Custom pizza and side salad

Custom bistro burger


Counter and touch screens


Redemption area

*** (3 stars)

This is probably the nicest McDonald’s you’ll visit. The downstairs is divided into several nice eating areas, and the upstairs contains a large play area and many redemption games.

I’m not a frequent fast food eater, and especially not at McDonald’s, but we went here to check out their touch screen ordering system. It worked great, and allowed us to customize our orders of Bistro Burgers and Pizza.

After selecting the desired ingredients, you select a numbered “hockey puck,” enter its code, pay (I used Apple Pay) and find a seat. Then your food finds you.

The actual food was no different then other McDonald’s. The burger had good ingredients, but the beef patty itself didn’t distinguish it. The pizza toppings were good but the crust was limp.

If you’re looking for a decent environment for a fast food meal, and want to entertain the kids, this is a good choice.

6875 W Sand Lake Rd
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 351-2185

25 Degrees

**** (4 stars)

This is a burger joint with cloth napkins and cocktails. The interior is nice but can get quite loud, so try for a table on the sidewalk.

The burgers are huge, with two giant patties and all the fixings. I opted for a Number Six, because it is essentially my standard loaded burger. Everything was tasty, but the extremely juicy patties quickly overwhelmed the soft bun, and I ended up with two handfuls of mush. Tasty mush, but still…

There’s a nice assortment of drinks, plus spiked sodas and shakes.

Service was friendly.

25 Degrees
736 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 943-9700

Portillo’s Hot Dogs & Barnelli’s Salad Bowl

*** (3 stars)

I’ll start by confessing I’m not a huge fan of Chicago-style hot dogs or Italian beef sandwiches. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

That said, there’s a lot to like about Portillo’s. Foremost, it’s not a hot dog stand or a dumpy diner, it’s a stylish, themed, village-like food court with several counters: one for their specialties, a separate operation for Italian food, and a hamburger counter. The interior ambiance is great.

The main attractions are hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches, so that’s what I tried.

The Chicago dog was pretty much like all the others I’ve had: very soft roll with poppy seeds, very tender dog, green relish, large pickle, and a couple of sport peppers. Nothing really distinguished it, except that the sport peppers were a bit tamer than some I’ve had, making it easier to taste the rest.

The Italian beef was less interesting. The very tender shaved beef had little flavor, and the very soft, soggy roll didn’t thrill me. I’m not sure what would have fixed this, but no condiments were available. I wouldn’t order it again.

The vanilla shake was good, a bit frothy compared to some.

Overall Portillo’s was fine, but I see no compelling reason to return.

Portillo’s Hot Dogs & Barnelli’s Salad Bowl
100 W Ontario St
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 587-8910

3 Greens Market


***** (5 stars)

Perhaps the 3 in the title of this place if for the three expansive salad bars. They certainly look good. I say “look” because I haven’t actually tried them. On my next visit I need to do that. But this visit was all about a hamburger.

Ever since Au Cheval’s burger was named the best in the country by several sources I’ve been attempting to try it. Unfortunately, every time I’ve gone there it’s either had ridiculous wait times or been unexpectedly closed (mid-afternoon they only serve drinks and snacks). In fact, it’s been a lot like my failed attempts to try Hot Dougs, but that’s another story.

Anyway, when I saw that they’d spun off a smaller operation called Small Cheval, I resolved to try the burger that way, but somehow never managed to get there.

So when I saw that 3 Greens Market was serving a Small Cheval burger, I spotted my chance to at last try the famous burger. Of course, it’s a burger twice-removed from its source, but still… It was a mighty good hamburger.

I like my burgers pretty much loaded. But some people just like mustard and ketchup. What’s interesting about this burger is that those are the two ingredients that aren’t included. So some people probably wouldn’t like it, but I did.

Here, the emphasis is on the two perfectly cooked beef patties, the very melted cheese, and the garlic aioli. Secondary flavors come from the pickle slices and chopped onion. I added bacon which, in retrospect, was unneeded. The bun is sturdy enough to hold the whole thing together, an impressive achievement considering how much is going on.

Of course, when someone declares a thing “the best” they’re setting it up for comparison and naysaying, and in fact I’ve had burgers I liked better, including one here in Chicago at Good Stuff Eatery. But this is a very good burger, and I wouldn’t argue with someone who says it’s their favorite.

The accompanying fries were skinny, very crisp, but didn’t have a lot of flavor.

3 Greens has Coke Freestyle machines, which are always fun to experiment with.

Counter service is friendly and efficient.

Next time: the salad bars. Maybe.

3 Greens Market
354 West Hubbard Street
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 888-9195

Pincho Factory

**** (4 stars)

Twenty minutes is too long to stand in a ten-person line at a counter service restaurant. Yet although that was the consistent wait time throughout lunch hour, the manager never saw fit to open the second of two registers. Perhaps the kitchen couldn’t have kept up, but if so, then there are some serious design flaws, because it wasn’t for lack of staff.

That said, it only took about ten minutes for them to make the food, once it was ordered, and what we were served was quite good. The pitas were hot from the grill, and the lettuce and tomatoes were fresh and tasty. We liked both the traditional cilantro sauce and also the tropical preparation.

A side order of Cajun tostones was crispy and flavorful.

There’s a nice offering of beers on tap and in bottle, as well as soft drinks, although some were out of syrup and no one seemed concerned.

So overall, an A for food and a C for service, but they’ve only been open a few days, so perhaps things will get worked out.

Pincho Factory
7600 Doctor Phillips Blvd
Ste 102
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 745-4462

The Whiskey

**** (4 stars)

Whiskey and burgers. What’s not to like about that concept?

We went with a large group at lunch, so I didn’t have a chance to sample any whiskeys, but we did peruse their list and it’s pretty comprehensive. Only a few really top shelf offerings, but at least a hundred interesting ones. I didn’t see any bargains, but the prices were okay.

The burger was great. Most of our group ordered The Whiskey burger, which had everything I like on it, include bacon that was nice and crispy. Accompanying fries were okay, although the sweet potato ones were a bit better if you like that sort of thing. I opted for the side salad, which was delicious.

Service was friendly, helpful and efficient.

If you visited this place when it was an English Pub you will be happy to know that it is now infinitely cleaner and better run.

The Whiskey
7563 W Sand Lake Rd
Orlando, FL 32819
(321) 430-6744

Shake Shack

*** (3 stars)

This is a perfectly fine spot for fast food, but after all the hype that preceded it I must admit I was expecting more.

The space is light and airy, and the ordering process is super-efficient. The speed of preparation is surprisingly slow, though, and I went on a not particularly busy day.

The French fries are excellent–very crisp on the crinkly outside, tender in the center. The coffee shake is also great, and worthy of naming the place after.

The weak element turned out to be the burger. I had the SmokeShack, a completely average cheeseburger except for the addition of fairly flavorless bacon and some pickled red peppers. The meat patty was unremarkable, but the bun was the real weakness, a large mushy hunk of bread that quickly turned soggy.

The price of these three items was a bit shocking, coming in at just over $16. And they aren’t even particularly large. I’m somewhat insensitive to restaurant pricing, but even to me that seems a lot for what was on my tray.

I would go back to Shake Shack if I was in the area and wanted a shake, but I’d probably eat lunch someplace else first.

Shake Shack
8359 International Dr
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 205-0362

Starving Artists Bistro

***** (5 stars)

This is a great little gastropub with an eclectic, extensive menu of mostly American comfort foods.

I really loved the idea of hot dog sliders: three small hotdogs with interesting toppings. The sweet shrimp salad was also an interesting combination of greens, shrimp, candied nuts, cheese and a sweet balsamic dressing.

We loved the vibrant decor, with guitars everywhere! Service was extremely friendly, and the kitchen is lightning fast.

Starving Artists Bistro
9447 N Fort Washington Rd
Ste 101
Fresno, CA 93730
(559) 433-0133

Mary Jane Burgers & Brew

***** (5 stars)

Wow, this place was far beyond expectation. I guess we should have known when it was mostly full even before noon.

I’m a bit of a chicken wing snob, because I like a great sauce, but wings that aren’t greasy or bready. I’ve had grilled wings, before, but these were not just grilled but actually smoked. The tender, smokey flavor suffused all of the moist meat, and the crispy charred crust coated with tangy buffalo sauce made them honestly the best wings I’ve ever had.

The quesadilla was also good. The “mj blat” was a terrific bacon, lettuce, bacon, avocado, bacon, tomato, and bacon sandwich on grilled sourdough. I don’t want to think how many calories there were in this baby.

We were just passing through, which is probably a good thing, or I’d have lunch here every day!

Mary Jane Burgers & Brew
102 N Jackson St
Perryville, MO 63775
(573) 547-6279

Siena Tavern

**** (4 stars)

Despite its name, Siena Tavern doesn’t really come across as either Italian or a tavern. True, there is a list of pizzas, and they serve drinks, but it seems more like  a Hillstone concept to me.

The decor is open and modern, with a few too many hard surfaces to control the noise level when it’s busy (which seems to be most of the time).

We went for Sunday brunch/lunch, and I was pleased to find that while there were some very tasty looking brunch items, there were also lots of non-breakfast choices.

The chopped salad was an interesting conglomeration of vegetables, cheese and meat, and had enough juice from the artichoke hearts and other veggies that it didn’t really need the accompanying honey mustard dressing, so I’m glad I had that on the side.

The “burnt crust” pepperoni pizza wasn’t quite as charred as I would have liked, but it did have a very thin crust and good flavor.

Service was efficient, a necessity given how busy they were.

I’m not sure what would draw me back for a revisit (maybe some of the breakfast items, which looked really delicious and really bad for you) but my visit was fine.

Siena Tavern
51 W Kinzie St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 595-1322