Chipotle Mexican Grill

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Another quick post right here. I’ll even write a haiku:

Popular Mex. chain,
Doesn’t make me sick after,
Actually decent.

I LOVED Chipotle when I was in high school and it just opened on the bottom floor of the Beverly Center. Made the you’re-cool-when-you-go-hang-out-at-the-mall days worthwhile. And when it opened in Westwood during my college years at UCLA, it was more popular than the all the crappy bars in the area. Up to this day, I consider myself somewhat of a Mexican cuisine snob (despite not having tried most of the great authentic restaurants in town like Guelaguetza, La Casita Mexicana, even street food places like Guisados and Ricky’s Fish Tacos – hypocrite Hei), because I claim to speak conversational Spanish, and I went to a primarily Latino middle school and high school. But yeah, Chipotle is actually decent – when I’m forced to go.

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Chris Hei grade: B-

Chipotle Mexican Grill
9512 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 841-0561

Chipotle Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Pioneer Chicken

11/3/11

After a decade, I finally tried Pioneer Chicken again. I used to go quite often when I was in elementary school and lived around Melrose and Vine, and there was one on the corner where Popeye’s is now (next to Mario’s Peruvian). I also went to the one on Fairfax and Olympic a few times as well. But I remember my last few visits being very mediocre, and that was my high school palate talking. So it never came to mind for me to go back and give it another shot.

However, I was craving some fried chicken on a random weeknight, and Pioneer came to mind. It’s not too far from my work, so I hopped in the Hei-mobile (my busted 1996 Toyota Camry) and headed east on Olympic. As I approached the restaurant, everything looked familiar again – until I looked at the menu. The usual fried chicken and typical choices of sides are still there, but menu is much expanded. There are other fried goodies like fish, oysters, and even soft shell crab. I chatted with the new owner a bit – a really nice Korean guy who assured me that the fried chicken was better than ever.

On that assurance, I decided to get a family meal, the one with eight pieces and three sides. Went conventional with two of the sides in the forms of mashed potatoes and coleslaw. Those were just okay. The third side I got was the fried okra. They used the same batter as the chicken – really good. The okra still had some of that sliminess, but that batter worked very well. As for the chicken: I wished I had it there on the spot, because by the time I took it back to the office (and home later) it was a little cold and soggy since I was in traffic. Also, the batter was a bit heavy on some of the pieces in my opinion. But still some of the best I’ve had in a long time. Then again, I’ve only had the likes of KFC in recent years.

I’m glad I gave Pioneer another shot, and from now on I’ll go there whenever I have a fried chicken craving. But I’ll probably need to have it there at the restaurant, to give it an accurate assessment. It’s too bad they close so early (at 7pm) or else I would’ve been back much sooner.

Chris Hei grade: B

Pioneer Chicken
5970 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 954-0454

Pioneer Chicken on Urbanspoon

Carl’s Jr

On our way back from Alex’s ranch, we stopped in Kettleman City once again. I wouldn’t have minded having In-N-Out once again, but the other guys wanted to have something different. So between Carl’s Jr and McDonald’s (don’t remember what other places were there), Carl’s Jr is definitely the choice. My rank for burgers at national fast food restaurants goes something like this: Carl’s Jr > Jack in the Box > Wendy’s > Burger King > McDonald’s. Of course, this is all relative. I never eat at any of these places nowadays, as I believe my palate to be above such institutions. Plus, I have In-N-Out nearby. But there was a time when I loved Carl’s Jr. I used to live near one when I was in high school, and went there on my way home on a weekly basis. And when one opened on the UCLA campus during my last quarter there, I went quite frequently as well. So why the fallout, Chris?

Well, once you’ve had never-frozen burgers like In-N-Out and the various gourmet burger joints in LA, you can never go back. Still, out of all the national fast food burger patties, the burger patty at Carl’s Jr is by far the juiciest (not saying much – look at the photo above) and had a good char. I got the Western Six Dollar burger, which has cheese, onion rings and BBQ sauce. Decent burger. Used to be my second favorite burger back in my younger days (behind the Double-Double). Fries were decent as well, but can’t compare to the ones at McDonald’s. Nowadays, I can’t bring myself to giving Carl’s Jr anything above a C. But come 3am and a craving for burgers, don’t be surprised to see me at the drive-thru.

Chris Hei grade: C

Carl’s Jr
3300 Hubert Way
Kettleman City, CA 93239
(559) 386-5355

In-N-Out

7/28/11Besides my work and my apartment, In-N-Out is probably the place I visit most often. There is one near my apartment, and my fatass orders drive-thru at least twice a month. However, I haven’t reviewed it yet because I haven’t actually ate at an In-N-Out in almost two years. But taking a lunch break on our way to Alex’s house in Mountain View in Kettleman City (the halfway point between LA and SF), it was the perfect opportunity to dine in at In-N-Out and have it eligible for review, not to mention that there were no other feasible options.

PhotoEveryone who lives on the West Coast knows of In-N-Out Burger, and certainly everyone I know loves it. For those who don’t live near one, it typically is considered a tourist attraction when said people see a location. The official menu is limited, offering only burgers, fries, and beverages, but their “secret” menu is very much known to the general public. If you don’t know about the burgers at In-N-Out, here’s the info via Serious Eats:

  • The Meat: 2-ounce patties made from 100 percent beef chuck ground in their own grinding facilities, delivered fresh daily, never frozen.
  • The Cheese: Thick sliced bright orange American.
  • The Toppings: hand-leafed lettuce, sliced beefsteak tomato, thick sliced onion, pickles, grilled whole or chopped onions, pickled hot green chiles.
  • The Sauces: Proprietary Thousand-Island style spread, mustard, or ketchup.
  • The Bun: soft white bun, darkly toasted on the griddle.

PhotoAlex, Linh-Nam and Ben waiting for the food.

PhotoI usually order a double-double animal style (pickles, extra spread, grilled onions, and mustard fried onto each meat patty in addition to the standard fixings) or with whole grilled onions, and fries well-done. On this particular visit I decided to get the double-double without any gimmicks, to show what it looks like as is (although I had to get the fries well still – the regular version is a bit too…raw for my taste).

Double-Double

French Fries

The patties are more on the medium-well side (only at In-N-Out will I happily accept any burger/steak over medium-rare), but are still quite juicy, and certainly tasty. The cheese is an awesome melted mess. And the sauce, toasted bun, and veggies all go together harmoniously. This is still the king of burgers in my opinion. Despite the rise of gourmet burger joints, particularly in LA, no fancy-schmancy-over-$10-burger can match the pure satisfaction that an In-N-Out burger can provide. And unlike those gourmet places, the burgers at In-N-Out are as good as it can be on every single visit.

Chris Hei grade: A

Photo

In-N-Out Burger
33464 Bernard Dr
Kettleman City, CA 93239
(800) 786-1000

Fatburger

In our efforts to try something different after playing basketball, Ben suggested Fatburger, since he remembered passing by it near my apartment and had wanted to go back after a long absence, and I shared his sentiments. I remembered that there was one in Westwood, and since we were at Veteran Park we decided to go there since it’s the closest location. Fatburger, for a while, was seen as the rival to In-N-Out in Southern California for a while (before being dominated, of course). And I used to go there quite often when I was in high school, since there was one near my house. In recent years, it’s been kicked to the back of the burger bus, being overshadowed by all the gourmet burger joints and restaurants that have popped up (and not to mention In-N-Out’s increased stranglehold on the region and beyond).

I’ve been to this Fatburger in Westwood a few times, but quite frankly it barely crossed my mind during my years at UCLA, since it’s not exactly in the heart of Westwood Village, and…there was an In-N-Out. Ben said that he has never been here. He got a fatburger (1/3 lb. patty) with onion rings and I got a kingburger (1/2 lb.) with skinny fries. The patties are hand-formed and cooked medium, and the burger comes with the works – mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, relish, and onions. I actually thought that the burger was cooked better than the one I had at Hole in the Wall a week before, and wasn’t too far off from the masterpieces I’ve had at In-N-Out. Maybe it’s time I incorporated an occasional trip to Fatburger between my constant visits to the I word.

Chris Hei grade: B

Fatburger
10955 Kinross Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 208-4300

Note: credit teamperks on Flickr for the first photo.

7/5/11 update: After reviewing Father’s Office and giving it a B+ (along with my forthcoming review of Umami Burger), I felt that I could’t keep Fatburger at a B+ (and I couldn’t justify giving the other two places an A-), so I have to retroactively grade Fatburger a B.