McDonald’s

Custom pizza and side salad

Custom bistro burger

Interior

Counter and touch screens

Games

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.

McDonald’s
6875 W Sand Lake Rd
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 351-2185
https://www.yelp.com/biz/mcdonalds-orlando-10

Da Lobsta

***** (5 stars)

The staff at this counter server restaurant is really engaged with their guests, and concerned that everyone have a great meal. That makes the place quite special.

The lobster bisque was as good as any I’ve every had, a nice combination of fresh lobster flavors in a creamy base.

My lobster grilled cheese was good, but I might have a lobster roll next time. The bread was perfectly grilled, but the cheese was quite mild and I’m not sure the lobster added that much. However the sriracha mayo that came with it had a marvelous herbal flavor and the combination was excellent.

Those two items plus a fountain drink came to $27, so this is not cheap fast food. But they don’t scrimp on the lobster, and I would definitely go back.

Da Lobsta
416 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 955-0894
http://www.yelp.com/biz/da-lobsta-chicago-3

Maryland Fried Chicken

*** (3 stars)

This is an old fashioned fried chicken plan with counter service and a few tables. Standing outside it’s easy to imagine it as a roadside stand in the middle of nowhere, although the widening of highway 50 has crept almost to the edge of the front parking spaces.

Things seem a bit disorganized behind the counter, but the food was hot and fresh tasting. The fried chicken is in a very straightforward style, with no obvious breading or seasoning. Chicken tenders are large strips of solid whit meat, breaded and fried; the breading is salty but not obviously seasoned in any other way. Both types of chicken were quite succulent, if somewhat lacking in flavor.

Sides items varied. Mac and cheese was bland, and the gravy on the mashed potatoes was not a home run, but the red beans and rice had lots of flavor, and the green beans had nice bacon and vinegar notes, although they had been very thoroughly overcooked.

If you’re looking for old-fashioned fried chicken, this may be your ticket. If you’re looking for spices and more complex flavors I would try elsewhere.

Maryland Fried Chicken
13675 W Colonial Dr
Winter Garden, FL 34787
(407) 656-4143
http://www.yelp.com/biz/maryland-fried-chicken-winter-garden

Chipotle Mexican Grill

*** (3 stars)

I happened to visit both Qdoba and Chipotle during the same week, and was struck by how nearly identical they are.

Both offer counter assembly of burritos or bowls with rice, beans, sauce, protein, guacamole, lettuce and a couple of other ingredients. And both result in fairly homogenous, bland tasting imitations of a mediocre Tex-Mex burrito. There are minor differences in the other offerings and drinks, but not really anything of note.

The major appeal seems to be the weight of the food you can get for well under ten dollars. This aspect probably explains why most are located near college campuses.

It’s not the worst Tex-Mex food you’l ever have, but unless you’re looking for a good deal by the pound, the appeal is really lost on me.

Chipotle Mexican Grill
7800 Dr. Phillips Blvd
Ste 100
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 352-0198
http://www.yelp.com/biz/chipotle-mexican-grill-orlando-11

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store

IMG_6884

*** (3 stars)

Cracker Barrel isn’t one of my usual haunts, but when you’re driving through the South it seems almost required dining. We had a pleasant enough breakfast here. The wait staff was friendly, and as far as I could tell it was identical to the other 100 Cracker Barrels we passed that day.

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store
5631 Highway 20 NE
Cartersville, GA 30121
(770) 386-6973
http://www.yelp.com/biz/cracker-barrel-old-country-store-cartersville

Arepas El Cacao

***** (5 stars)

This tidy storefront serves prepared to order arepas with a variety of fillings and a nice assortment of sauces on the side. Although the name refers to chocolate, it’s a Venezuelan expression that simply means “The Best” Arepas. And they are good.

I had the shredded beef version with white cheese. It was particularly good with the homemade green sauce.

The also have cachapas. Unlike the arepas, which are grilled, slit open and stuffed, the cachapas are sweeter, and are folded over to hold their payload.

I also enjoyed my blackberry smoothie, which wasn’t too rich and had just the right amount of sweetness.

Arepas El Cacao
5389 S Kirkman Rd
Orlando, FL 32819
(321) 252-2226
http://www.yelp.com/biz/arepas-el-cacao-orlando-2

H-Dogs

***** (5 stars)

Chicago is looking for the successor to Hot Dougs, and not only is H-Dogs a candidate, I think it’s even better, because they make the single best salmon sandwich I have had anywhere! In fact, when I go back, I’ll just skip right past their excellent dogs, and get me another one. It was a perfectly grilled salmon filet with crisp greens, red onions, and a zesty horseradish infused dressing, all on a wheat bun.

I also sampled the Greek, vegetarian and French dogs. The Greek was essentially a gyro, with lamb, tomatoes, onions and a their version of “tzatzki” sauce. The Healthy Hound is a vegetarian dog that’s a bit more in the style of a Chicago dog, but without the pickle, and with roasted peppers. The French was the richest dog I tried, duck sausage smothered in caramelized onions.

All the dogs were good, but I kept going back to that salmon burger!

Everything comes with excellent French fries, served crisp and piping hot. The inclusion of fries makes the pricing of the dogs and burgers much more attractive.

There’s also a rich chili, available in both vegetarian and turkey versions. I got this to go, and it was great reheated later.

H-Dogs is definitely worth the trip south, and it’s pretty convenient to get there on Lake Shore, so I’ll certainly be back… for more salmon burgers!

H-Dogs
4655 S Martin Luther King Dr
Chicago, IL 60653
(773) 633-2978
http://www.yelp.com/biz/h-dogs-chicago

Buffalo Joe’s

**** (4 stars)

This is a good wings place, but they actually have a lot more, including hamburgers, hot dogs and even vegetarian sandwiches. Everything is cooked to order, so it’s hot and fresh, and there is a nice enough dining area both in front and in back. Service is fast and efficient. Cash only.

Buffalo Joe’s
812 Clark St
Evanston, IL 60201
(847) 328-5525
http://www.yelp.com/biz/buffalo-joes-evanston

Chicken Shack

**** (4 stars)

This place makes excellent fried chicken, hot and cooked to order.  

I tried some of the sauces on wings, and when this place says something is spicy you need to believe them! Both the spicy BBQ and the Jamaican Jerk we hot enough to make me perspire. There’s a kick to the gravy on the mashed potatoes, as well. In fact, of everything I tried I think the mashed potatoes were my favorites.

Service was friendly. Because everything is cooked to order, it takes about 15 minutes, so if you’re in a hurry it’s best to call ahead.

Chicken Shack
1925 Ridge Ave
Evanston, IL 60201
(847) 328-9360
http://www.yelp.com/biz/chicken-shack-evanston

Wiener & Still Champion

*** (3 stars)

Definitely a hole in the wall, this microscopic grill has about five tables. Service is quick and friendly. The corndog breading was fairly thick, but nicely crisp. Fries were plentiful. I was a bit put off by the slightly clotted cheddar sauce used on the cheeseburger in place of actual cheese. All in all fine, but unremarkable.

Wiener & Still Champion
802 Dempster St
Evanston, IL 60202
(847) 869-0100
http://www.yelp.com/biz/wiener-and-still-champion-evanston