REVIEW: Panda Express Chinese Spare Ribs

Panda Express Chinese Spare Ribs

Panda Express’ Chinese Spare Ribs are Andy Kao’s swan song.

Who’s Andy Kao?

He’s a man you should hug if you’re ever fortunate enough to meet him because he invented Panda Express’ wonderful Orange Chicken, which for some of you is the only reason why you go to Panda Express. After decades as Panda’s executive chef, Mr. Kao is retiring this year. But he’s leaving us with Chinese Spare Ribs, an entree that’s almost as good as his Orange Chicken.

Panda Express’ Chinese Spare Ribs are St. Louis cut and slow-cooked for five hours. Then they’re wok-fired in Panda Express’ Chinese BBQ sauce that’s made up of sesame oil, mirin, garlic, red chili bean paste, and dried red chili flakes.

I ordered two servings and was given 14 pieces of various sizes. Most of them were somewhere between two to three inches long. Some pieces had a layer of fat, about half had most or all of their meat on them, and others had half of their meat missing. This got me thinking that these ribs were so tender that the meat easily falls off the bone.

Silly me. It’s fast food, not some Kansas City barbecue place.

The meat does cleanly come off the bone and its easy to chew, but it doesn’t melt off the bone or in my mouth. But the ribs I received weren’t straight from the wok, and I don’t know how long they were sitting in their serving trays, so they might be tenderer right from the wok.

Panda Express Chinese Spare Ribs 2

The Chinese BBQ sauce that coats the ribs was inspired by Char Siu, which is a traditional Chinese barbecued pork. It’s sweet with a mild chili pepper spiciness. It does taste like Char Siu, but spicier. The sauce isn’t messy and it helps give the ribs a wonderful caramelized exterior with a few crispy edges. I really like it, but I’m not surprised because Panda Express is great at sweet and slightly spicy sauces, like those on their Orange Chicken, Sweetfire Chicken Breast, and Beijing Beef.

There aren’t a lot of bone-in ribs in fast food history. No, I’m not counting the McDonald’s McRib and its rib-shaped pork patty. In 2010, Burger King offered their Fire-Grilled Ribs, but they were pricey and not good. Panda’s Chinese Spare Ribs are more expensive than most of their regular items. They have an additional $1.50 charge to them, just like Panda’s entrees that use premium ingredients, like shrimp or Angus beef.

Paying that additional charge is something I’m used to, but it feels different with these ribs. With the shrimp and Angus steak, everything is consumed. But with these ribs, most of the weight of each serving comes from the bones. Bones that I can’t eat. So it sort of feels like I’m not getting my money’s worth.

But, DAMN, they’re the best bone-in fast food ribs I’ve ever had. Granted, they are the only bone-in fast food ribs I’ve ever had. But they’re tasty and tender enough that they make me want to give Andy Kao a hug.

(Nutrition Facts – 370 calories, 25 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 90 milligrams of cholesterol, 740 milligrams of sodium, 7 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of sugar, 1 gram of fiber and 28 grams of protein.)

Item: Panda Express Chinese Spare Ribs
Purchased Price: $8.20 + $3.00 upcharge for two servings
Size: 1 plate with two entrees
Purchased at: Panda Express
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: The best bone-in fast food ribs I’ve ever had. They look really good. Nice sweet and spicy sauce. Meat cleanly comes off the bone. Orange chicken.
Cons: $1.50 additional charge for each serving. Some pieces were missing meat. Giggling whenever I type bone-in.

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REVIEW: Little Caesars Bacon Wrapped Crust DEEP! DEEP! Dish Pizza

Little Caesars Bacon Wrapped Crust DEEP! DEEP! Dish Pizza

That mascot dude can only say one word, right? All these years and Little Caesars just propped this guy up—handicap and all—and let him be the clown prince face of the company.

“Pizza! Pizza!”

Translation: “Please pick up my kids after school. I have to work late tonight.”

“Pizza! Pizza!”

Translation: “Please. I don’t want any more pizza.”

Well, say hello hello to the new Bacon Wrapped Crust Deep! Deep! Dish Pizza. And judging from the amount of pork on this thing, they taught Caesar to say another word. “Bacon! Bacon! Bacon! Bacon! Bacon! Bacon! Bacon! Bacon!” That’s eight times, said by four Little Caesar guys, which is enough fellas to be pallbearers at my funeral after I die from bacon-itis (a.k.a. heart disease).

Little Caesars Bacon Wrapped Crust DEEP! DEEP! Dish Pizza 3

The pizza is a “Detroit style” deep dish with bacon wrapped around the corners and with bacon bits sprinkled on top. I’m not completely sure what Detroit style deep dish is, but if this is any representation, it originated from a Detroit elementary school lunch program.

It’s crazy (like their bread!) that a pizza can be so greasy yet so dry and bready in the middle. But we’re here for the bacon. And the bacon presents a dichotomy. At first bite, the bacon on the crust is not as salty as expected, thus less tasty. It is fairly crispy and adds a slight textural curveball, although it overshadows the existing deep dish crust instead of amplifying it. A few slices in, however, it’s better that the saltiness is turned down a bit as pizza eating is a marathon and not a sprint. It’s so much of a marathon, in fact, that they’re adding it to the Olympics. But the Winter Olympics. Cross country ski a while, shoot a rifle, and then scarf down a personal pan pizza.

Little Caesars Bacon Wrapped Crust DEEP! DEEP! Dish Pizza 4

The bacon bits are similarly bland-ish and while the bacon that lines the crust adds a small amount of smoky flavor, the bits just add grease and a tiny bit of sweetness. To be fair, I’ve seen pictures of other people’s orders and it seems like they spilled way more on my pizza and decided I look like some sort of pork beast that wouldn’t mind. They half-pegged me. I am a pork beast, but I did mind a little bit. The pepperoni did its job fine but frankly it was out-smoked by its meat cousin. A different ingredient could have expanded the flavor dynamics a bit more. This pork beast disapproves.

The difference between this one and the regular non-bacon deep dish pizza is four bucks. You’re probably better off frying some up and placing it on top of the pie yourself for that price. I don’t think the bacon they use is great quality and the promise of a bacon wrapped crust does not enhance the flavors any more than just eating some bacon alongside some cheap pizza. That’s where we’re at, people. I just wrote “a bacon wrapped crust does not enhance…” You bastards. You broke bacon.

Little Caesars Bacon Wrapped Crust DEEP! DEEP! Dish Pizza 2

The aforementioned elementary school quality does tick off some sort of nostalgia box, though. The spongy dough punctuated with a greasy slick finish of lubricated cheese. Takes me back to pogs, algebra, and reading out loud in class.

Oh, gorsh. Imagine Little Caesar reading out loud in class.

“Kids, turn to page 67 of Animal Farm. Caesar, can you read for us?”

“Pizza! Pizza! Pizza… Pizza? Pizza. Pizza.”

“You can tell Orwell is paralleling the Bolshevik Revolution because of the tone in which Caesar said ‘pizza.’”

Welp, that mascot dude found a job and made a decent living after all. I hope he gets to date Wendy from Wendy’s (the older one, not the little kid). God bless America, America.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 slice – 450 calories, 23 grams of fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, and 830 milligrams of sodium.)

Item: Little Caesars Bacon Wrapped Crust DEEP! DEEP! Dish Pizza
Purchased Price: $12
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Little Caesars
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Smoky flavor from bacon comes through a bit. Not prohibitively salty. Comforting as bready pizza.
Cons: Greasy. Bready ass crust. Bacon on pizza is just that, nothing more.

11 Comments

REVIEW: Taco Bell Sriracha Quesarito

Taco Bell Sriracha Quesarito

It’s hard to believe Taco Bell decided to get out of their Tex-Mex comfort zone with their new Sriracha Quesarito. But then again, I guess it was inevitable since sriracha continues to be a popular ingredient.

It’s gotten so trendy that if you went to a grocery store and threw a open bottle of sriracha at a random aisle, there’s a very good chance the mess would hit something sriracha flavored. And sriracha’s growth can also be seen in the fast food industry. Subway offered their Sriracha Chicken Melt, Jack in the Box has sriracha sandwiches and breakfast burritos, White Castle put it on their sliders, and Pizza Hut offers it as topping and crust options.

Taco Bell’s Sriracha Quesarito features a burrito stuffed with premium Latin rice, seasoned ground beef, reduced fat sour cream, and Taco Bell’s own sriracha, and a quesadilla with nacho cheese sauce and more sriracha that’s wrapped around the burrito.

Taco Bell Sriracha Quesarito 2

I haven’t had the original Quesarito, but from what I’ve read, it’s tastes and eats like a burrito. So I expected the Sriracha Quesarito to taste like a burrito with sriracha.

Let’s talk about the sriracha first.

As I ate the Sriracha Quesarito, I wasn’t sure if there was enough sauce on the one I received or if the other ingredients were muting the sauce’s flavor, because I couldn’t really taste the sauce in about half the bites. Whatever flavor I could get, I considered it to be everything I expect sriracha to be.

Garlicky? Check.

Peppery? Check.

Tangy? Check.

While I couldn’t taste the sauce too much, there was a nice amount of heat. And I imagine if the sour cream wasn’t an ingredient in the Sriracha Quesarito, it would be a bit hotter.

Taco Bell Sriracha Quesarito 3

The sauce went well with the premium Latin rice and seasoned ground beef (you can also get it with shredded chicken and steak). Actually, the cilantro, garlic, and onion in the rice paired well with the sriracha when I could taste it. The nacho cheese sauce and sriracha in the quesadilla made a nice sriracha con queso that gushed into my mouth a few times as I ate my way through the entree.

Although I didn’t get a strong punch of sriracha flavor in every bite, I did enjoy Taco Bell’s Sriracha Quesarito. I think if you’re a fan of the sauce, you should definitely give it a try. The Asian-Tex-Mex combination does work and I’d like to see sriracha in more Taco Bell items. Or I’d love to see Taco Bell’s sriracha sauce end up in packets.

(Nutrition Facts – 650 calories, 290 calories from fat, 32 grams of fat, 12 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol, 1720 milligrams of sodium, 68 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 22 grams of protein.)

Item: Taco Bell Sriracha Quesarito
Purchased Price: $3.29*
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Taco Bell
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: It has sriracha. Asian-Tex-Mex combination works. Sauce has a nice heat. Premium Latin rice pairs well with the sriracha. Cheese from quesadilla oozing into my mouth. Addition of sriracha in the quesadilla.
Cons: Sour cream bringing down the heat. Simple combination of ingredients. Half of the time, I couldn’t really taste the sriracha.

*Because I live on a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, things are a bit pricier here. You’ll probably pay less than I did.

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REVIEW: Wendy’s Bacon & Blue on Brioche

Wendy's Bacon & Blue on Brioche

Wendy’s Bacon & Blue on Brioche boasts big B-word buzz by bundling bankable blends between boring bread and beef.

You know what? Forget this.

Wendy’s used up all the B-related alliteration I can handle. No more B-words for the rest of the review. They are henceforth banished. Oops. Bungled it. Argh, bollocks! How do the Crips do it? They avoid saying words that start with B … Hmm, do Bloods favor Red Robin?

Gang-related fast food questions aside, Wendy’s trotted out the Bacon & Blue on Brioche for us. Knowing Wendy’s history with blue offerings, this seemed like it would be a treat. (I, however, never tried the old Bacon & Blue Burger from five years ago). How did it fare? It’s unique and bold, if not a little bit unbalanced, like a celebrity.

The first B is for bacon, and the strips in this burger definitely delivered on the crispy texture and smoky flavor. The bacon seems to be a popular item here. The person ahead of me in line and the person behind me both ordered Baconators. They then both high-fived over my head and stared me down while shaking their heads slowly.

Wendy's Bacon & Blue on Brioche 2

Which brings me to the second B, the blue cheese flavors. The item sports both blue cheese crumbles and blue cheese aioli, and that might have been too much. The blue cheese combo has a back-of-the-throat coating quality that is interesting and hits immediately upon first bite. While the aioli does a good job of melding the flavors together, the combo also displays a minor, pungent blue cheese stink. This proves to be particularly powerful and overwhelms the flashes of bacon taste. It spins the entire thing a little out of whack, although the occasional balanced bites were pretty decent. The spring mix is slightly bitter and does a very good job of breaking up the monotony.

Wendy's Bacon & Blue on Brioche 3

The beef in my burger was the weak point. Next to the great, pretty flavors of the eponymous “B & B,” the ground beef was mostly flavorless, which is sad because I think the blue cheese’s smooth flavor would’ve shined if consumed with better tasting beef.

Again, there were a few bites that seemed to balance everything well, including the beef, but the planets did not align as much as I would have liked. The third B in the name, brioche, is fine. It’s shiny and has a slight crisp on the outside, which adds a nice textural flair to the entire meal.

This item is definitely not going to have universal appeal and for that fast food version of bravery, Wendy’s gets a high five from me. High five, guys.

Oh, everybody leaving me hanging?

What, nobody else in this Wendy’s is ordering the same thing as me?

I’m not putting it down until someone slaps five with me. I refuse to use a word that starts with B until someone high fives me. See? It’s easy. I could be a Crip. Unless that means I can never go to Red Robin again.

In that case, bye bye, bros.

(Nutrition Facts – 650 calories, 39 grams of fat, 16 grams of saturated fat, 1.5 grams of trans fat, 125 milligrams of cholesterol, 1290 milligrams of sodium, 37 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of sugar, 2 grams of fiber, and 34 grams of protein.)

Item: Wendy’s Bacon & Blue on Brioche
Purchased Price: $5.49
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Wendy’s
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Good flavors in some bites. Unique flavors.
Cons: Blue cheese is a little overwhelming. Bacon gets lost. Burger meat flavorless.

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REVIEW: McDonald’s CBO (Canada)

McDonalds CBO (Canada)

McDonald’s Canada is pushing the CBO pretty hard. Where I live, at least, there are billboards all over town proudly proclaiming this sandwich to be “the next legend.” Obviously, McDonald’s has high hopes.

I should probably note that the Canadian CBO is, oddly enough, different than the CBO introduced in the States a couple of years ago. This one is a chicken sandwich, topped with CBO sauce, lettuce, bacon, and crispy onions, served on an onion bun.

The most noteworthy thing about this sandwich is probably the weirdly hard time I had ordering one.

At the first McDonald’s I visited (yes, there was more than one), I ordered it, sat down, opened the box, and found that a few of the crispy onions had fallen out of the sandwich. They were green, which I found odd; even odder was how spicy they were. Clearly, these were not crispy onions at all, but crispy jalapeños.

I brought this to the attention of the confused-looking girl behind the register. A manager emerged from the back. Eventually, he told me that they ran out of crispy onions and decided to sub in the jalapeños instead.

That strikes me as an odd decision, since crispy onions and jalapeños taste completely different, but hey, I don’t run a McDonald’s. What do I know?

He offered to make me another sandwich without the jalapeños. I told him no, I needed to try the sandwich as it’s supposed to be. He stared at me plaintively. “Man, I’m going to have to throw it out!” Though I was tempted to ask him how, exactly, that was my problem, I instead politely apologized and eventually wound up with some cash in my pocket, on my way to a second McDonald’s.

McDonalds CBO (Canada) 2

Thankfully, there were no jalapeño shenanigans to be found at the second location, so I was able to try the real, non-adulterated CBO. The End.

Oh wait, I guess not The End, this is a review, isn’t it? I still have to tell you about the actual sandwich.

It’s fine, if a bit boring. Honestly, my jalapeño-related mishaps were probably more interesting than the sandwich itself.

I’m not sure if the chicken patty is the same one they use in the McChicken; I suspect that it isn’t (it looks a little different, at least), but it tastes very similar. As far as reconstituted chicken sandwiches go, I’ve certainly had worse, but there really isn’t much that pops out about it. It’s pretty bland.

I will say, however, that chicken in my sandwich was piping hot, and clearly freshly cooked. That’s basically the McDonald’s equivalent of finding a four-leaf clover, so that was fun.

McDonalds CBO (Canada) 3

McDonald’s describes the CBO sauce as a “creamy pepper sauce,” and it basically just tastes like regular mayo with flecks of pepper in it. If you told me it was McChicken sauce, I’d have no reason not to believe you.

As for the bacon, it’s actually bacon pieces instead of actual slices of bacon, which was probably not a great idea — the soft little bits get lost among the other elements of the CBO, and add almost nothing to the sandwich, other than a vague saltiness.

Happily, the crispy onions that I worked so hard to try suited the sandwich pretty well, and were probably the CBO’s most assertive flavour. Between that and the onion bun, this sandwich definitely earns the O in CBO.

McDonalds CBO (Canada) 4

That pretty much sums this sandwich up, in fact — it tastes like an oniony McChicken. But I guess Oniony McChicken doesn’t quite have the same ring as CBO, so here we are.

I’m honestly a little bit baffled that McDonald’s is giving a sandwich as boring as the CBO such a strong marketing push. It isn’t bad, but there’s just nothing about it that’s particularly memorable.

(Nutrition Facts – 680 calories, 36 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0.4 grams of trans fat, 70 milligrams of cholesterol, 1160 milligrams of sodium, 62 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fibre, 10 grams of sugar, and 27 grams of protein.)

Item: McDonald’s CBO (Canada)
Purchased Price: $5.99
Size: N/A
Purchased at: McDonald’s
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Tasty crispy onions. Decent quality chicken.
Cons: Boring sandwich. Soft, pointless bacon bits. Plain sauce. McDonald’s running out of ingredients and making random substitutions.

10 Comments