was covered in a rich, creamy sauce. There were visible chunks of lobster mixed in, and it was pretty decadent but not too heavy. This is definitely a must-order dish if you ever go to Red Fish.

Lobster macaroni and cheese

We all decided to split a dessert, which was called the Chocolate “Twix” Bar because it has similar components to an actual Twix bar. There’s a shortbread cookie base that’s covered in caramel and scoops of vanilla ice cream. Then the entire thing was covered in a chocolate coating. It was a simple flavor combination but the result was pretty fantastic, and very refreshing on a hot summer day.

Chocolate “Twix” Bar dessert

Overall we all really enjoyed our meal at Red Fish. From beginning to end everything was well prepared and well composed. The only dish I didn’t love was the kobe burger, but not because it wasn’t cooked properly, but because it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Josh liked it a lot and thought it was a great burger. Portions were pretty huge, and we were absolutely stuffed by the time we left. Service was fast and friendly. We told our waitress at the beginning of our meal that we were trying to make a movie (we went to see The Other Guys), and she made sure our dishes came out at an efficient pace. This is definitely a restaurant we will come back to the next time we’re in Hilton Head.

Red Fish
8 Archer Rd.
Hilton Head, SC